Swaziland's Cabinet has agreed to 10 percent salary cuts, a week after a massive pro-democracy protest in the tiny nation's usually quiet capital.
The cuts, in addition to three-year salary freezes for Cabinet ministers, will save the government 240 million Lilangeni ($34.9 million) over the next three years, Swaziland's prime minister Barnabas Sibusiso Dlamini said Thursday. He said the cuts are part of Swaziland's plan to resolve its budget crisis.
Swaziland's budget deficit was driven by a shortfall in revenue from the Southern African Customs Union, a 4.5 percent out-of-budget wage increase for civil servants and politicians granted in April 2010 and a $50 million budget addendum for a new airport project, said Joannes Mongardini, the IMF's mission chief for Swaziland.
"The fiscal adjustment will mostly need to rely on reducing the large wage bill, while minimizing the impact on the lower-paid civil servants and protecting health, education and other spending on poor and vulnerable groups," Mongardini said. "The government has only started taking action on the wage bill this week, with a 10 percent cut in Cabinet ministers' salaries. Further action will be needed in this area in the coming weeks."
Swaziland's umbrella organization of non-governmental organizations applauded the move and called it historic.
An anti-monarchy movement has gained momentum since the government proposed freezing civil service wages while King Mswati III gave himself a 24 percent increase in his budget allocation.
The proposed wage freezes brought 7,000 demonstrators to Swaziland's capital city of Mbabane, one of the largest protests ever seen in sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarchy. The crowd marched to the prime minister's office and was largely peaceful.
Talks on the civil service salary freezes are ongoing.
Associated Press writer Jenny Gross contributed to this report from Johannesburg.