King Mswati III of Swaziland has instructed the kingdom’s revenue authority to pursue people who live lavish lifestyles to ensure they are paying their tax.
The King, who is sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, himself has 13 palaces, a private jet and fleets of top-of-the-range Mercedes and BMW cars. He and his royal family regularly take expensive international trips.
The King pays no tax.
In a speech opening the Swazi Parliament on Thursday (19 February 2015), the King said, ‘Time has also come for the authority to fast track the programme of lifestyle audits.’
After the King’s speech was delivered, the Times of Swaziland, the only independent daily newspaper in the kingdom reported, ‘[Swaziland Revenue Authority] General (CG) Dumisani Masilela told this reporter that qualified personnel had been recruited to carry out the lifestyle audit function aimed at cracking the whip on those involved in corrupt ways of generating income.’
The source of much of King Mswati’s income remains secret. 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 has 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 past 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.
Meanwhile, seven in ten of Swaziland’s tiny 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.
At the last national budget in Swaziland in 2014 the King’s annual household budget increased by more than 10 percent to US$61m, this was on top of the 13 percent increase he had in 2013.
The AFP news agency reported in May 2014 that the figure also included provisions for construction work on palaces that would cost the tax payer about $12.6m.
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.
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