With the unemployment rate in Swaziland at an alarming high, it is no surprise that the public and private sectors’ priority areas for research is in sectors of the economy that can fast-track growth and development using more sustainable and innovative methods.

These are some of the views that came up during a consultative agenda setting workshop on economic policy research in Swaziland hosted by the Swaziland Economic Policy Analysis and Research Centre (SEPARC) on February 13 at Sibane Hotel.

The workshop was to solicit information to inform future economic policy research and to determine where gaps exist in economic policy research in the country.

Representatives from the public sector, parastatals, and the private sector participated in the workshop, where they discussed and identified research opportunities, and subsequently came up with a list of research priorities that may form the basis for SEPARC studies in the 2018/19 financial year.

The Executive Director at SEPARC, Dr Thula Sizwe Dlamini, noted that the National Development Strategy (NDS) does not have an implementation framework, which makes its execution haphazard. “Planning and budgeting of development programmes is not necessarily always guided by the Strategy, and hence the allocation of resources does not reflect priority strategic areas as laid out in the NDS,” he said.

Dr Dlamini said the consultative agenda setting workshop therefore sought to solicit research topics that will help develop a better understanding of the challenges faced by the economy and use this understanding to develop responsive and targeted policy and programming initiatives to fast-track the implementation of the NDS.

“In order to inform future planning and programming, monitoring and evaluation is critical. It entails monitoring output and evaluating the impact made by the implementation of the strategies in the development landscape of the country. It also involves conducting reviews of the progress made at every stage of implementation in order to ensure that national objectives are met. Monitoring and evaluation facilitates timely intervention and adjustment of plans where necessary,” he added.

Group discussions were held under six SEPARC research themes: Science Technology and Innovation; Education; Employment Creation, Manufacturing, and Disaster Risk Management; Energy Policy; Entrepreneurship; Agriculture, Agribusiness, and Rural Development.

The three priority research topics that were identified are:

  1. How much do tourism and the creative arts contribute towards job creation and GDP in Swaziland?
  2. What are the priority industries that can move the country forward, with a focus on the most rewarding businesses that can improve Swaziland’s economy?
  3. What opportunities in terms of increasing access to education would the introduction of e-learning in the education sector bring to the economy of Swaziland?

An overall view of the research needs identified by the participants are as follows:

Group 1: Science Technology and Innovation

 This group comprised representatives from the University of Swaziland, Swaziland Energy Regulatory Authority (SERA), and the Swaziland Communications Commission. They came up with these key research topics:

  • An assessment of opportunities arising from liberalising of the telecommunications sector on economic growth (baselining for future studies).
  • An analysis of barriers of growth in the ICT industry: a case study of local internet providers and SMEs.
  • A needs analysis of ICT services in under-served areas.
  • An impact assessment of analogue to digital migration.

Group 2: Education

This group comprised representatives from the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Economic Planning, Ministry of Public Service, Central Statistical Office, SCOT, UNISWA, and MITC. They came up with these key research topics:

  • An ex ante impact assessment of introducing e-learning in the education sector.
  • The role of education in cultivating entrepreneurial mind-sets from primary and high school to tertiary level.
  • An impact analysis (benefits, challenges, etc.) of English as a passing subject at all educational levels.
  • Hastening the implementation of Early Childhood Care Development (ECCD) for equal access to all.
  • Cost benefit analysis of funding secondary education

Group 3: Employment Creation, Manufacturing, and Disaster Risk Management

This group comprised representatives from the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Trade, Ministry of Labour and Social Security, Ministry of Tourism and Environmental Affairs, Ministry of Sports, Youth and Culture, Ministry of Housing and Urban Development, the Swaziland National Trust Commission (SNTC), and SIPA. They came up with these key research topics:

  • How much does tourism contribute towards job creation and GDP production, and what is the contribution of the creative arts towards the economy?
  • Review of the Youth Policy to cater for emerging issues that affect youth today.
  • What key programmes in the public and private sectors can be geared towards the development/empowerment of the youth in Swaziland?
  • How can we use the youth bulge as a demographic dividend in Swaziland?
  • How can we strengthen collaboration between government and government agencies?
  • Identify ways to empower disadvantaged youth, with a focus on self-employment and shifting mind-sets towards entrepreneurship.
  • Minimum wage review: What is the living wage in Swaziland?
  • What other revenue mechanisms can cities and towns adopt to reduce reliance on government subventions?
  • How ready are we as a nation to adapt to climate change? Do people see/experience climate change? What is the relationship between natural resource depletion and employment creation in Swaziland? Which of our natural resources are at risk due to high unemployment in Swaziland?
  • A comparison assessment of the role of FDI versus SME employment creation in Swaziland? What are the opportunities for some FDIs to link up with already established SMEs in Swaziland for value addition and employment creation?
  • What is the aggregate employment that has been generated through SIPA?

Group 4: Energy Policy

This group comprised representatives from the University of Swaziland, Swaziland Energy Regulatory Authority (SERA), and the Swaziland Communications Commission. They came up with the following key research topics:

  • The potential economic effects of net metering/small scale embedded energy generation in Swaziland: will it improve security of supply?
  • The economic effects of the business community paying subsidies for domestic customers.
  • A comparison analysis of connecting rural households on-grid versus off-grid.
  • An economic valuation of natural resources in Swaziland.
  • Quantifying the economic costs of environmental degradation in Swaziland.

Group 5: Entrepreneurship

This group comprised representatives from the Swaziland Investment Promotion Authority (SIPA), the Swaziland Development Finance Corporation (FINCORP), Ministry of Agriculture, Swaziland Industrial Development Corporation (SIDC), and the Swaziland Competitions Commission. They came up with these key research topics:

  • Evaluation of business support programmes in entrepreneurship: focus on TechnoServe, SEDCO, FINCORP, SIPA, etc.
  • Identify priority industries to move the country forward: focus on most rewarding businesses that can improve the economy
  • An analysis of the effects of taxation on SMEs: interrogate perceptions and incentives such as capital allowance.
  • Analyse the relevance of governance in SMEs: focus on the policies in place, and creating an enabling environment.
  • Localisation of business activities: a focus on home-grown businesses; and improved value addition.

Group 6: Agriculture, Agribusiness, and Rural Development

This group comprised representatives from the Ministry of Agriculture, and the Swaziland Water and Agricultural Development Enterprise (SWADE). They came up with the following key research topics:

  • Assessment of the impact and sustainability of input subsidies; perceptions of farmers towards subsidies, and input subsidy vs output price subsidy
  • Tractor hire subsidy: the pros and cons of privatising versus parastatal administration
  • Service delivery by the Ministry of Agriculture: a focus on the cost of delays in ploughing, and tractor distribution per unit area.
  • Marketing boards: a focus on NAMBoard as an entity responsible for marketing, looking at issues of levies, and import trends for commodities versus local production.
  • Agriculture sector review: Swaziland’s compliance with regards to the Maputo Declaration 2003, and Malabo Declaration 2014; interrogate the budget allocated to agricultural research; and a trend analysis of the budget allocation and budget trade-offs between government ministries.
  • An evaluation of SWADE projects.
  • An assessment of soil types and water availability across the country’s regions to identify agro-ecological zones; and idle government farms.