The US$1.7 million that the Swaziland Government has spent on BMW cars for government ministers and top officials is only part of massive spending on motor vehicles in recent years.
It was revealed at a media conference on 22 September 2014 that the Swazi Government had bought 20 new BMW X5 sports utility vehicles.
This comes after Swaziland’s three national security chiefs were bought bullet-proof cars last year.
Umbutfo Swaziland Defence Force (USDF) Commander Lieutenant Sobantu Dlamini, Royal Swaziland Police (RSP) Commissioner Isaac Magagula and His Majesty’s Correctional Services (HMCS) Commissioner Isaiah Mzuthini Ntshangase each received BMW 2013 X5 cars at a total cost of E4 million (US$400,000).
They joined about 20 members of the Swazi Royal family, headed by King Mswati III, who already had top-of-the-range Mercedes S600 Pullman Guard cars that can withstand an armoured missile assault.
At the time of the purchase nobody would go on the record to say why the security chiefs needed bullet-proof cars.
Ntshangase did however tell the Times of Swaziland that being a security force boss required a special car owing to the nature of the position. Magagula told the newspaper he did not mind if government saw it fit to buy them the BMW X5s. He said certain positions needed certain cars for their status.
When the BMW X5 Security plus was launched in 2009 it was described by the manufacturers as being capable of withstanding an attack from the AK 47, the world’s most widely-used assault gun.
It also has an amoured passenger cabin, bullet-resistant glass and an intercom system allowing communication with persons outside the vehicle without having to open doors or windows.
The BMW X5s are small beer compared to the 20 armoured ‘military style’ Mercedes Benz S600 Pullman Guard cars King Mswati got in 2009 … to be used by his wives. King Mswati rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch.
Each car was valued at E2.5 million (about US$ 250,000) and said to be capable of resisting an attack with small arms projectiles, a grenade or other explosive.
One website described the car as ‘The car of choice for up-and-coming dictators.’
At the time of the purchase the King was furious that his subjects had dared to discuss how much the cars might have cost.
The Swazi Observer, the newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati, quoted an unnamed ‘source’ saying the purchase price was ‘far less’ than reported. The source did not reveal how much the King did pay.
The Observer supported the purchase of the cars. It said, ‘Moreover, the status of our Royalty and the pride and value we attach to the institution of the Monarchy dictates that they project the correct image that inspires confidence. The cars and their safety features befit that status. So there is really nothing wrong with the purchase.’
The ‘source’ told the Observer that the money to buy the cars was not from the government.
‘This was not abuse of taxpayers’ money and the money was not transferred from a government ministry, but these were private Royal funds. Remember that there is a budget for Royalty in Swaziland as is the case elsewhere in the world. Even the biggest democracies have such budgets,’ the ‘source’ said.
Seven in ten of King Mswati’s 1.3 million subjects live in abject poverty, earning less than US$2 a day. The king, whom Forbes magazine in 2009 estimated had a personal fortune of US$200 million, has 13 palaces, a private jet, a Rolls Royce car and a fleet of BMW cars, in addition to the Mercedes.
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