IRIN

MBABANE, 29 November 2011 (IRIN) – Swaziland spends 4.7 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) on paying, equipping and barracking the 3,000 soldiers in its army, and now parliament has passed a US$8 million supplementary budget for the force, provoking a rare public reaction in questioning the role or even the need for an army in view of the deepening economic crisis.

Prime Minister Sibusiso Dlamini’s remark at a recent meeting of newspapers editors that “The army exists so we might sleep peacefully at night”, was the catalyst for an unprecedented debate about the role of the armed forces.

The consistently food insecure country with its predominantly agrarian society, where about 70 percent of the 1.02 million population lives on $2 or less a day, allocates 4 percent of government spending to agriculture, while 17 percent is spent on the security services.

Only the budgets for general administration and education receive a larger amount of money from the donor-dependent government, while health gets a 10 percent share. Swaziland has the world’s highest HIV/AIDS prevalence, with one in four people aged 15-49 infected with the disease.

2011 has seen unprecedented public protests against the rule of sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, King Mswati III, sparked by an economic crisis that has led to severe cuts in social services, such as education, pensions and support for orphans and vulnerable children.

“The fiscal crisis in Swaziland has reached a critical stage,” Joannes Mongardini, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) Deputy Division Chief, said in a statement after the conclusion of a country inspection earlier this month.

“Government revenue collections are insufficient to cover essential government expenditures. More importantly, key social programmes like the fight against HIV/AIDS, free primary education, the support for orphaned and vulnerable children, and elderly grants are being negatively affected.” ...Read more.