King Mswati III the autocratic monarch of impoverished Swaziland is to take delivery of a second private jet in time for his 50th birthday in April, it has been officially confirmed.
Chief Mgwagwa Gamedze, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, made the announcement in the House of Assembly.
The purchase of the US$13.2 million Airbus A340-300 has been controversial because seven in ten of King Mswati’s 1.1 million subjects live in dire poverty with incomes less than the equivalent of US$2 per day. About 300,000 people in Swaziland are at risk of severe hunger as a result of drought and the government has appealed for international aid to stop people from starving.
Now, a special hangar for the plane will be built at King Mswati III International Airport at a cost of E200 million (US$16.6 million), the Observer on Saturday (10 March 2018) newspaper in Swaziland quoted Gamedze saying.
In 2016 when the purchase of the plane was first revealed members of the Swazi parliament voted to block payment of an E96 million deposit. They quickly changed their minds and agreed to pay E200 million (US$13.2 million at the then exchange rate) to China Airlines in Taiwan for the Airbus, built in 2001.
The Swazi Observer, a newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati, reported at the time (5 April 2016), 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.
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 Airbus is presently in Taiwan undergoing refurbishment. Gamedze said it should be in Swaziland in time for the 50/50 celebrations marking the 50th anniversary of Swaziland’s independence from Great Britain and the King’50th birthday in April 2018.
King Mswati already has a private jet, a modified McDonnel Douglas DC-9-87, also known as an MD-87. It cost US$9.5 million in 2012 and at least another US$4.1 million was spent on refurbishments before the King took delivery.
The new jet is continually described in media in Swaziland as a ‘state jet’ but in April 2017 Gamedze told a parliamentary workshop it would be for the use of the King. The Swazi Observer reported at the time that he said it was possible that the jet might be hired out to other users. The newspaper reported him saying, ‘It is true that we need money as a country. But we cannot give this plane to just anyone .We know that many people can afford to hire it, but the plane will only be given to someone who occupies a status that is similar to that of the King.’
MPs BLOCK SWAZI KING’S NEW JET