Swaziland parliamentarians have made an abrupt about-turn over the purchase of a private jet for the kingdom’s autocratic monarch, King Mswati III.
They had decided to reject part of the kingdom’s annual budget that would have approved E96 million to be spent on a private jet for the King.
But days later they overturned that decision and have agreed to pay E200 million (US$13.2 million) – more than twice the original amount budgeted for – to China Airlines in Taiwan for an Airbus A340-300, built in 2001.
Unconfirmed reports circulating on the Internet said that King Mswati had refused to sign-off Swaziland’s budget announced in February 2016 unless he got his jet.
On Tuesday (5 April 2016), the Swazi Observer, a newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati, reported that the E96 million allocated to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation for the jet had been cancelled by the Ministry of Finance.
There had been complaints both inside and outside Swaziland that the money could be put to better use. About 300,000 people in Swaziland are presently at risk of severe hunger as a result of drought.
The Observer reported the Ministry of Finance had ‘listened and cancelled the allocation and the money taken to the Consolidated Funds’. This would allow it to be spent on other things.
Two days later on Thursday (7 April 2016), the Times of Swaziland, the only independent daily newspaper in the kingdom, reported that ‘following a three-hour long caucus by both Members of Parliament (MPs) and senators in the Parliament canteen, the latter agreed that the E96m, which had been frozen by MPs, be released to pay a deposit to China Airlines, based in the Republic of China on Taiwan.’
The Prime Minister Barnabas Dlamini, who was not elected to office but appointed directly by King Mswati, later presented a statement. The Times reported, ‘[T]he PM said following a Parliament resolution that government find a solution to ensure that Their Majesties are secured a mode of travel, they had sent a ministerial subcommittee headed by Chief Mgwagwa Gamedze, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, to look at the various options available.’
The newspaper reported, ‘The balance for the Airbus A340-300, which has been identified, will be paid up in the 2017-2018 government financial year.
‘The PM said the jet to be used by Their Majesties for international trips was a long range and, therefore, it did not have to make fuelling stops every now and then.’
King Mswati already has a private jet that has been the subject of a legal dispute in both Canada and the British Virgin Islands.
Reporting on the about-turn by MPs, the Times said, ‘The MPs approved the motion and said they had not released the money because government had failed to bring feedback on the King’s jet and instead had just made an unexplained E96 million under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs budget allocation for the 2016/2017 financial year.’
MPs BLOCK SWAZI KING’S NEW JET