Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Swaziland Supreme court rules for free education

The Supreme Court of Swaziland has ordered the government to provide free education as ruled in the Nation's Constitution. Swaziland started to charge tuition fees to students citing budget constraints for doing so.

With access to education being one of the Millennium Development Goals, we go to IRIN for more details, and an English lesson from the Swaziland Supreme Court.

"I make a declaration that every Swazi child of whatever grade attending primary school is entitled to education free of charge, at no cost and no requirement of any contribution of any such child regarding tuition, supply of textbooks and all inputs that ensure access to education," High Court Judge Mabel Agyemang ruled.

The labour support group, Swaziland National Ex-Miners Workers Union (SNEWA), brought the lawsuit to compel the government to honour the 2005 constitution, promulgated by sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarch, King Mswati III.

In February 2009, Mswati said at the opening of parliament that free education was desirable, however, it was not feasible due to budgetary constraints.

Parliamentarians pointed out that free education was already offered to children in the form of government-purchased textbooks and the payment of tuition fees for orphans and vulnerable children (OVC), an argument used by lawyers acting on behalf of government.

Judge Agyemang rejected this argument, saying: "I reiterate that the context in which the world 'free' appears in Section 29 (6) [of the constitution] as an adjective to describe the word 'education' leaves no ambiguity to the reader.

"It seems to me that the respondents [the government] are seeking to have the court give the words 'free education' an interpretation which will only do violence to the language, will at best be artificial and in reality be absurd," she said.

A government spokesperson declined to comment, but said lawyers were reviewing the decision and had not ruled out appealing it.

The Swaziland Coalition of Concerned Civil Organisations, an umbrella group of human rights groupings, labour organizations and humanitarian aid societies, said they hoped government would abide by the ruling rather than appealing it.

The Times of Swaziland, a local newspaper, said in an editorial after the judge’s decision that the government could afford free education if it shelved unnecessary and expensive "luxury" projects, such as a new national airport.

A former cabinet minister, in office when the constitution was adopted, told IRIN that free education could have been financed by the government, with grant assistance from the European Union, but was put on hold to address the issue of OVC education.

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