Constitution process stalled, while MPs get back to work

Swaziland's constitution-drafting exercise has been postponed again, as parliamentarians resumed work this week under a royal system that limits their political influence.

King Mswati's brother, Prince David Dlamini, who has been in charge of the constitution-drafting exercise since 2001, said the latest deadline set by the king for September would not be met because of a royal function - a gathering of women in traditional groups who pay homage to the Swazi Queen Mother.

Dlamini took over the constitutional exercise from his brother Prince Mangaliso Dlamini, who began the undertaking in 1996. The original deadline for completion was 1998.

Political opposition parties, which were banned by Mswati's father and will remain illegal under the new draft constitution, have cited a lack of political will toward reform as the reason for the drawn-out drafting exercise.

Unclear what their status will be under the new constitution, which may not be decreed into law by Mswati until next year, MPs are set to tackle disaster management and the welfare of AIDS orphans, among other issues, in the new parliamentary session.

A Disaster Management Bill, among the first pieces of legislation to be debated in parliament, will help create a coordinating body to monitor weather and agricultural developments, anticipate humanitarian problems, and alert relief ministries and agencies.

Currently, about a third of Swazis receive food relief from the World Food Programme and other international donor bodies. Five years of poor harvests, partly due to the loss of agricultural workers to AIDS, and the impact of drought in some areas, have significantly reduced food output.

MPs also intend to interrogate minister of health and social welfare, Sipho Shongwe, and minister of education, Constance Simelane, on the plight of AIDS orphans. The National Emergency Response Committee on HIV/AIDS, set up by government to distribute grants to health and social welfare groups working on AIDS issues, estimates that Swaziland has 60,000 AIDS orphans. The number is expected to double by 2010.

"Not a day goes by when AIDS is not raised during deliberations," S’gayoyo Magongo, Speaker of the House of Assembly told IRIN in an interview.

"AIDS is no longer seen just as a health matter. It affects the national economy, social development, the family unit, food production, education and other areas. MPs raise their concerns with a persistence that reflects the reality of the disease's grip on country," Magongo said.

All Swazi legislation originates from the ministries, which only gets promulgated with King Mswati's assent, sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute ruler. The king may return a bill to parliament for reconsideration or amendments and can also decree laws without parliamentary input.