Monday, March 19, 2018


King Mswati III, Swaziland’s absolute monarch, will pronounce on whether E250 million will be spent on designs for a new parliament building that will itself cost E2.3 billion (US$192 million).

This is significant because in Swaziland the King’s word is law. Once he pronounces on a topic no further discussion is allowed. It also demonstrates that the Swazi government and parliament which is made up of a House of Assembly and a Senate has no real powers in the kingdom.

Political parties are not allowed to contest elections and the King chooses the Prime Minister and Cabinet ministers. In Swaziland, people only get to select 55 of 65 members of the House of Assembly; the King chooses the other 10. No members of the Swazi Senate are elected by the people; the King chooses 20 and the other 10 are selected by members of the House of Assembly. 

There has been disagreement among Swazi parliamentarians about a budget for a new parliament building. It is estimated to cost E2.3 billion. The building plans alone are said to cost E250 million.

By contrast the health budget for the coming year in Swaziland is E2 billion; Defence is E1.5 billion and Agriculture, 1.4 billion.

The kingdom’s economy is in freefall. In his speech opening Parliament on 16 February 2018, King Mswati said he wanted a realistic budget ‘based on available resources’. He also gave a list of projects, including a new parliament building, that he said must go ahead.

The Times of Swaziland, the only independent daily newspaper in the kingdom reported on Thursday (15 March 2018), ‘The matter has become a hot potato after MPs raised concerns why there was no money allocated towards the construction of the Parliament building yet the King had clearly pronounced himself on the project during his speech from the Throne last month.’

The Times Sunday reported on 11 March 2018 that a report of the Finance Sessional Committee on why the project had stalled stated, ‘The project costs an amount to the tune of E2.3 billion which is the total annual budget for the capital expenditure hence the proposal to defer it, until proper and due diligence has been done on the project.’

It added E50 million had been budgeted for the project in 2017-2018 but the funds had not been used. 

This is not the first time King Mswati has pronounced on a topic of controversy. In 2012 during a long-running and bitter schoolteachers’ strike the King commanded it should end and all teachers who had been dismissed during it be reinstated. This was against the wishes of the Cabinet.

However, there was a delay in implementing the King’s command and it was thought the Cabinet was defying his order. The Prime Minister Barnabas Dlamini was anxious to set the record straight.
At the time, the Times Sunday reported him saying government belonged to His Majesty and it took instructions from him to implement them to the letter, without questioning them.  

He told the newspaper, ‘Government listens when His Majesty speaks and we will always implement the wishes of the King and the Queen mother.’

The PM said Cabinet’s position on the matter was that it respected His Majesty’s position on all matters he spoke about.

He said Cabinet just like the nation, heard what the King said and his wishes would be implemented. 

Timothy Velabo Mtetwa, the then acting Ludzidzini Governor, otherwise known as the ‘traditional’ prime minister, said no one had a right to further deliberate on an issue that the King had already pronounced on.

The Ludzidzini Governor is considered in traditional Swazi society to be more important than the nominal Prime Minister. The Governor is said to speak for the King and his word is law.

Mtetwa told local media, ‘My understanding of Swazi culture and etiquette is that the King’s word is final. Once the King issues an order regarding anything, the order has to be implemented by the relevant structures.’

He told the Times of Swaziland, ‘It doesn’t matter which position you could be occupying, the truth is no one is allowed to defy the King’s order. There is no exception to this long held Swazi cultural ethic.’ 

Richard Rooney

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