King Mswati III, the absolute monarch in Swaziland who himself pays no tax, has ordered his subjects to be ‘100 percent tax compliant’ and pay up in order to help the kingdom out of its present financial mess.
After the speech, the Swazi Finance Minister Martin Dlamini told local media that government did not have money to deliver services to the people unless people paid taxes or it took loans from outside the kingdom. Then, tax revenue was needed to repay the loans.
The King was speaking at the opening of the Swazi Parliament on 3 February 2017.
This was not the first time the King, who himself has at least 13 palaces, a private jet and fleets of top-of-the-range Mercedes and BMW cars, and who with his royal family regularly take expensive international trips, has called on his subjects to pay their tax.
In his 2015 speech at the opening of Parliament, he berated tax dodgers. At the time, he said, ‘Time has also come for the authority to fast track the programme of lifestyle audits.’ This was aimed at exposing people who made money corruptly.
In Swaziland, King Mswati is above the law. He cannot be investigated and he pays no tax. It is unclear how much money he has, but the lavish lifestyle he openly displays could give a clue.
In 2009, Forbes magazine estimated that the King himself had a personal net fortune worth US$200 million. Forbes also said King Mswati was 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.
In August 2014, the Sunday Times newspaper in South Africa reported King Mswati personally received millions of dollars from international companies such as phone giant MTN; sugar conglomerates Illovo and Remgro; Sun International hotels and beverages firm SAB Millerto.
It reported that MTN, which had a monopoly of the cell phone business in Swaziland, paid dividends directly to the King. He holds 10 percent of the shares in MTN in Swaziland and is referred to by the company as an ‘esteemed shareholder’. It said MTN had paid R114 million (US$11.4 million) to the King over the previous five years.
The newspaper also reported that the King was receiving income from Tibiyo Taka Ngwane, which paid dividends in 2013 of R218.1 million. The newspaper reported ‘several sources’ who said it was ‘an open secret’ that although money generated by Tibiyo was meant to be used for the benefit of the nation, Tibiyo in fact channelled money directly to the Royal Family.
The King also holds 25 percent of all mineral wealth in Swaziland ‘in trust for the Swazi nation.’ In reality he uses this money to fund his lavish lifestyle.
In March 2016, it was revealed the King’s share of the just-reopened Lufafa Gold Mine at Hhelehhele in the Hhohho region of Swaziland could be worth up to US$149 million.
Meanwhile, seven in ten of Swaziland’s tiny estimated 1.4 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.
King Mswati received a 9 percent increase for his spending from the taxpayer in the year started April 2016. The ‘Civil List’, the money given to him to run the Royal household, was budgeted to increase by E30m (US$1.9m) to E370m (US$24m).
The increase in the King’s budget was contained in the annual budget estimates in February 2016. Although the Swazi media covered aspects of the budget, the news about the King was not published.
The budget also revealed that about US$9 million would be spent on a private jet for the King. Also US$12 million would reportedly be spent on décor at the Royal Terminal Building at King Mswati III (KMIII) Airport.
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 he has increased his budget, rather than reduced it. In 2011, as Swaziland hurtled towards financial meltdown, Majozi Sithole, the then Finance Minister, 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.
HYPOCRISY OF KING MSWATI III