The Prime Minister of Swaziland (eSwatini) Ambrose Dlamini said that the fleet of 15 Rolls-Royce vehicles purchased by the kingdom’s absolute monarch King Mswati III were paid for by private money and not public funds. They were reported to have cost up to US$4 million.
News of the purchase has been reported around the world and the King came under heavy criticism for the lavish spending.
A few days after the purchase the King also took delivery of a fleet of 126 BMW vehicles which were reportedly for ‘escort duties’.
The Times of eSwatini reported Dlamini told a press conference on Wednesday (13 November 2019) the Rolls-Royce cars ‘were purchased privately and not through the public purse and no money from the national budget went to the purchase of these cars’.
It had been reported that Rolls-Royce had been purchased for the king’s wives.
The eSwatini Observer (previously Swazi Observer), a newspaper in effect owned by the king, reported Dlamini warned those who protested against the king were in danger of breaking the kingdom’s Suppression of Terrorism Act. ‘Violators of the law will be prosecuted,’ he said.
Swaziland is not a democracy and political parties are banned from taking part in elections. The king personally appoints the government, including the Prime Minister.
The Observer reported, ‘Government, he said, would not tolerate statements that were demeaning to the person of His Majesty and the institution of the Monarchy.’
On the same day the Prime Minister spoke a march by political parties protesting against King Mswati and calling for democracy was stopped by police in Mbabane.
The Times reported the Prime Minister confirmed that it was responsible for buying 84 BMW cars and 42 BMW motorbikes. The exact cost of these has not been reported.
‘The purchase of the fleet came against the backdrop of an ailing economy, where the country was struggling to meet its obligations,’ the Times reported.
It quoted the Prime Minister saying, ‘Government receives the public criticism regarding the purchase of the vehicles given the current financial situation in the country. It is worth noting that the decision to replace the fleet was taken in July 2018 before austerity measures were put in place.
‘A commitment was made with the supplier at that time hence the agreement could not be reversed now as doing so could lead to litigation which would come with adverse consequences for government.’
The Times added, ‘Dlamini said as previously stated, the purchase of this fleet was in line with government policy to replace cars after five years. He said most of the VIP and escort vehicles being replaced now were 11 years old and others were no longer roadworthy, which was a huge cost to government as they had to constantly cater for the repairs of the cars. He said government saved a lot of money from having a newer fleet because it came with a warranty and service plan.’
In a speech the US Ambassador to Swaziland Lisa Peterson criticised the purchases. She said, ‘While the government continued using its existing vehicle fleet, the palace sees fit to acquire more than a dozen Rolls-Royce vehicles with a minimum price tag of E52.5 million. To accompany this royal fleet, there is now an even larger fleet of official escort vehicles, purchased with public funds.’
She said, ‘It is exceedingly difficult for development partners to continue advocating for assistance to eSwatini when such profligate spending or suspicious giving is taking place.’
She said, ‘However, should the people of Eswatini really be comfortable with such disregard for the perilous fiscal state of the country, particularly with so many of His Majesty’s subjects living below the international poverty line? Should people really believe that a possible multi-million dollar gift came without any strings attached?’
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