Swaziland's King Mswati III has increased his annual household budget for 2014 by more than 10 percent to US$61m, this is on top of the 13 percent increase he had in 2013.
The spending increases came after the king, who rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, promised his subjects he would freeze his personal budget during the kingdom’s present financial crisis.
The AFP news agency reported on Wednesday (15 May 2014) this year’s figure also includes provisions for construction work on palaces that will cost the tax payer about $12.6m.
In October 2012, the then Swaziland Finance Minister Majozi Sithole told international media the king had asked him to freeze the Royal budget.
In October 2012, the Times of Swaziland reported that Sithole told CNN that the king wanted to do his bit to help his kingdom that is facing economic meltdown.
Sithole was reported by CNN saying, ‘I brief him [the king], he has concerns and he will, as he did this year, say whatever you work don’t even increase my budget because I understand the fiscal situation.’
But, the truth about of the King’s spending has been consistently hidden from the Swazi people, his budget is never debated in parliament, and audits of the budget are only presented to the King himself and the Royal Board of Trustees chaired by the minister of finance.
Media in Swaziland had access to the full budget estimates which contained information about the increase in the king’s budget but refused to publish it. State media in the kingdom are heavily censored and the private media censors itself when reporting about the king
King Mswati is estimated to have 14 wives and a royal family that is so large nobody is quite sure of its exact size.
He has taken huge increases in his slice of the Swaziland budget in recent years.
In the Swazi national budget introduced in February 2012 King Mswati and his royal family received E210 million (US$21 million) a year from the Swazi taxpayer for their own use. This was the same amount they got in the financial year 2011/12, but was an increase of 23 percent over 2010/11 and a 63 percent compared with what the king took from his subjects in 2009/10.
Observers note that the king has had many chances in the past to cut back on his spending and reduce the amount of money he takes from his subjects, but so far has in fact increased his budget, rather than reduced it. In 2011, as Swaziland hurtled towards financial meltdown Sithole in his budget demanded 10 percent budget cuts (later increased further) from government departments, but in the same budget the amount of money given to the king increased by 23 percent.
All this is happening while seven in ten of Swaziland’s tiny 1.3 million population live in abject poverty with incomes less than US$2 a day; three in ten are so hungry they are medically diagnosed as malnourished and the kingdom has the highest rate of HIV infection in the world.
Despite the poverty of the kingdom, King Mswati continues to live a lavish lifestyle. He has 13 palaces, fleets of top-of-the-range Mercedes and BMW cars and at least one Rolls Royce.
In 2012 he acquired a private jet, estimated to cost US$17 million. He refused to say who had paid for it, leading to speculation that the money came from public funds.
The king continues to travel abroad in style. In May 2012 he went to London to visit Queen Elizabeth II for lunch on a trip estimated to cost US$794,500.
The previous year he was in London with a party of 50 people for the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middlelton, staying at a US$1,000 per night hotel on a trip that was also estimated to cost US$700 000 for the hire of a private jet to take the king and his party from Swaziland to the UK.
In 2012 Queen LaMotsa, the second of the king’s wives, stayed at a Johannesburg hotel on a personal trip at a cost of US$60,000 a month.
In July 2012, some of the king’s 13 wives went on a shopping trip to Las Vegas, where 66 people reportedly stayed in 10 separate villas – each costing US$2,400 per night. The party were reported by South African newspapers to have travelled by private jet which might have cost US$4.1 million.
In August 2009, five of King Mswati’s wives went on a shopping trip through Europe and the Middle East that cost an estimated US$6 million.
In 2009, Forbes magazine estimated that King Mswati himself had a personal fortune worth US$200 million. Forbes also said King Mswati is the beneficiary of two funds created by his father Sobhuza II in trust for the Swazi nation. During his reign, he has absolute discretion over use of the income. The trust has been estimated to be worth US$10 billion.
King Mswati also holds ‘in trust for the Swazi nation’ the profits of Tibiyo Taka Ngwane, an investment fund with extensive shares in a number of businesses, industries, property developments and tourism facilities in Swaziland. This money is supposed to be used for the benefit of the people but the vast majority is actually used for the king’s own personal use.
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