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Swazi king moans about the IMF

The International Monetary Fund should be helping impoverished Swaziland, not calling for budget cuts, the Southern African country’s embattled king said on Wednesday.

Mswati III, who critics accuse of living lavishly, complained in a speech about IMF calls for cutting civil service salaries.

“When they come to visit us, they do not come in the same spirit and that is a cause for concern,” he said at the opening of a two-day “dialogue” that the palace is promoting as a step out of its crippling financial crisis.

Mswati, who arrived at the meeting in a luxury car, admitted that his country’s economy was “not a good sight to see”.

IMF officials in Washington said they would not comment beyond a statement issued after fund experts visited sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarchy in August. The experts expressed concern about the kingdom’s deepening crisis and its failure to meet IMF targets to stop borrowing from the central bank and cut wage, travel and defence spending in favour of funding education and health.

“We are given timelines that are difficult to meet,” Mswati complained of the recommendations.

“I am quite confused as to which advice to take. The IMF has its own advice, the ILO [International Labour Organisation] has its own advice and the UN has its own advice. This puts us in a predicament, knowing the state of the economy,” he said.

But the king said cutting public workers’ wages was difficult when “some of the civil servants are bread winners for large families”. He added such cuts also would require consultations with unions.

“It is lies that we refuse to embrace IMF programmes,” he said. “What we want is that the IMF hear our side of the story as a country. Something which it refuses to do.”

Mswati complained that countries such as Greece and Portugal have received bailouts. But he did not mention that Greece has taken such steps as cutting its public sector and shutting down state enterprises.

The IMF said consultations with Swaziland would continue.

Swaziland is several months into a financial crisis that forced it to stop paying to treat cancer patients and close its university for a time. Public school principals say they are unable to pay secretaries’ wages or utility bills or buy chalk and other supplies.

The cuts have led to protests by civil servants and others, with some Swazis saying the king should rein in the lifestyle enjoyed by his family, which includes 13 wives. Pro-democracy activists have tried to exploit popular anger over the budget crisis, but many Swazis remain attached to the idea of a monarchy, if not to the current monarch.

Mswati has ruled this nation of about 1.2-million since 1986.

South Africa last month agreed to give Swaziland a R2.4-billion loan contingent on economic and political reform. South Africa has yet to begin paying out the money.

As a condition for the loan, Pretoria insisted that Mswati open a “national dialogue”, which the meeting on Wednesday was intended to address.

About 1 000 people attended the talks, including students, business leaders, academics and government officials. – Sapa-AP, AFP

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