TRALAC - Trade Law Centre

Swaziland: Parliament’s deafening AGOA silence

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Source: Swazi Observer

After an unexplained long hiatus, the House of Assembly reconvened on Wednesday but the order paper did not have anything on the under-threat African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) programme. 

An order paper is similar to an agenda where the day’s business of the House is listed and is published each sitting day.

When parliament adjourned more than a month ago, the country was immersed in an important bid to try and save its eligibility to the AGOA programme.

Benefitting

In order for Swaziland to continue benefitting under the programme, government was supposed to meet five benchmarks set by the United States of America and all these had to be met through parliament passing a number of legislations.

One of these legislations, the Industrial Relations (Amendment) Bill of 2013, had already been tabled in the House but was later withdrawn for further amendments.

The House then gave Minister of Labour and Social Security Winnie Magagula a 10-day ultimatum within which to have returned the Bill.

That ultimatum long elapsed and it was expected that the members of the House would address this issue on their return but it never happened.

Efforts by the Sunday Observer to get an explanation from Manzini North MP Jan Sithole, who is chairman of the portfolio committee on labour and social security, were unsuccessful as he did not pick up his phone when called.

He was first contacted on Thursday and it was explained to him why he was being sought and he requested that he be called after 30 minutes because he was busy with something at that time.

However, when called afterwards, his mobile phone rang unanswered.

Answer

He was again called on Friday but he did not answer his phone and the same happened on Saturday where the last call to him was made at 6pm.

Sithole is the one who withdrew the IR (Amendment) Bill exactly 34 days before May 15, 2014 – the deadline by which Swaziland should have met the five benchmarks. When the deadline eventually came, Swaziland had not met any of the five benchmarks and currently awaits a decision from the USA government on what effects this has had on the AGOA eligibility status. This publication understands that Cabinet recently discussed in detail the AGOA situation where a number of issues were explored. However, nothing has been communicated publicly. US Embassy’s Public Affairs Officer Ruth Newman said there was no new information on the AGOA issue and referred to a press statement issued on May 23, 2014 which emphasised that the review of the country’s eligibility ended on May 15, 2014.

“The five benchmarks were given to the Government of the Kingdom of Swaziland (GKOS) by the United States Government to avoid any ambiguity as to what we consider progress on internationally accepted worker rights issues.  Based on what was accomplished on the benchmarks by the GKOS by May 15, the process of determining Swaziland’s eligibility is underway,” reads the statement.  

Decision

The embassy promised to inform the public once a final decision about the kingdom’s AGOA status ‘has been officially communicated to the Government of the Kingdom of Swaziland’.

The five benchmarks are as follows: Full passage of the amendment to section 97 of the Industrial Relations Act to provide for the registration of federations and other incidental matters; full passage of the amendment to the Suppression of Terrorism Act; full passage of the amendment to the Public Order Act allowing for the full recognition of the freedom of assembly, speech and organisation; full passage of the amendments to Sections 40 and 97 of the Industrial Relations Act; and dissemination and implementation of the Code of Good Practice on Protest and Industrial Action.

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