Statement of the UN Resident Coordinator at the ‘Policy Dialogue of Eswatini’s Socio-Economic Development Post COVID-19’

UN Resident Coordinator delivers address at seminar on Eswatini’s Socio-Economic Development Post COVID-19 organised by the Economics Association of Eswatini.

Honourable Minister for Economic Planning and Development

Honourable Minister for Commerce, Industry & Trade

Commissioner General of the Eswatini Revenue Authority

Principal Secretary of Economic Planning and Development

President of the Economic Association of Eswatini

Distinguished Presenters, Moderators and Panellists

Ladies and gentlemen

Ngiyanivusela bekunene, Sanibonani

A very good morning to you all. It is with pleasure that I address you today at this very important seminar on Eswatini’s Socio-Economic Development Post COVID-19.  

Seminars such as this one bring hope for a better future and demonstrate the depth and the breadth of the work that has taken place so far in Eswatini to  turn the tide against the pandemic and build back better together.

I would like to pause a moment to congratulate His Majesty King Mswati III for his leadership and the tireless efforts of his Government led by  His Excellency, the Right Honorable Prime Minister, Mr Ambrose Mandvulo Dlamini and supported  by trusted partners and friends of this beautiful nation, all committed to addressing and reversing the devastating impacts of COVID-19.

At this juncture, I also wish to thank the Economics Association of Eswatini for bringing us together to deliberate on the appropriate trajectory for the Kingdom of Eswatini beyond COVID-19. It is only through solidarity, consultations, strong collaboration and partnerships that we have come to this point and that we will come out of this crisis.

Economic crises and shocks such as COVID-19 threaten the prospects of survival and growth of MSMEs in Eswatini and around the world. Indeed, the pandemic is adversely impacting businesses that operate both in the tradable and non-tradable sectors.

The economic slowdown triggered by  lockdown measures associated with COVID-19, along with the adverse impact on demand and supply, the depreciation of local currencies against the US dollar, the slowdown in domestic and foreign direct investment and the rising trade costs associated with border delays, border closures and higher transportation costs have inevitably led businesses in Southern Africa to operate in a harsher economic environment where it is harder to achieve profitability and reap gains in competitiveness, investment and trade.

However, COVID-19 also provide an unprecedented opportunity for countries to reassess their progress in sustainable development and rethink development strategies and trajectories, including trade and investment strategies.

The need for transformative domestic reforms to promote resilience, particularly in the areas of revenue mobilization, digitalization, trade integration, competition, transparency and governance, and climate-change mitigation is critical. The COVID-19 crisis has exposed the world to the necessity  for businesses to participate in regional value-chains that are closer to home, in addition to global value chains. The crisis has also highlighted the role that technology, innovation and digitalization can play in helping countries, businesses and citizens address the impacts of unexpected shocks as part of coping strategies.

Today, together with economists, senior government officials, private sector, civil society and development partners, we will deliberate on the key documents that Eswatini has produced to enable its socio-economic recovery. These include: (1) The National Development Plan and Strategic Roadmap; (2) the Post COVID-19 Economic Recovery Plan; and (3) the United Nations Socio-economic Assessment of COVID-19 in Eswatini.

In April this year, the UN Secretary General, Mr. Antonio Guterres released a UN framework for the immediate socio-economic response to COVID-19.  The framework is one of three critical components of the UN’s efforts to save lives, protect people, and rebuild better, alongside the health response, led by the World Health Organization (WHO), and the humanitarian response co-led by the UN Resident Coordinator and NDMA in Eswatini.

On Thursday, the 22nd of October 2020, the Government of the Kingdom of Eswatini and the United Nations Development System in Eswatini signed the UN Sustainable Development Cooperation Framework (UNSDCF) for the cycle 2021 – 2025. The UNSDCF is a strategic instrument in the implementation of His Majesty’s Vision 2022, the National Development Plan; Strategic Roadmap, the Post-Covid-19 Economic Recovery Plan and Agenda 2030 – which are all guiding frameworks in today’s deliberations. This strategic instrument will come into effect on the 1st of January 2021 and will contribute to establishing “A prosperous, just and resilient Eswatini where no one is left behind”.

We are confident that the new CF will strengthen collaboration and enhance partnership between the UN, the Government of Eswatini, development partners, academia, the private sector, civil society and other key stakeholders, as well as between UN agencies. It is in this same spirit of enhancing partnerships that I would like to encourage you all to prioritise collaboration in your deliberations today, leading to effective and efficient policies on the socio-economic development of Eswatini, post COVID-19.

Indeed, as we may all be aware, the introduction of lockdown measures early this year resulted in most informal sector activities being halted, particularly affecting women who own 65% of the businesses compared to male owners at 35 %.  We also know that three quarters (75%) of business owners rely on their business as the only source of personal income.

Such reality on the ground prompted the United Nations Development System in Eswatini, led in that endeavour by UNDP, and in partnership with the Eswatini Economic Policy Analysis and Research Centre (ESEPARC), to host a dialogue with partner, and the informal sector on creating an enabling environment for business growth and policy development. The dialogue held 2 months ago aimed at moving beyond addressing the impact of COVID-19 challenges to building back better and better positioning Eswatini’s informal sector for inclusive development, social protection, and social security. 

As we gather today, I wish to encourage the exchange of ideas and solutions. Indeed, increased dialogue amongst partners and the sharing of data and research are vital in the socio-economic recovery of our nation . There is no doubt that, going forward, partnerships and multi-stakeholder engagement will continue to be essential.

Knowledge management, and exceptional planning and implementation are also required for successful policies to be put into place and executed.

The socio-economic impact of the pandemic threatens to reverse the many strides made in achieving national and international goals and human development.

Our efforts therefore need to ensure that we leave no one behind in our recovery plans. It is essential in this regard that our dialogue today is founded on an understanding of the immense socio-economic challenges facing the people of Eswatini. This understanding can also be guided by the Rapid Socioeconomic Assessment of COVID-19 in Eswatini produced by the United Nations Development System in Eswatini in which vulnerabilities within the Kingdom are highlighted.

The Report highlights in this regard the possibility of an additional 65,800 people being pushed below the poverty line. We must tackle the devastating social and economic dimensions of this crisis, with a focus on the most affected: women, older persons, youth, low-wage workers, small and medium enterprises, the informal sector and vulnerable groups.   As the UN Secretary-General said and I quote:

“Everything we do during and after this crisis, must be with a strong focus on building more equal, inclusive and sustainable economies and societies that are more resilient in the face of pandemics, climate change, and the many other global challenges we face”.

I wish to conclude by reiterating that the United Nations stands in solidarity with the Government and the people of Eswatini as they seek to recover better from the COVID-19 pandemic. In unity, we shall ensure the prosperity of the people of Eswatini and the protection of the planet.

I thank you for your invitation and your kind attention.

Speech by
Author
Nathalie Ndongo-Seh
Resident Coordinator
RCO
Nathalie Ndongo-Seh
UN entities involved in this initiative
UNDP
United Nations Development Programme
UNIDO
United Nations Industrial Development Organization
Other entities involved in this initiative
IMF
International Monetary Fund
World Bank
World Bank