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King Mswati III gets E40m more

Right at a time when the government is cutting salaries for civil servants, Majozi Sithole, the Minister for Finance has added a whooping E40m into the monarch’s annual budget in what is clearly a bid to set the people against His Majesty King Mswati III. For the royal family, it will be business as usual as ordinary Swazis are told to live in a business unusual environment. Added to this is a shocking increase in the budget to run the army’s office, a clear indication that our government wants to ensure that the military is on the alert and ready to take action against any insurgency.
NIMROD MABUZA reports.

In spite of the harsh economic times this country is faced with as government crumbles under a huge and unsustainable wage bill, corruption having reached uncontrollable levels and excessive expenditure that does not benefit the common Swazi, the budget for King Mswati III and the royal household was raised by an obscene E40 million this year.

 

According to the 2011/12 budget estimates released in February by Finance Minister, Majozi Sithole, the royal budget shot up from last year’s E170 million to E210 million and is about five times higher than recurrent budget for the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs.

Added to this is an equally shocking increase by E74 million for the office of the Minister of Defence. The minister’s office has been allocated a budget of E81 million.

Last year the budget was E6.6 million. The E81 million becomes part of the Ministry of Defence’s recurrent budget of E623 million.

Then Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Defence, Dr John Kunene said the E81 million budget for the minister’s office is an outcome of reorganisation of personnel in the ministry. An example was made of the Royal Close Protection Unit which in terms of the reorganised structure is now catered for under the minister’s budget. These include personnel and CTA costs.

Even though the defence ministry does not have a substantive minister, the costs of running this office are about twice the budget given to each ministry that has a minister and a clear and identifiable office.

This is for the second consecutive year that the budget for Royal Emoluments and Civil List is increased by E40 million. In the 2010/11 financial year, the royal budget jumped from E130 million to E170 million. 

The legislation that empowered the Minister of Finance to allocate for royal emoluments and the civil list an annual budget increase of E15 million expired in 2009. It’s not as if the law was applied even then.

A proposed amendment to the law currently before parliament effectively removes the ceiling on royal budgets.

According to the July 2005 Constitution of Swaziland the budget for the king and royal household cannot be reduced.

From the budget, covered are wages for the king, Indlovukazi, the royal household, employees and any other person as determined by the king.

Operational costs for Lozitha Palace, Ngabezweni Royal Residence, Embo State House, Ludzidzini Royal Residence, Nkoyoyo State House and five guest houses, including Manzana guest house, are catered for in this budget, according to the Royal Emoluments and Civil List Act.

Also drawn from this budget, are costs for daily and major maintenance of the King’s Office, state functions, visits and maintenance and running the fleet of royal household cars.

In the past, King Mswati III has been criticised for his alleged extravagant lifestyle in the midst of abject poverty ravaging, until recently, 69% of the one million people. Recent government statistics show that poverty levels dropped slightly by 6%.

The Nation Magazine can reveal that last year, the King’s Office spent about E13 million ($1 864 607) on internal decor for three of the royal guest houses.

The internal decor rights at Prestige Guest House, Guest House No.1 and Guest House No.4 were awarded to an Egyptian company, Vision Division Artistic Consultancy Service, with the works commencing about mid-last year.

In the agreement of April 13, 2010, Chief Officer Bheki Dlamini signed for Nation the King’s Office and Shawky Darwish signed for Vision Division.

The works were to be done within a six months period. Following the agreement, a team of Egyptian artisans arrived in the country mid-last year for the work ahead.

Rt Hon PMOn signing the agreement, the King’s Office agreed to a down payment of 50% and 20% to be paid after delivery i.e. two months after receiving the down payment. Another 20%, it was agreed, would be paid three months after receiving the down payment i.e. while the work is halfway through and the final 10% on completion and handover.

The decor include furniture, curtains, carpet, wood floor and cladding, bathrooms, artwork and accessories, sound system, multi media system, TV, phones, water meters, etc.

Speaking from the throne in February last year, King Mswati III had directed that Emaswati should work for attainment of first world status.

“The nation will recall that last year we held our national dialogue where we came together to discuss ways of addressing our challenges.

The nation came up with various ideas, to guide parliament, on how we can accelerate our development plans in an endeavour to grow our economy.

“The common desire is to move this country to first world status. However, we should be aware that such would not come easy or be handed to us on a silver platter.

The road to first world status requires substantial resources. It also calls for hard work, determination, creative thinking, commitment and sacrifice,” the king had said.

This call, regardless of the bleak economic outlook, became an instant hit with cabinet ministers and opportunists out to win a smile from the king.

With almost everything falling apart in the kingdom, it appears the royal household as evident in the list of improvements in the identified Guest Houses – is without the populace in its march to first world status.

The sacrifice is not yet visible. As it has been highlighted in previous supplementary budgets, external travel by royalty also accounts for a sizeable share of royal funds.

Of late the king has been a frequent visitor to the Arab world “scouting for investors,” as Emaswati are often told.

The World Bank rates Swaziland as middle income and this has proved costly for the country in terms of aid channelled for poor countries.

The grossly skewed distribution of the kingdom’s wealth is a major let down. The kingdom leads the world in HIV/ AIDS prevalence rates at 26% and unemployment has hit the 40% mark.

The royal expenditure flies in the face of fervent calls for fiscal discipline and an imposed cut on budgets for national projects by Minister of Finance, Majozi Sithole.

One example of a project of national importance shelved because of financial constraints is the battle against invasive alien plant species sandanezwe.

Declared by government a national disaster in 2005, sandanezwe has since been relegated to the bottom in the list of government priorities. Past gains against sandanezwe have been lost as a result.

The taxpayer incurred huge losses as chemicals worth about E1 million for sandanezwe were let to expire. Personnel hired for sandanezwe is sitting idle with only the full salary being a consolation.

A positive of the government’s fiscal position is the shelving of the construction of the Royal Science and Technology Park – that has all the qualities of turning into a white elephant at a cost of about E1billion.

Despite the shelving of the project, E24 million has been allocated for the palisade fencing of the area.

In his 2010/11 budget, Sithole highlighted the need for “belt tightening” and engage the “business unusual” mode to break from previous expenditure patterns.

“Already we have strived to break previous hegemonic trends by ‘belt-tightening’ and looking for areas to cut our spending across Government.

Ultimately we will have to change the way we have been managing our resources. “Business Unusual’ therefore not only refers to a break from our previous patterns of expenditures but will set a new path for change and reform to invigorate economic growth.

This will by no means be an easy path; it will require discipline, a change in our mindset...” said Sithole.

The outrageous increase in the budget or royalty shows no effort to break, as Sithole said, from “previous hegemonic rends” by belt-tightening. The royal household has evidently been exempted rom any belt-tightening measures.

Discipline and a change in “our mindset” emains a distant dream. For government, in as far as allocating budget for royalty is concerned, it’s business as usual.

The budget for King Mswati III and the royal household is higher than recurrent budget for the Ministry of Tinkhundla Administration and Regional Development, which stand at E171 million.

This is a ministry responsible for development in the 55 constituencies. Recurrent budget for the tamed AntiCorruption Commission is a paltry E11.9 million.

According to Sithole, corruption accounts for E80 million a month of public funds. Last year, King Mswati III described corruption in tenders and procurement as one leaking tap that should be closed immediately.

This year, the king described corruption as a “mole that has permeated into many of our programmes” and an “evil cancer that has destroyed many economies of the world” adding that it has deprived people of social services and other developmental programmes.

“We have seen several institutions suffering from this cancer and I have been informed that government and other instibecome more of a monotonous mantra in the ears of Emaswati.

This is one case where the spirit is willing but the flesh is not. While government has been making half-hearted attempts to crackdown on corruption, largely because of international pressure, it has not been enough to make a meaningful dent on the cancerous scourge.

The grossly under-funded and tamed Anti-Corruption Commission, brought to life again in 2006, is yet to make meaningful impact. For now, it serves as cabinet’s effective lapdog.

King Mswati III has himself not dealt firmly and in an exemplary manner with acts of corruption when expected to do so.

Around 2002, the king did not lift a finger against cabinet ministers who illegally siphoned and subsequently lost E28 million of public funds in secret efforts to buy him a private jet.

A parliament resolution for the disciplining of the offending politicians went begging. Prime Minister, Barnabas Sibusiso Dlamini and Minister of Finance, Majozi Sithole were identified as some of the culprits.

To the chagrin of everybody and against the wishes of parliament, King Mswati showed renewed confidence in them. Dlamini and Sithole were recalled from home in 2008 to continue with their assignments in cabinet.

These are but two of many Swazis implicated in acts of corruption or related wrongs that have been rewarded by the appointing authority with political positions.

Recurrent budget for the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, always characterised by staff shortages particularly in the chambers of the Director of Public Prosecution and Attorney General, is at about E36 million.

The Justice and Constitutional Affairs Ministry is also home to the financially paralysed Commission on Human Rights and Public Administration, also known as the Integrity Commission that on paper is as important as the Anti-Corruption Commission.

Last year, Dlamini (PM) dealt the infant commission a blow when he snatched its head, Reverend David Matse, whom he appointed Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs following the resignation of Ndumiso Mamba.

As usual, the overall budget for the king and royal household accounts for about 5% of the E10.7 billion national budget.

The budget estimates show that the Swazi National Treasury, which among other things is responsible for the administration of Swazi National Courts and the national advisory committees such as the Liqoqo, the Ludzidzini Committee and Prince Khuzulwandle’s hopeless Border Restoration Committee, has a recurrent budget of E166 million.

The Liqoqo is responsible for advising the king, the Ludzidzini Committee advises the Indlovukazi and the Border Restoration Committee? Well, what does it do?

But for all intents and purposes, the Border Restoration Committee just serves as a fattening ranch for royalty and its cronies.

Since South Africa long made it clear that it was not about to discuss re-adjustment of borders, it is not known whom the committee is negotiating with – if it is involved in any negotiations at all.

Members of these committees enjoy salaries and sitting allowances equivalent to that of parliamentarians. This is a monthly salary of about E23 000 and a sitting allowance of about E260 per day.

On capital projects, the annual E125 million has been allocated for the rehabilitation, maintenance and construction of state houses. And E25 million is for link roads to royal residences.

Budget allocations for these two projects have become a common feature in the national budget as they have been on-going for a number of years.

Construction is currently on at, among others, Nkoyoyo State House and its link road. The link road between Lozitha and Ngabezweni is being improved. Swaziland has not seen any meaningful economic growth in over a decade.

The decline in revenue from the Southern Africa Customs Union (SACU) has forced government to step up revenue collection measures to narrow the unsustainable gap between revenue and expenditure.

A freeze on wage increase and recruitment of workers in the public service is on the cards. It could drag for three years and more, depending on whether the situation improves or not.

Health and education departments are exempt from the recruitment freeze. Salary cuts could also be announced in the near future.

Public servants are willing to cooperate if the cuts are implemented across the board. Parliamentarians are not receptive to the idea but cabinet has agreed to a 10% cut. In his speech from the throne last year, King Mswati III talked about poverty reduction and “creating and distributing wealth equitably.

“This calls upon all of us to change the way we have been doing things all along. Indeed, we need a fresh start and a new mindset,” the king had said.

While the king talks warmly about poverty reduction and calls for a fresh start, opportunities on the ground do not offer Emaswati much chance to escape poverty. Statistics on poverty speak for themselves. From the throne this year the king noted; “We need to make every effort so that we turn this situation around and revive our economy back to where it belongs.

“...The sacrifices we make today, will serve to protect us against another social dilemma such as increased unemploy-ment. There is no other person to do that except ourselves, for the future of our kingdom is in our hands.”

This year – April 25 marks 25 years of King Mswati III’s ascendancy to the throne.

Home Affairs Minister Mgwagwa Gamedze has announced that the Silver Jubilee will be celebrated in a cost-effective style whatever that means.

The king was publicly non-committal on the celebrations. In his speech from the throne, he said; “As the nation is talking about the silver jubilee, it is imperative that we should be able to show the milestones that the country has attained in the past 25 years.”

The milestones the country has on display for the past 25 years are; debilitating poverty – for 20 years thousands of Swazis have been dependent on food handouts steadily increasing unemployment, HIV/ AIDS rate of world leader proportions and stagnant economic growth.

The kingdom’s economic performance has been hugely linked to poor governance, corruption and excessive expenditure. Facts on the ground show that there is still a long road ahead for the kingdom to become a truly attractive destination for foreign investment even though the Indlovukazi, Ntombi Thwala, believes differently.

The Swaziland Investment Promotion Authority (SIPA) has all the facts of how much the kingdom benefitted from foreign direct investment in the past five years.

Recurrent budget for the Celebrations Office is at E12.5 million. In the face of an adverse economic climate, government is yet to come out on the king’s birthday celebrated annually on April 19.

Revelations that the Umbutfo Swaziland Defence Force is running around trying to secure arms of war worth about E500 000 million is worrying. Had it not been for Swaziland’s not so impressive human rights record, the arms that include three helicopters, assault rifles, heavy machine guns, etc. were to be obtained from Britain.

The British government feared the arms would be used against pro-democracy campaigners, as is usually the trend with authoritarian governments.

Dr Kunene (PS) and Acting Minister of Defence, Lutfo Dlamini, have said the arms are for peace-keeping mission. The defence force hasn’t been to any peace-keeping mission.

Amid condemnation from civic society groups and the shortage of food supplies for soldiers, Dr Kunene and Dlamini were adamant the arms will be secured from elsewhere. In the 2009/10 fiscal year, the office of the faceless Minister of Defence had a budget of E9.5 million.

Worth noting is the fact that the budget for the office of the Minister of Defence is way above the budget of other ministers.

Most of the ministers, including the PM, have an annual budget of less than E2 million.

Although Swaziland has been without a Minister of Defence since the time of Fonono Dube during the Liqoqo era, parliament has always approved without questions budgets for the office of the minister.

For budget purposes, the Minister of Foreign Affairs acted in the position.

This year, parliament which over the years displayed awesome ability to overlook certain budgets questioned allocation of the budget but it got no satisfactory answers from minister who preferred the matter be discussed privately.

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