MBABANE: King Mswati who rules eSwatini as an absolute Monarch is now appealing for more donations from the international community to mitigate the escalating COVID-19, few months after splashing about R1 Billion buying Rolls Royce and a fleet of BMWs to be used by his family.
On or around May 2020, King Mswati, through Prime Minister Ambrose Mandvulo Dlamini appealed to the United Nations for financial support saying the COVID-19 crisis came at the time when the country was fighting HIV, malaria and TB.
“COVID-19 came at a time when the Kingdom is continuing with the fight against HIV, Malaria and TB. These have caused a big strain on our national budget” said the King through PM Ambrose Dlamini.
But it later emerged that even though the King was appealing for donations, over R500 Million donated by various companies, UN agencies and other international partners to the National Disaster Management Agency(NDMA) under the Deputy Prime Minister’s Office was marred by allegations of corruption, as a result, the citizens are struggling to get food parcels and COVID-19 grants.
Our investigation has uncovered that other COVID 19 protective equipment donated by various companies and agencies meant for hospitals are diverted by the Ministers to be used at the palaces while government struggles to fund the fight against the virus from public coffers.
As a result political parties and trade union leaders came hard on the government demanding evidence that the R24 Billion budget announced by Finance Minister Neal Rijkenberg was used to fight the COVID-19.
Wandile Dludlu, the Secretary General of the People’s United Democratic Movement(PUDEMO) said the Nation was only informed about the donations from companies and other organizations but it is not clear how much government has redirected in the annual budget towards the fight of COVID 19.
“Government must bring evidence that indeed the R24 Billion budget announced by Finance Minister Neal Rijkenberg has been exhausted in the fight against COVID-19” said the PUDEMO Secretary General.
Deputy Prime Minister Themba Masuku, the Chairman and or political head of the Task Team responsible for the COVID crisis did not respond to our questions on the subject matter. But on or around 05 April 2020, the Deputy Prime Minister wrote to the Swaziland News editor explaining that the Task Team was working transparently without any pressure or influence from the King.
“This national task force is supported by about twelve sector committees each chaired by the private sector, non-governmental organizations and faith-based organizations. The membership of these sector committees is predominantly non-governmental and include members of the United Nations system such as the WHO, WFP and UNICEF. These diversified committees provide ideas, advice and quality control to the Task Team I head and in turn that information flows to the cabinet for final approval. The Head of State is appropriately fully informed of any developments and necessarily provides his input” said the DPM.
However, the Deputy Prime Minister failed to respond to our questions this week when asked to explain why the country was surviving with donations after the King splashed about R1 Billion on expensive vehicles to be used by the royal family.
On or November 2019, Chief Mgwagwa Gamedze, the Chief Executive Officer(CEO) in the King’s Office told this Swaziland News that the King bought the vehicles from his own pocket. He said the money came through the royal budget approved by Parliament and supplemented through the sale of old cars belonging to royalty, however, no public auction was ever conducted by royalty for the sale of the vehicles.
Eugene Dube, a respected eSwatini journalist who interviewed the King’s Office CEO when the vehicles arrived in the country warned the United Nations and international community at large to refrain from funding King Mswati’s government saying the regime does not embrace transparency and accountability hence the funding ends up benefiting only the royal family. Speaking to this publication, the editor advised the international community to influence the establishment of a transparent democratic government that will account for public funds, including the donations that are currently squandered by those in power.
“What is needed now is an interim government of national unity that will pave way for democratic reforms. The United Nations should know that this government does not embrace accountability of resources hence any funding will benefit the King and the royal family not the people” said the editor.
It has been disclosed that apart from the extravagant spending by the King, corruption in the tiny Kingdom has become a norm and Swazis are acclimatized not to criticize the King.
On or around June 2020, officials from the National Disaster Management Agency (NDMA) allegedly manipulated over R40 Million COVID-19 donation by businessman Natie Kirsh meant for the poor fo the benefit of the rich, powerful and politically connected including those in gainful employment, no arrests were made by the Anti-Corruption Commission(ACC).
But Russel Dlamini, the Chief Executive Officer(CEO) of the NDMA later told Eswatini Observer, a newspaper owned by King Mswati that those who unlawfully benefitted from the COVID-19 grants should pay back the money or face arrest.
“We are going to the communities and we will be getting their lists and they are going to be apprehended as soon as it is verified that they received the money” said the NDMA CEO.