Early in his reign, King Mswati earmarked corruption as one of the major challenges to stability and prosperity in Swaziland. Opening the 1988 parliamentary session, King
Mswati suggested that corruption was undermining the nation's stability, offering numerous examples. In 1984, a minister, Mhambi Mnisi, allegedly embezzled aid monies sent to Swaziland in the aftermath of a major cyclone. In 1987, Minister of Justice David Morse appeared in court as co-director of a company that was charged with evading payment of customs duties. In 1988 ranking members of the Swazi police and the attorney general were charged with illegally selling stolen autos and pocketing the proceeds. During the 1990s corruption in high circles continued fomenting discontent among the general populace, particularly those campaigning for a more democratic system. By January 2002 King Mswati identified poverty alleviation and the continuing fight against corruption as key priorities for his government.
The Swazi economy, intimately tied to the South African economy, has remained strong despite South Africa's economic difficulties and currency crisis. As of 2002, Swaziland was receiving over 83% of its imports from South Africa and was sending nearly 74% of its exports there. The Swazi economy remains highly dependent upon sugar exports for foreign exchange. Swaziland's reliance on sugar and timber sales makes for many economic fluctuations, with prosperity dependent on world commodity prices and good weather. The manufacturing sector has enjoyed some expansion, which helps to offset Swaziland's reliance on primary product exports. Coca-Cola's 1986 decision to move its concentrate plant from South Africa to Swaziland was a boon to the latter country, adding nearly 5% to Swaziland's manufacturing value in 1988. As Swaziland entered the twenty-first century, it was one of the wealthier countries in the region, with gross domestic product (GDP) of US $4.6 billion in 2002, and per capita GDP of US $4,200. Real GDP growth was estimated at 2.5%.
As a concession to the prodemocracy movement in Swaziland, Mswati appointed in 1996 a constitutional review commission to review and redesign the Constitution, which his father had banned in 1973. Controversy and allegations of irregularity, however, have plagued the Constitutional Review Commission since its inception and threaten the credibility of the resulting document. The opposition has voiced its concerns over the makeup of the Constitutional Review Commission, which is full of royals, traditionalists, and those with the most to lose from the reform. As of 2003, a Constitution had not been presented, although the Constitutional Review Commission continued to meet and discuss the document.
HIV/AIDS has been declared a natural disaster in the Swaziland government since the mid-1990s. It has continued to pose a serious threat to the growth and development of the economy, affecting an estimated 35.6% of the population and creating a population of more than 70,000 AIDS orphans as of 2002. In 2002, Mswati announced his intention to form a Royal Commission against HIV/AIDS to promote an awareness and prevention measures of the disease, as well as offering support for those affected. Healthcare in general remains an urgent priority of government. In 2001 life expectancy at birth was estimated to be only 37.7 years for women (down from 39.4 years in 2001) and 36.3 years for men (down from 37.9 years in 2001). The government's 2002/03 budget included major allocations for the renovation of facilities, purchase of equipment, and the promotion of other activities within the widely distributed health centers, clinics, and hospitals.