The Roundtable Discussion which comprised a panel of high level economic experts and policymakers set the tone for the Conference deliberations. This was on the first day (October 25) of the Swaziland Economic Conference 2017 held at the Royal Swazi Spa Convention Centre.

The panel included Central Bank of Swaziland Governor Majozi Sithole, SEPARC Chairman Dumisani Masilela, UNISWA Vice Chancellor Cisco Magagula, Principal Secretary in the DPM’s Office Khangeziwe Mabuza, Federation of Swaziland Employers and Chamber of Commerce President Andrew Le Roux, Swaziland Sugar Association CEO Phil Mnisi and FINCORP MD Dumisani Msibi.

Presenters were Dumisani Hlophe, Henk Gnade from BMI Research, Dr Mcebisi Mkhwanazi from UNISWA, and Asha Kannan from UNDP. Moderating the session was Sikhumbuzo Mlipha, who requested the University of Swaziland (UNISWA) to comment on its role in the supply of human capital to the local economy.

The moderator wondered if education was geared towards growth. Prof Magagula pointed out that the institution has trained most of the participants attending the Swaziland Economic Conference and indeed they are producing qualified individuals each year. The issue was whether the institution produces adequate skills as there is apparently an oversupply of labour generally, leading to high unemployment even among the educated.

The Vice Chancellor stated that development of a National Human Resource Development Plan is critical in addressing the adequacy of skills supply to the economy.

Mlipha then posed a question to the Governor on the role the Bank plays in bringing about economic growth which brings employment. Sithole noted that the growth rate has after all been low and only high growth rates would have a meaningful impact on employment.
Mavi Magagula, a participant, shared with the conference that first world status is attainable. He said first world status as stated in Vision 2022, is not about skyscrapers but about achievable deliverables such as accessibility to health facilities by a majority of the population. If the first world status is well articulated as defined in Vision 2022, there would be more buy in.

PS Mabuza concluded that government needs to identify resources to implement efficiently Vision 2022. Msibi from FINCORP stated that the main challenge they faced were drought effects. He said the loan book of FINCORP is biased towards the agricultural sector which is drought prone.

According to the SSA’s Mnisi, Swaziland is the leading exporter of sugar in Africa. He said Swazi sugar is of high quality due to the comparative advantage of good soil, 100 percent irrigation and adequate dams. The local sugar production also enjoys a well-paying market in the European Union (EU) even though sugar prices have collapsed from 22 cents to 12-13 cents per pound.

Mnisi pointed out that the change in the EU market regime poses serious challenges for the local sugar cane growing industry, as major players like Brazil would be allowed to sell quota free, which would further push the price of sugar down. He said SSA has embarked on exploring value addition to sugar cane to boost value and counter the challenges of falling world prices among others.

The sustainability of farmers during drought periods is difficult due to the exorbitant costs of crop insurance. The intensification of climate change nowadays exacerbates the problem of high crop insurance costs.

Le Roux encouraged local civil servants to emulate their counterparts in Taiwan to forego salary increments during difficult economic times. He said the civil servants in Taiwan have gone without an increment for the past 10 years due to bad economic conditions.
He lamented at the flight of talent from Swaziland but acknowledged a better Gini coefficient (though there is still improvement needed) than most African countries, the passing of legislation to cater for the orphaned and vulnerable populations.

He pointed out that the geographic dimension of inequality in Swaziland is stack, and there is need for government to prioritise the rural areas in its development plans. Le Roux said internet access with the country’s neighbours and major trading partners should be of high standard to improve trade, economic growth and employment.

Mlipha, the moderator, challenged the panellist Masilela to educate the conference about the role of the Swaziland Revenue Authority (SRA). Participants learnt that the SRA implements tax legislation passed by parliament through the Ministry of Finance. The Commissioner though touched on government’s endeavours in offering tax incentives, in particular to the agricultural sector.

The Governor and the Vice Chancellor were drawn to comment on corruption, following the SRA comments on tax collection. Sithole lamented that corruption is perceived to be rewarded and the Vice Chancellor stressed the need of education and corrective education for offenders. Exemplary leadership was also noted as vital in curbing the scourge of corruption.