Saturday 14th March 2020 was the day on which the first case of corona virus was confirmed in Eswatini. In the afternoon of that Saturday the whole staff of Business Eswatini was recalled to work. The first placards ever to be printed and distributed country-wide were printed on that very Saturday and distributed by BE staff to locations such as Msunduza, Matsapha, Mahhala and KaKhoza throughout the night of Saturday. By the following week, we had reached every part of the country with the assistance of our members.
Indisputably, Business Eswatini were the first responders to the virus and to this day we have not lifted our foot off the paddle in terms of providing the necessary assistance to those who need it. It has been a privilege to serve our members and the nation under the premium banner of BE and, being classified as an essential service provider, we never got to shut down the office to work from home.
This week marks a year’s anniversary of the virus since it arrived on our shores. As we look back, we are thankful for having survived the scourge. Amazingly, despite the many meetings we hold here at Business Eswatini we have not recorded even one case of infection. And for that we are most grateful indeed. Some think it is because we are, and have been, obsessed with observing the prevention protocols; and others claim it is because we have enjoyed grace. Both statements are not incorrect as far as we are concerned.
It is for this reason that this coming Friday, 19th March, starting from 9.30am we shall hit the Pause Button for an hour to light up candle in remembrance of those that have succumbed to the pandemic. We also ask you to join us at the same time to light up a candle in your business premises to remember your employees who may have also succumbed to the pandemic. Please pause on Friday if only for 5 minutes to light up your candles, then please send us your pictures so that we can make a collage of memorabilia out of them at BE. As you participate in this program, let us all do so with the attitude of gratitude for the lives that have been spared including yours and mine.
However, let us not be unmindful that a third wave has been mooted which will demand extreme vigilance on our part.
We are pleased to announce that the Honourable Minister of Health will join us in person here at Emafini to commemorate the morning with the business sector. The Business Women of Eswatini will avail of the opportunity to recognize the minister’s fortitude during these tumultuous months of the pandemic. The minister will also light up a candle in remembrance of the medical personnel and front-liners that have succumbed to the virus. This event will be broadcast live on digital platforms from which we encourage you to join us live. Join us using our link @ https://www.facebook.com/businesseswatini/
Again, we humbly appeal to the whole private sector across the land: from Hhhohho down to Shiselweni; and from Manzini to Lubombo; to pause in silence for 5 minutes on Friday 9.30 am.
Business Eswatini would like to acknowledge the speech by the Hon. Minister of Finance. We must say that the minister was his ‘typical self’ which means he was not unpredictable in his approach. We would like to thank him for that because as a business community we hate surprises.
The speech was well-articulated and also well-aligned to the challenges of this moment. We are aware of the difficulty of having to allocate limited resources to a wide array of needs. Not only that, but also the obtaining economic environment is extremely unpredictable as well as volatile which makes allocating resources a very challenging task indeed, if not downright nightmarish. Of particular importance, it does not escape our attention that the Hon Minister made every attempt to cater for and accommodate all the sentiments and guidance as pronounced by His Majesty the king in his recent speech from the throne.
Taxation not the Solution
On many occasions in our engagements with government we have been lamenting the deteriorating productivity of the business sector due to many reasons over and above the Covid-19 pandemic which had changed its form from a health crisis to a global economic crisis. One of the challenges faced by the business sector has been government’s inclination to exclusively rely on tax revenue in order to steer the economy out of danger. On many occasions this has proven to be self-defeating.
It is for this reason that Business Eswatini is thankful for what now seems to be the convergence of minds on these critical matters. We need to steer clear of major tax escalation in favour of rejuvenating the economy in all its aspects. It would have been foolhardy and ill-advised had Government fallen for the temptation to increase taxes against a backdrop of a fledgling economy. For their restraint, we wish to express our sincere thanks as a business community.
That being said, we would like to reiterate the importance of fiscal prudence on the part of government as His Majesty directed recently. We would like to echo his sentiments in this regard. We believe that this is the right prescription that will see us through the road to economic recovery and success.
The accommodative monetary policy stance adopted by the Central Bank of Eswatini and the cooperation we have seen between all stakeholders to ease pressure on the system has also been laudable. Business Eswatini would like to thank the Central Bank governor who kept borrowing costs at the absolute minimum.
We welcome the long-overdue establishment of the revenue appeals tribunal which will go a long way towards the resolution of the many cases pending in our justice system. Parties who have suffered damages will finally get recompense and we are looking forward with excitement to the prospects.
It is also remarkable that for the very first time in decades Government has been able to make inroads into chronic expenditure issues like the CTA and the Phalala Fund. We would like to heap accolades on gov’t for this achievement. Credit is owed for their perseverance and commitment to protecting the tax payers’ hard-earned money. Similarly, the overhaul of the wage bill has proven to be elusive for many years now, hence we welcome His Majesty’s and Government’s stance on “doing more with less”, and look forward to what shape and form this commitment will take over the years.
As representatives for the private sector, we commend Government for their commitment to the clearance and management of arrears. These efforts have not gone unnoticed and will surely go a long way towards aiding the private sector and boosting confidence in Government in the short term, while enhancing efficiencies in our systems which will ensure the good health of our economy in the long term.
Our nation is treading on harsh and uncharted waters with a fiscal crisis that has been decades in the making, a pandemic and an economic crisis to boot. It is clear that there are no silver bullets and shortcuts to working our way out of this situation. While the budget speech gave us cause for hope it is clear that there is still a lot of hard work to be done ahead.
We sincerely appreciate that Government’s tone has shifted remarkably and that the private sector is seen more and more as an essential partner in the nation-building process. Private Enterprises are the creators of employment and national wealth without which the country cannot succeed.
The BE Team is yet to closely study the budget estimates in detail to determine the extent to which Government has been able to, quite literally, put their money where their mouth is. However, for our part, as the private sector, we reaffirm our commitment to our continued partnership with government as we economically heal and revive our nation together.
E. Nathi Dlamini
Business Eswatini CEO
The speech from the throne left almost nothing unsaid and touched on every pertinent and topical issue under the sun. For that, we congratulate His Majesty for the speech’s unequivocal content and for his eloquence in delivering it so artistically.
One has to assume that it was not an easy speech to give, especially at a time when this country was being pummeled by unprecedented challenges – left, right and centre. But somehow, His Majesty pulled it off and as Business Eswatini we say “Bayethe Wena Waphakathi!!”.
We were particularly touched when he took his time to commiserate with the business community which he recognized as having borne the brunt of the deleterious effects of COVID-19. He specifically mentioned that he was painfully aware some businesses had had to shut down under the sheer weight of the various lockdowns and that jobs had been lost in the process. He said that those businesses that remained opened, were struggling if not hanging by the thread. In the same vein he stressed the need for prioritizing the implementation of projects in order to resuscitate the economy as well as fiscal discipline all round.
To us as a business community, these words have emboldened us if only to know that His Majesty feels our excruciating pain. He has now laid down the gauntlet to government to give real meaning to the speech from the throne. And as Business Eswatini we are not tone-deaf to the development needs and goals of the country. As such, we pledge our renewed commitment to government and our development partners to assist in whatever manner desirable, as we have always done in the past. Eswatini is a country we proudly call home as a business sector and its prosperity is in all our best interest.
The challenges that lie ahead are as daunting as they are varied but we were particularly pleased to hear His Majesty say that though insurmountable these challenges may be, “we still have each other.” Indeed, we have each other.
On a different note, it was warm and endearing to hear His Majesty recount, in a very personal way, his experiences with COVID-19 and his road to recovery. In the same clip he extolled the virtues of the Taiwanese antibacterial drip which he decided to proudly swear by it long after his recovery. While we wait for the actual vaccine, whose arrival is still elusive as ever, government should have the drip available as a stop-gap measure just as His Majesty instructed.
“Bayethe Wena Waphakati!!”
E. Nathi Dlamini
Dear Esteemed Members;
Business Eswatini and the CEO have in the past few days borne the brunt of a misinformation campaign peddled by actors whose intentions remain obscure to the board of Business Eswatini, suffice it to say the CEO, in particular, is disappointed if not extremely livid about the campaign against us. So much so that he has now retained the services of a top lawyer with a brief to expeditiously push the matter to the court for urgent redress. This is not an overreaction on his part as his good name and reputational equity has been cruelly decimated by people he hardly knows let alone ever met.
We have always tried to keep you abreast of developments within the business ecosystem and we do so knowing full well that at times our communication will end up in the public domain. Nonetheless, these updates, as you know, are always primarily targeted at you – the membership of Business Eswatini. However, this information often spills over into the public domain as has happened with our letter of two weeks ago in which we addressed the issue of electricity tariffs while recognizing the unsung heroes of the private sector who get paid for hours actually worked. The mainstream press reported on the matter in keeping with good journalistic ethics as they did point that the letter had actually been written to the members of Business Eswatini
As the apex business representative body in Eswatini, to which most of the reputable corporate brands of the land belong, our ethos and ethical standards ought to be maintained at the highest levels. One of our most prized assets as Business Eswatini is our unadulterated national image which is effectively our stock in trade as an advocacy outfit. We have worked hard for this image to have it impugned and mercilessly decimated without cause.
The letter in question which was sent to members and subsequently published in our newspapers was subjected to intense public scrutiny which is something that was not unexpected. Due to the nature of the subject though, the letter attracted the attention of a curious public resulting in varying opinions being expressed. Some of the opinions pushed back on our point of view, in particular on the matter where we had welcomed the reduction of the electricity hike for domestic users from the original proposal of 10% down to 3%. For some unbeknown reason, our view did not sit well with the public. While people are entitled to their opinion, as Business Eswatini we still feel a 3% hike is much better than 10%.
Be that as it may though, the seed of doubt had been initially planted by an obscure individual who goes by the name of Zweli Martin Dlamini on social media platforms in which he had viciously cast aspersions on the person of the CEO and went on a malformation tirade which, clearly, sought to demean and cause injury to his stature and professional standing. While at it, he decimated the good name of Business Eswatini. He cleverly spun the contents of our letter to falsely claim that the CEO had launched a campaign for a political office.
Soon after him, he was joined by an equally obscure organization by the name of Ngwane National Liberation Congress which had the unusual audacity to craft an open letter to the most respected authority of the land stating unfounded derogatory allegations which exist only in the figment of the imagination of the organization. This organization has been separately cited in our court case and they have to answer for their insults.
If left unchecked, these people and those who sponsor them will erode and reverse the gains that have been made by the entire private sector, particularly on nation-building, because our reputation, as alluded to earlier, is our stock in trade. Our level of effectiveness is essentially gauged by the level to which we uphold and protect the sanctity and values of our organization. We simply cannot, and will not, leave this to fate.
This malicious attack on the Business Eswatini brand and on the person of the CEO especially was totally uncalled for and he, as a result, has suffered irreparable harm which only the justice system can restore. The CEO has already stated that his calling is not in politics. He desires for this season only to ply his trade at Business Eswatini as his way of serving the nation. He is also of the opinion that he is extremely unqualified to be a politician that if he were to become one, and God forbid, he would be an abysmal failure and an embarrassment to his peers. He has zero ambitions for a role in the political sphere as it has been alleged without basis. We, therefore, find it very hard to ‘let things slide’ because the damage is just too huge to accept.
Thank you for staying tuned. Have a great weekend ahead.
Business Eswatini’s mandate is to promote the advancement of our national goals and aspirations while advocating for and protecting the interests of the business community, in particular those businesses under Business Eswatini. In this spirit the board of BE stands fully behind the statement issued by the CEO. The Board of BE is disappointed at the politicisation of the CEO’s statements despite the full knowledge that it came from an informed place.
For too long now, Eswatini’s utility tariffs have not been cost-reflective. The cross-subsidisation of electricity, in particular, has forced many businesses to look into off-grid solutions to lower costs.
It is no secret that with the load-shedding and power shortages in the Republic of South Africa there is going to be an increase in the price of electricity over the medium term, while the proposed thermal power plant is 8-10 years in the offing, there is a looming potential shortage being forecasted over the medium term.
BE membership includes all the biggest users of electricity in the country, most of which are looking at alternative renewable energy self-generation projects due to the high costs of electricity and the unfavourable outlook. If such a situation were to occur, as it seems it will, and a number of large private sector organisations were to go off-grid, the cost of maintaining the grid, which would remain unchanged, would be passed on to the consumer entirely, resulting in sharp increases in electricity tariffs for all. We need to avoid a situation where all businesses go off grid, and there is no one left to subsidize domestic consumers.
The Global Competitiveness Report 2019 ranks Eswatini at 121 out of 141 economies, improving vital metrics of competitiveness such as the cost and quality of utilities is a crucial step towards improving these rankings and attracting Foreign Direct Investment.
Holding down natural increases in utility bills is a flawed way to enhance consumer welfare. Nothing will benefit the average Liswati more than the creation of jobs. A thriving private sector is crucial for the creation of sustainable sources of employment for Emaswati. Business Eswatini is committed to working with our members to further this agenda. Moreover, utility price hikes for the private sector are inevitably passed on to the consumer, in the form of higher prices of goods and services, eventually harming the end user.
The original proposal from EEC was an increase of 10% for the consumer and between 6.8% and 7.22% for the various categories of private sector users. After lengthy consultations with BE and the ESERA, the proposed increase was brought down to 3% for consumers and a decrease of 1.27% and 1.33% across the private sector categories. BE strongly felt that this would balance the pressure on the consumer and go a long way towards achieving our national objectives of enhanced investment and job creation, while reflecting a huge reduction from the initial proposal.
Andrew le Roux
Dear Esteemed Members
Following the newly released price structure by the energy regulator, Business Eswatini is of the view that there is finally some convergence of thinking by EEC, the energy regulator and the business community at large.
EEC has been receptive to the concerns raised by Business Eswatini regarding the existing pricing model for energy, especially when it comes to businesses. Furthermore, they have demonstrably accepted that the existing pricing regime, which is fashioned on cross-subsidization, had served to create artificially high costs of doing business in the country, the result of which had perennially affected the country’s standing in international rankings and attractiveness indices for direct investment projects.
For many years, businesses subsidized domestic consumers. While the nobility of the arrangement may seem palatable, at least on the surface of it, the economic harm it produces, however, is far greater than the benefit to the individual consumer. Most importantly though, the method is admittedly unfair. Many businesses, especially the small ones – including the tiny ‘mom and pop’ outfits, which can barely make ends meet already, are still expected to shoulder the burden of having to subsidize domestic consumers which seems unfair really. Because of the high cost of utilities and, of course, owing to other general costs of doing business in a difficult trading environment such as ours, these businesses eventually shut down doors forever and jobs are lost in the process. While each small business may not hire too many people, but combined as a small business sector, they hire a lot of people around the country.
The recent pricing structure as pronounced by the regulator and duly accepted by EEC, represents what could be called ‘small baby steps’ towards a long journey of ensuring that every energy user in the country pays their fair share of the cost without cross-subsidies. Domestic consumers will be aggrieved by this rebalancing as would anyone who had enjoyed a benefit that was later taken away.
To minimize the pain for domestic users, Business Eswatini suggests that the change be staggered over time, say, over 3 years while recurrently reducing the rate applicable to businesses. This can be done but it will not be without discomfort to some people, which is why a gentle approach is necessary.
Then there is the issue of IPP’s (Independent Power Producers) whose time has come as they are more necessary now than ever before particularly in the light of the energy crisis in the region. Business Eswatini’s discussions with EEC have been encouraging in this regard. There are no reasons to believe both sides will not eventually find common ground. EEC’s vision going forward is not uniquely inconsistent with that held by the private sector and for that, EEC’s management deserves accolades.
The economy is increasingly becoming energy-reliant and many investment projects especially those in the Post-Covid Economic Recovery program will demand a lot of energy that is priced right; and yet this is impossible at the moment. The independent producers must be allowed to come on stream either to power their own large businesses or in need by being part of the national grid. Too much funding is spent paying other countries to provide us with electricity when this country is now capable of reducing the reliance on other countries by exploiting newer, cost-effective and yet greener technologies of producing power.
Over-reliance on other countries is not only taxing in terms of depleting the country’s foreign reserves, it also denies the country the opportunity to create its own high quality engineering jobs locally.
Self-reliance in energy in order to power the economy, and indeed in other sectors as well, should be vigorously exploited when commercial sensibilities so dictate.
Business Eswatini is grateful for the amicable and favourable outcome on behalf of the business sector. We are thankful for the opportunity to have held mutually beneficial engagements with EEC. After all, both institutions exist to advance the interests of the country by being true to their individual mandates for which they were first established.