MBABANE: As the Swazi Observer sinks deeper into financial challenges, about E2million was secretly transferred from the civil servants’ multi-billion Public Service Pension Fund (PSPF) to the Nedbank account of the ‘state-owned’ media publishing company.
These are preliminary findings of an on-going investigation by this Swaziland News into the alleged systematic looting that is threatening the existence of the Fund.
The alleged transaction is now regarded as a ‘secret’ on the grounds that both parties are reluctant to respond to concerns by trade unions on how the royal owned Swazi Observer benefited from the civil servants’ pension fund.
Documents in our possession suggests that the Swazi Observer obtained E1,984 503.00, however the balance for the year ending March 2018 was E1,313 086.00 after part of the money was repaid. However, it has been ascertained that the royal owned media company is now struggling to repay the loan after its cash flow challenges deepens.
Reached for comments, Elkan Makhanya, the Public Service Pension Fund (PSPF) Director of Corporate Services said the loan agreement they have with the Swazi Observer as their client remains confidential adding that it would be improper for them to comment on the subject matter.
“We are unable to publicly discuss such issues between ourselves and our clients because they are confidential. I am thus unable to make further comments on the matter” he said.
Swazi Observer Board Chairman S’thofeni Ginindza did not respond to our questions on the subject matter.
But Alpheous Nxumalo, the former Swazi Observer Managing Director could only confirm that the newspaper was trapped into financial crisis after it was ‘dumped’ by Tibiyo TakaNgwane. He said Tibiyo wanted the media company to generate its own revenue but the editors urged that it was impossible to achieve this if the newspaper remains government and Royalty’s propaganda machinery.
“Tibiyo issued the ‘sink’ or ‘swim’ policy which basically stopped the financial support. Editors wanted the paper to be critical even against government so that it can gain support from the public and generate revenue. The paper once tried to be critical but that was causing more tension between Absalom Themba Dlamini (known as AT) and Barnabas, as Banny would seek an audience with the King saying AT was using the Observer to fight him. So the newspaper ended up being like this and it is now struggling financially. On the issue of the Pension Fund loan, I cannot comment further because you might find that there was a willing lender and a willing borrower” he said.
Lucky Lukhele, the Spokesperson of the Swaziland Solidarity Network (SNN) said it was wrong for the Swazi Observer to be funded with workers’ pensions and advised Tibiyo to shut it down if it fails to sustain itself.
“This is an insult to the workers, and it must be condemned. You will recall that Tibiyo was funded with money sourced from the public and now one of its subsidiary companies is sustained with money from workers’ Pension Fund. If Tibiyo feels the Swazi Observer is not generating profits or failing to sustain itself, then it must be sold to private individuals or closed” said the SSN Spokesperson.
Alan Mkhonta, the Managing Director of the Swazi Observer first denied knowledge of the said loan when questioned by this publication, he later asked this investigative journalist to disclose his sources of information.
“Where did you get such information, there is nothing like that” he said.
On or around 26 June 2019, Cabinet stopped a high-level investigation whose terms of reference was to uncover how monies were invested within the fund and whether such investments were in the best interest of the workers. A subsequent investigation by this publication further uncovered that government through the Minister of Public Service, Christian Ntshangase manipulated the Police Intelligence Unit to remove former SNAT President Sibongile Mazibuko from the Pension Fund Board of Directors. Insiders within the corridors of power disclosed that Mazibuko was removed for being vocal against the systematic looting of the workers monies within PSPF.
“Sibongile is a principled woman who never tolerates corruption and as you know, she is vocal about the looting at the Pension Fund. So her involvement in the PSPF Board of Directors would have given her an opportunity to get first-hand information on what was going on within the fund. Sibongile would have disrupted many business interests even for the powers that be and government. She was seen a threat because these entities like the Pension Fund, MVA, Provident Fund are now secretly funding those in power and other powerful individuals, so principled people who might oppose that will be removed” said the insider.
Wander Mkhonza, the Secretary General of the Amalgamated Trade Union of Swaziland (ATUSWA) described the loan agreement allegedly entered into between the Public Service Pension Fund (PSPF) and the Swazi Observer as very strange. Mkhonza wondered why a ‘state owned’ media house could get funding sourced from workers.
“All those whom we deployed to represent workers interests in these boards should ensure that they only pass investments that will create jobs and improve the economy. We don’t know how investing in a state owned and controlled media house would benefit the economy. Workers money should not be used to invest in institutions that undermine workers day in and day out” said the ATUSWA boss.
An independent investigation by this Swaziland News uncovered that shortly after the King signed into law the Bill that was forcing the PSPF to invest 30% of its revenue locally, there was a scramble for loans by government and companies linked to royalty. Documents in our possession revealed that a majority of these politically connected companies like the Swazi Observer are now struggling to repay the loans.
Sikelela Dlamini, the Secretary General of the Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT) said their main concern was that the workers money remains at stake whenever the Pension Fund invest in projects that might collapse in the future.
“PSPF is workers money. Yes, we understand that it generates part of its revenue through investment loan, but it doesn’t help the fund and its beneficiaries to borrow a person or entity who might struggle to repay the money.” said the SNAT Secretary General.
But Mduduzi Gina, the Secretary General of the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA) said principles that governs pensioners’ monies suggests that Pension Funds should not invest in risky projects. Gina said as TUCOSWA, they believe the PSPF conducted due diligence before pumping the money into the Observer.
“We believe the PSPF did due diligence before pumping the money into the Swazi Observer. The main concern here might be that the newspaper has been failing to sustain itself after it was dumped by Tibiyo, hence there is no guarantee that the money might return” said the TUCOSWA Secretary General.
Pension Fund Building