Monday, October 15, 2018

Deceased Swaziland Prime Minister Barnabas Dlamini had life embroiled in allegations of corruption

Barnabas Dlamini the former Prime Minister of Swaziland whose funeral was on Saturday (13 October 2018) had a life embroiled in allegations of corruption.

While PM he amassed a personal fortune including property, livestock, cash and company shares. He was involved in a scandal starting in 2010 that involved his purchase of Swazi Nation land at half its true value.

Even in the weeks before his death he was entangled in an allegation that his retirement home which was to be built at taxpayers’ expense would be on land he owned himself with his youngest daughter, Busisiwe.

The Times Sunday newspaper in Swaziland reported on 16 September 2018 that the E3 million (US$310,000) house would belong to the owners of the property on which it was built. It reported there was concern he could turn the house into a business venture by either renting it out or turning it into a guest house.

Dlamini was Prime Minister until the September 2018 national election. He was never elected by the people but appointed by King Mswati III, the kingdom’s absolute monarch. He held office for seven-and-a-half years until 2003. He was reappointed in 2008. He leaves behind a trail of misdeeds. In July 2017, Dlamini was made to return E200,000 in travel expenses he had claimed for a medical trip to Taiwan after it was revealed the Government of Taiwan had paid for it, the Sunday Observer newspaper in Swaziland reported.

Dlamini managed to amass a personal fortune, estimated in 2012 to be E12 million (US$1.56 million at the time). In Swaziland (recently renamed Eswatini by King Mswati) seven in ten people have incomes less than the equivalent of US$2 per day. Among his assets was E392,000 worth of shares in Swazi Empowerment (Pty) Limited (SEL), a company that in turn had a 19 per cent shareholding with MTN Swaziland, the then-monopoly mobile phone operator in the kingdom.

Dlamini was the man in charge of the government-controlled parastatal, Swaziland Posts and Telecommunications Corporation (SPTC) and was therefore a key decision maker in the affairs of Swaziland’s national posts and telecommunication. But the fact that at the same time he had a major shareholding in MTN, Swaziland (the only competitor for SPTC) raised questions about Dlamini’s impartiality when making decisions about SPTC.

Details of Dlamini’s fortune were contained in a statement of assets and liabilities that was submitted by him to the Swazi Integrity Commission and leaked to the Times of Swaziland.  

It reported Dlamini’s assets included buildings, furniture, equipment, motor vehicles, livestock, cash at banks, insurance policies, shares in private companies, listed shares and unit trusts.

Dlamini, while Prime Minister was embroiled in dubious deals. In May 2015, the Times Sunday reported that Fusini Investments (Proprietary) Limited, directed by the Prime Minister and two others, bought land for E93,120 from government in 2005, which by then had generated a profit of E7.4 million: a profit of more than 800 percent.

The PM’s company sold the land to the Public Service Pension Fund (PSPF), a public organisation that was established in 1993 for the management and administration of pensions for government (public sector) employees.

Dlamini had a history of involvement in questionable deals. In 2011, he and others escaped scrutiny on land deals after the direct intervention of King Mswati.

They had bought Swazi nation land for themselves at what a select committee report later called ‘ridiculously cheap’ prices and ‘tantamount to theft of State property’. 

In late December 2010 it was revealed that Dlamini, his deputy, and four cabinet ministers were at the centre of the land purchase scandal.

Dlamini, who constantly claimed he wanted to stamp out corruption in the kingdom, was allowed to buy government-controlled land at half price, netting himself a E304,000 saving. Themba Masuku, the then Deputy PM and four ministers each received discounts of between 30 and 50 percent on their purchases. None of these people were elected to the Swazi Parliament – all were appointed by the King.

The politicians were allowed to purchase the so-called ‘crown land’ (which is owned by the King on behalf of the Swazi nation) in the Swazi capital Mbabane without having to compete with other would-be buyers. They were given the land at below market value, in effect cheating the Swazi people out of the money.

Two of the ministers who took advantage of this scam were members of the Swazi Royal Family.

The ministers involved were Minister of Natural Resources and Energy, Princess Tsandzile; Minister of Economic Planning and Development, Prince Hlangusemphi; Minister of Home Affairs, Chief Mgwagwa Gamedze; and the Minister of Agriculture, Clement Dlamini.

The Times of Swaziland reported at the time that the Prime Minister made the biggest killing. He was allocated ‘a portion of land measuring 6,084 square metres. He paid E304,000 for the land after it was discounted from the initial price of E608,000. Effectively, he was granted a 50 percent discount.’

In total the land was sold at about E1 million less than it was worth, the Times estimated.

Former government ministers also benefited from the land purchase scandal. They included two members of the Swazi Royal Family. Prince David received a 50 percent discount on land worth E97,000 allocated to him. Prince Mbilini also received land, but the exact details of his windfall were not known, the Times reported.

It was believed that at least nine former ministers were also given land at discounted prices.

It later emerged that the Swazi Cabinet, headed by the PM and hand-picked by the King, approved the land purchase. This, in effect, meant they approved a plan that allowed themselves to save hundreds of thousands of emalangeni on the land scam.

It was later revealed that the Prime Minister and the others were not eligible for discounts on the land because such discounts were only available to poor people. 

Prince Guduza, Speaker of the Swaziland House of Assembly, rebuked Dlamini for ‘interference of the highest order’, after the Swazi Parliament decided to set up a seven-member select committee to investigate the land deals and he called MPs in to see him ‘one-by-one’ to try to get them on his side.

The whole land deal scandal reached a climax in May 2011 when Dlamini took Prince Guduza, the Speaker of the House of Assembly, to court to stop a debate about the PM’s irregular land deals taking place.

He succeeded in getting a High Court order to stop parliament debating the land issue and publication of a select committee report into the affair. The House of Assembly ignored the court and debated anyway.

The select committee report described the conduct of Lindiwe Dlamini, Minister of Housing and Urban Development, in the deals as corrupt and treasonous.

The report stated that the authority for land deals was unconstitutionally taken away from the King’s Office, by Lindiwe Dlamini.

‘The act of the minister was not only unconstitutional but also seriously undermined the authority and sovereignty of the office of the Ingwenyama [the King] and was therefore treasonous,’ the report stated.

The report made more than 20 findings, including:

That the Minister for Housing and Urban Development [Lindiwe Dlamini] acted unconstitutionally and with total disregard of the Crown Land Disposal regulations of 2003, which were promulgated in line with the provisions of the Crown Land Disposal Act of 1911.

That the cabinet ministers concerned used their positions to gain unfair advantage over other Swazis who had applied for the land many years ago, by-passing the Crown Land Disposal Committee in the process. 

The Prime Minister and the Minister for Natural Resources and Energy [Princess Tsandzile] bought the land at ridiculously low prices. The most disturbing aspect is that the Prime Minister was awarded the certificate to develop his portion and designs approved without having paid for the plot and records show that he only did so on February, 22 2011, long after the Select Committee was appointed. 

That the current administration has no respect for the constitution, as there are many laws that deal with land issues and until now they have not been aligned with the constitution. 

That the Attorney General was never consulted on this land deal. 

That the allocation of land to ministers through a cabinet decision was unlawful and it smacks of an element of personal aggrandisement since such action is not supported by any legal instrument. 

Receiving a housing allowance on the one hand and on the other hand apportioning crown land to oneself, is tantamount to theft of State property. 

That, as a custodian of State assets and property, by virtue of its position in government, cabinet had no legal right to take a collective decision on the allocation of land to ministers, even worse, that in the process it violated the Constitution, 2005. 

In June 2011, King Mswati confirmed his position as an absolute monarch when he ordered the House of Assembly and the Senate to stop discussing the land scandal. He said he would decide what would happen to the land.

The King’s decision to intervene was kept private and the media were excluded from a joint meeting of the House of Assembly and Senate at which the King’s dictate was given.

Dlamini then instructed the media in Swaziland to stop discussing the land deal. He said, ‘His Majesty said the issue should be put to rest. It means the matter has been concluded because the King’s word is a command and the law. I take it that it is over and I hope journalists will take it as having been concluded. There is no need for journalists to keep bringing this matter up and spicing it. It has to be taken out of the news,’

Parliament was informed by both its presiding officers (Speaker Prince Guduza and Senate President Gelane Zwane) that the King had ordered the PM to withdraw his court action regarding the land issue and that the land in question would be returned to government ownership.

Richard Rooney

See also

Swaziland Former Prime Minister Barnabas Dlamini Dies. Known as Serial Abuser of Human Rights

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