Eswatini gears up to become a private sector-led economy

By Manqoba Khumalo, Minister of Commerce, Industry and Trade in Eswatini

The Kingdom of Eswatini is gearing up to becoming a private sector-led economy committed to economic reform and determined to recover from the devastating effects of COVID-19.

Before the global pandemic, the Kingdom of Eswatini was already experiencing key economic challenges characterised by sluggish growth and a budget deficit. The advent of the global pandemic further exacerbated an already fragile economic situation and added another dimension to the fiscal crisis, which demanded a differentiated and rapid approach.

To save the economy and the livelihoods of the people of Eswatini, we devised a post-COVID-19 recovery plan earmarking the private sector as the new main driver of employment in the country. The logic was tactical. As a government, we currently employ the majority of people in the labour force, which accounts for a huge chunk of our funds. To alleviate this problem, we decided to shift the government away from being the central driver of the economy. Instead, the government will be re-establishing itself as the key enabler of growth across all sectors of the economy while the private sector takes over the reins in becoming a key employer in the country.

This will require for the Kingdom to create a conducive environment for businesses to be established and thrive in Eswatini. Improving Eswatini’s business environment also helps us unlock all the bottlenecks that have previously impeded the implementation of viable development projects with high returns on investment.

Our focus is on ensuring that small and medium-sized enterprises get the support they need to establish successful businesses and contribute to the economy of Eswatini. This requires that we rid ourselves of red tape and barriers to entry for big business and SMMEs. In line with this, we are working towards digitising all government processes and systems to fast-track all registrations and processing of applications. We are also building a one stop shop for business owners to ensure that potential entrepreneurs receive comprehensive assistance in one place.

To further improve our business conduciveness, we are also creating special economic zones that will attract specialised businesses mainly for export and improve sectors of the economy that are still suppressed. We anticipate that in the next 3-5 years, the Kingdom of Eswatini will have improved significantly in its ranking on the Ease of Doing Business Index.

Ultimately, the Kingdom of Eswatini is prioritising attracting and channelling high-value investments into the Kingdom.  To achieve this goal, the country needs to make it easy for high net-worth individuals and quality foreign direct investments to land and settle into the Eswatini economy. These kinds of investments will further boost investor confidence as well as transform the Eswatini economy to become a definitive head office destination for multi-national corporations. Our commitment is unwavering on the key economic reforms that can make it easy for foreign and local investors to do business in Eswatini.

We have taken stock of the damage that has been done by the COVID-19 pandemic and are aware of the key pillars required to anchor our economy. Overall, the COVID-19 Economic Recovery Plan consist of a R23 billion private sector-led investment with an additional R7 billion investment from Government. Through high value and high impact projects led by the private sector, we anticipate that we will inject a total of E30.123 billion into the economy and create 40,126 jobs for recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

We also have an opportunity to create new sectors through the cannabis industry and growing and processing of hemp, should the Government of Eswatini decide to approve the required legislation for these sectors. These are viable and megaprojects that could transform Eswatini to an even much higher GDP production and growth trajectory.

Eswatini remains confident that it will jolt its economy into a much stronger and winning trajectory compared to its counterparts in the region and the rest of Africa.