MBABANE: About E100million scholarship monies collected from former University students has been transferred from the Study Loan Recovery Account held at Standard Bank, an independent investigation reveals.
Evidence in our possession suggests that the multi-million transaction that was conducted around July 2019, three months before the purchasing of the Rolls Royce cars, came after the Ministry of Finance ordered Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Labour Thulani Mkhaliphi and other high ranking officials that the money be transferred to the Government Account held at the Central Bank.
In the midst of this investigation, Finance Minister Neal Rijikernberg was questioned by this publication, he failed to respond to questions when asked to explain the circumstances surrounding the highly questionable bank transfer. He was asked to clarify whether this was not the contributing factor that saw hundreds of Swazi students struggling to secure scholarships.
But insiders within the corridors of power told this publication that the money, after it was transferred to the Government account subsequently became vulnerable to be used by royalty triggering series protests within the Universities after government struggled to pay allowances. But this investigation could not establish direct evidence substantiating that the Central Bank became a conduit pipe, specifically for this transaction to the King’s Office, instead it was uncovered the money joined other public funds, some that were used to pay salaries for civil servants, international trips and other expenses for King Mswati.
Thulani Mkhaliphi, the Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Labour and Social Security confirmed that the E100million was transferred to the Government Account. Responding to questions from this Swaziland News on why the money was ‘grabbed’ from the Study Loan Recovery Account, the PS said this was done as per the directive of the Ministry of Finance.
“It wasn’t grabbing Mr Dlamini, actually what happened was that, the collection account is at the commercial bank for convenience of payments and the arrangement was that the money would be shifted to the Government General Account at the Central Bank on daily basis. But there was some lapse somewhere until the Auditor General questioned why the money was kept at the Commercial Bank,” said the PS.
An investigation by this publication uncovered more evidence suggesting that signatories in the Study Loan Recovery Account held at the Standard Bank are PS in the Ministry of Finance, the Auditor General and the PS in the Ministry of Labour and Social Security. It transpired during the course of this investigation that even though the account was held at the commercial bank, it was fully controlled by government pending the process of appointing an independent entity to administrate the scholarship process.
Reached for comments, Sikelela Dlamini, the Secretary General of the Swaziland National Association of Teachers said this transaction suggests that government cannot be trusted with public funds even on policies that were put in place by the State.
“Initially, this was meant to be a Scholarship Fund where money will be collected from former University students to an independent account for the benefit of those who are pursuing their studies. Now, to transfer that money to the government account where it might be used to purchase Rolls Royce cars for the King and further fund other State expenses amounts to misappropriation” said the SNAT Secretary General.
On or around 7th November 2019, Makhosi Vilakati, the Minister of Labour and Social Security blamed students of the Southern African Nazarene University (SANU) for embarking on a protest action, saying they were responsible for the delay in the processing of their allowances by submitting non-functional bank accounts.
But now, an investigation by this Swaziland News reveals that the scholarship crisis actually erupted after the E100million was transferred from the Recovery Account thus rendering the coffers to fund the institutions of higher learning almost empty.
Lucky Lukhele, the Spokesperson of the Swaziland Solidarity Network (SSN) said the systematic bank transfers of public monies for the benefit of the King was common in the country adding that he was not surprised with these latest revelations.
“We are not surprised because the Swazi Government coffers has become a cash cow for the King and his royal family, this thing has been happening for years. You will remember that at some point, the current Minister of Finance in South Africa Tito Mboweni who was the Reserve Bank Governor had to travel to Swaziland to intervene after the King withdrew over E100million and his first stop was Las Vegas, simply for one thing only, gambling. So the King, besides these cars, has a serious problem of gambling which I believe needs serious attention” said SSN Spokesperson.
Senior political sources in government questioned the decision to transfer the money to the Government Account saying it was making it easily to be manipulated by King Mswati or alternatively used to fund other government expenses while students were frustrated within the Universities.
“We are collecting E4.5million per month and that money was now E100million and enough to pay scholarships without problems but boNeal directed us to transfer the money to the government account where it became vulnerable to be looted” said the insider.
The source said as a Ministry, they were keen to fully implement the idea of MP Lutfo Dlamini, the then Minister of Labour and Social Security who outsourced the collection and payment of scholarships, but they were under political pressure to release the money to the government account.
Reached for comments, MP Lutfo Dlamini said it’s hard for him to comment on the matter as he was no longer the Minister of Labour and Social Security.
“No comment as I no longer work for the Ministry of Labour and Social Security,” said the Ndzingeni MP.
But Lunga Dlamini, the President of the University of Eswatini(UNESWA) Students Representative Council (SRC) said it would be in the interest of government, the students and the entire education system to appoint an independent entity to manage the scholarship process including payments of students allowances.
“It is easy for the money to be misappropriated under the administration of government. An independent entity will make sure that payments of scholarships are done on time and this will reduce the protests within the Universities. You may find that this E100million you are telling me about was transferred from the Recovery Account with the hope that it will be repaid, however that never happened and it resulted to the current scholarship crisis,” he said.
King Mswati III