If Swaziland’s contested budget is allowed to go through, the kingdom, ruled by King Mswati III, as an absolute monarch, will increase its spending on security this year and extra money will go to the police to improve ‘crowd management services’.
The government hand-picked by the King has allocated nearly E2.7 billion (US$216 million) for the kingdom’s security forces that comprise the Umbutfo Swaziland Defence Force (USDF), Royal Swaziland Police Service (RSPS) and His Majesty’s Correctional Services (HMCS).
This is more than the E2.2bn allocated to health in the coming financial year and E585 million more than allocated to security in 2016-2017.
Security will take up 12.4 percent of Swaziland’s total budget of E21.7bn ($US1.66 bn), up 11 percent last year.
Martin Dlamini, Minister of Finance, told the Swazi Parliament on 24 February 2017, ‘An additional budget has been allocated to the Royal Swaziland Police to enhance the delivery of services in rural and periurban areas and improve emergency response and crowd management services.’
Swaziland has a poor human rights record and police and security forces routinely break-up labour and political demonstrations. Only three days after the budget announcement, police halted a march by the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA) that wanted to deliver a petition to the Ministry of Labour and Social Security.
According to the government book of estimates for the 2017-2018 financial year, a total of E1,191,650,000 ($US91 million) has been allocated to the Ministry of Defence, E995,695,000 to the police and E505,896,000 to the Correctional Services.
Swaziland’s spending on military and security has been growing over the past few years. Meanwhile, seven in ten of the 1.3 million population live in abject poverty with incomes less than US$2 per day.
Swaziland spent US$259.8 million on its military in the years 2011 to 2014. In 2014 military spending amounted to 5.9 percent of all government spending in Swaziland, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) in its Military Expenditure Database for 2015.
The military spending amounted to 2.2 percent of Swaziland’s entire gross domestic product (GDP).
In the calendar year 2014, Swaziland’s military spending was estimated to be US$80.6 million; about the equivalent of US$62 for every person in the kingdom.
In 2011, the Swazi Government set aside more than US$100 million for spending on the army and police force and the then Finance Minister Majozi Sithole admitted that the army was prepared for an uprising by the population in Swaziland.
This followed a series of prodemocracy uprisings in North Africa, leading to what became known as the ‘Arab Spring’. King Mswati was fearful something similar could happen in his kingdom. A Facebook group calling itself the April 12 Uprising had already called for an overthrow of the King.
In February 2011, Sithole told an open stakeholder dialogue on the 2011-2012 budget and Fiscal Adjustment Roadmap, ‘Yes, we are spending a lot on the army but we are not anticipating what is happening in North Africa to come here,’ he said.
He added, ‘However, the army is there to avoid such situations.’
In 2009, the Swazi Government was revealed to be engaged in arms dealing by the United States. A diplomatic cable written by Maurice Parker, the then US Ambassador to Swaziland, and later published by WikiLeaks revealed that the UK Government had blocked an arms deal between a UK company Unionlet and the Swaziland Government because it feared their ‘possible use for internal repression’.
The Swazi Government wanted to buy equipment worth US$60 million.
Among items listed for purchase were, ‘3 Bell Model UH-1H helicopters, FN Herstal 7.6251mm Minimi light machine guns, blank and tracer ammunition, armored personnel carriers, command and control vehicles including one fitted with a 12.7x99mm M2 Browning heavy machine gun and others fitted with the FN Herstal light machine guns, military ambulances, armored repair and recovery vehicles, weapon sights, military image intensifier equipment, optical target surveillance equipment, 620 Heckler & Koch G36E assault rifles, 240 Heckler & Koch G36K assault rifles, 65 Heckler & Koch G36E rifles, 75 Heckler & Koch UMP submachine guns 9x19mm, and 35 Heckler & Koch USP semi-automatic pistols’.
The Swaziland Government said it wanted the items to fulfil its United Nations ‘peacekeeping’ obligations in Africa.
The UK Government did not believe it and thought either the weapons would be used against the Swazi civilian population, or they were being bought in order to sell on to another country, possibly Iran. The UK Government blocked the deal.
In his diplomatic cable, Parker said, ‘The array of weapons requested would not be needed for the first phases of peacekeeping, although it is possible someone tried to convince the Swazi government they were required. The GKOS [Government of the Kingdom of Swaziland] may have been attempting to build up domestic capability to deal with unrest, or was possibly acting as an intermediary for a third party such as Zimbabwe or a Middle Eastern country that had cash, diamonds or goods to trade.’
Once the cable became public in 2011, John Kunene, Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Defence, who signed the original deal in 2008, said the kingdom had never given up trying to buy the weapons.
The Swazi News, an independent newspaper in Swaziland, reported (26 February 2011) that Kunene was still trying to broker a deal.
In March 2011 Kunene was sacked from his job after a disclosure that the army had run out of food to feed its soldiers.
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