One of King Mswati’s most prominent lieutenants in Swaziland has said money intended for his birthday celebration in April is being ‘looted’.
Mbongeni Mbingo, the editor-in-chief of the Swazi Observer group, newspapers in effect owned by the King, said, ‘We all know that long before this event takes place, there are people who have already secured the bidding for the tenders and most of the money isn’t going to be spent on where it should.’
The equivalent of millions of US dollars will be spent on the so-called 50/50 celebrations to mark the King’s 50th birthday and the 50th anniversary of Independence from Great Britain. King Mswati rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch.
Writing in the Sunday Observer (25 March 2018), Mbingo said, ‘It is inevitable that this country would want to celebrate such milestones and as such we have to accept that no matter our fiscal situation, this was going to happen.’
Swaziland is broke and Finance Minister Martin Dlamini in his budget speech on 1 March 2018 said the government would only spend on ‘the most critical expenditure items’ this year. He acknowledged, ‘Government sending continues to outpace its ability to raise enough revenues resulting in cash flow challenges and accumulation of arrears.’
In his speech opening Parliament in February 2018 the King commanded his government, ‘to prepare a budget that is based on available resources’. Dlamini said, ‘Government has conducted a thorough analysis of our expenditure in order to prioritise only the most pressing concerns.’
Already, the Swazi Government is to pay US$7.5 million for a fleet of luxury BMW cars to transport dignitaries on the day. The cost of the cars alone bust the US$1.7 million budget the government allowed itself for the festivities. The 50/50 celebration lasts one day – 19 April 2018.
E1 million (US$86,000) intended for retirement funds and to help the disabled has been transferred from the Swaziland National Provident Fund (SNPF) to help pay for the 50/50 celebrations. All police officers and soldiers in the kingdom have had money deducted from their salaries to contribute. Businesses have also been asked to donate.
Mbingo wrote, Swaziland owed ‘it to ourselves to celebrate this kind of milestone’.
He added, ‘But, does this mean all the extravagance we are about to witness; the new cars; the uncontrollable expenditure; and the looting that is taking place already? We all know that long before this event takes place, there are people who have already secured the bidding for the tenders and most of the money isn’t going to be spent on where it should.’
He added, ‘The money is about to, if not already, find its way to corruption, and sheer extravagance is about to be displayed.’
Ten years ago in 2008 Swaziland held 40/40 celebrations. The cost overran by E32.6 million (about US$5 million at the then exchange rate). E17 million was budgeted but it ended up costing ‘at least’ E50.2 million. The exact figure is uncertain.
The budget overrun was revealed in the ‘Comprehensive Project Completion Report’ (CPCR), written by Luke Mswane, chair of the double celebrations committee that oversaw the 40/40 celebration that took place on one day – 6 September 2008.
The CPCR highlighted a catalogue of mismanagement. Next to no time was made available to set a proper budget for the events and it became impossible to keep track of the money. At least E1.8 million was spent on capital projects without any formal written authority.
The CPCR also stated that E500,000 was budgeted for labour costs, but overtime paid to civil servants amounted to E5 million.
Tellingly, since the world was led to believe that King Mswati’s joy at his 40th birthday and the independence anniversary was shared by his subjects, the CPCR report stated that there was actually a lack of interest in the event and it was impossible to attract sponsors. They had expected sponsors to pay E0.8 million but in fact only E104,000 was given.
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