Times slams US Ambassador over extravagant spending sentiments



BY : ZWELI MARTIN DLAMINI

JOHANNESBURG :The Times of Swaziland, a newspaper whose Managing editor Martin Dlamini privately works for King Mswati has disputed sentiments made by United States Ambassador to Swaziland Lisa Peterson suggesting that the country was struggling financially due to extravagancy.

The newspaper published an article that attributes the country’s financial challenges to a motor vehicle syndicate that forge documents for car owners thus depriving the country revenue. The report by the publication comes in the midst of international concerns regarding the extravagant spending by King Mswati who was pictured wearing a R21million watch and a multi-million coat decorated with diamonds. Martin Dlamini, the editor of the Times was cited and criticized in a 2014 report by the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) after being captured and included on King Mswati’s payroll where he has benefited over R2million of taxpayers money in respect of allowances and other questionable payments.

“Mention was also made of a clear conflict of interest with the managing editor of the Times of Swaziland, Martin Dlamini who also works privately as the King’s speech-writer. This arguably, compromises his position at the Times” read the report in part.

The media capture in the Kingdom of Swaziland saw the country rated 152 out of 180 in terms of press freedom by Reporters Without Boarders. Martin Dlamini, the editor of the newspaper declined to comment when questioned and asked to elaborate his newspaper’s sentiments on how the vehicle syndicate was the sole contributor to the country’s financial challenges. In a 2014 report by the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), Dlamini shocked the media fraternity when he retracted a genuine story attributed to the then Finance Ministry Principal Secretary Khabonina Mabuza who disclosed that King Mswati stole over R200million from public coffers. Dlamini published an apology directed to the country’s authorities saying the story was not true even though the Principal Secretary (PS) was on record disclosing this in Parliament. The PS was subsequently fired in the midst of the confusion over the theft of the public funds.

The editor when giving an earlier comment claims he was not aware of the report and promised to give explanation after familiarizing himself with it, however after it was sent to him, he avoided communication with this publication at all cost.

“I will have to read it and talk later, I was not contacted by the authors” he said

When campaigning to be elected Chairman of the Editors Forum at the Mountain Inn Hotel in 2017, the editor confirmed his links with the King. He said his connections with royalty would benefit the Forum, as through him, it would be easy for journalists to arrange a meeting with the King. He was responding to questions from editors who wanted to know if his links with the King would not compromise his duties as Chairman of the Forum.

“As a professional, I know how to balance my duties, in fact that would benefit even the editors as it would be easy for the Forum to meet HMK and create a good working relationship” said the editor. Lisa Peterson, the Ambassador of the United States of America to Swaziland warned that the economy of the country might soon collapse as a result of extravagant spending. She said the current expenditure by those in power made it difficult for the Embassy to justify request for funding. She was speaking during her country’s 242 independence anniversary at the Embassy in June 2018.

“How do we continue to justify helping out in the health sector while bad spending decisions are being made elsewhere in government?” said the US Ambassador The country is currently facing shortage of drugs in hospitals, non-availability of elderly grants and monies for Free Primary Education (FPE). But in the midst of these challenges, King Mswati used public funds to purchase a jet whose overall costs reportedly stood around R1billion. The country also utilized millions to celebrate 50 years of independence from the British colonial rule an event that doubled as the King Birthday celebration where tenders were awarded to royal family members.

Mario Masuku, the President of the People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO) described Dlamini as a State spy who was strategically placed in the media by the regime to collect information for the King while blocking critical stories about the State.

“There must be undisclosed relationship between the Times Proprietors, the state and the man called editor. He serves both masters well for now” said the PUDEMO President The Swazi opposition leader said members of the fourth estate should just disown the captured editor if the media wants to remain credible. “Martin sometimes represents the Swazi media at international level and it is not in the interest of the press to have someone linked to the regime disguising as an independent scribe in the eyes of the international community. We wouldn’t like to deprive the public news but we cant be a conduit of censored news from a State informant.

Insiders in the royal circles disclosed that Dlamini was strategically deployed in the media as Liso LeNkhosi kubetindzaba(King’s overseer in the media industry). But Swazi journalists describe him as a spy for the King and that he normally attends meetings for the civil society to collect information about what is being discussed about the regime for the Intelligence Unit.

“There must be undisclosed relationship between the Times Proprietors, the state and the man called editor. He serves both masters well for now” said the PUDEMO President.

The Swazi opposition leader said members of the fourth estate should just disown the captured editor if the media wants to remain credible. “Martin sometimes represents the Swazi media at international level and it is not in the interest of the press to have someone linked to the regime disguising as an independent scribe in the eyes of the international community. We wouldn’t like to deprive the public news but we cant be a conduit of censored news from a State informant.

On another note, a recent report by the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) concluded that the media in Swaziland was in crisis. The report quoted Swaziland Coalition of Concerned Civil Organizations (SCCCO) Director, Lomcebo Dlamini saying the independence of the private media was not only compromised by political pressure but “brown envelope” journalism where journalists accepts money and other benefits to hide information. In the same report, Vuyisile Hlatswayo, the National Director of the Media Institute of Southern Africa Swaziland said even in the private media editorial independence was compromised by editors and media owners with cosy relationship with government and major companies.

“The private media owners and editors ingratiate themselves with big corporations that reciprocate with handing out freebies to the editors and journalists. Such tendencies not only compromise the editorial independence of the media but also contravene Article 3(1) of the Code of Ethics for Journalists which states that: “Journalists should not accept bribes or any form of inducement to influence the performance of his/her professional duties” he said

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