Finance Minister and the powerful capitalist syndicate
MBABANE :Finance Minister Neal Rijikernburg is allegedly linked to about ten private companies controlled by a group of powerful capitalists.
A bundle of documentary evidence in our possession suggests that among these entities is Montingy Investments Limited, an entity that allegedly obtained over E500 million investment capital from the Public Service Pension Fund (PSPF).
Members of the powerful group of capitalists linked to this company include; John David Millin, Neal Herman Rijikernburg, Johannes Cornelius Rijikernburg and Le Roux Andrew Robert. Others include Prince Lonkhonkhela Dlamini and Cleopas Dlamini who were allegedly included in the Directorship of the company for pumping millions of pensioners’ money into this entity. However, Cleopas Dlamini subsequently resigned few months after he was appointed Senator. An independent investigation into the business dealings of the Minister further uncovered documents that link Montigny to royalty through the multi-billion entity, Tibiyo TakaNgwane. It has been disclosed that in the structure of the Board, Tibiyo is represented by its Managing Director Absalom Themba Dlamini, a former Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Eswatini. When asked by this Swaziland News to share comments regarding the involvement of the Minister in various businesses, former PM Absalom Themba Dlamini did not deny the possibility of a conflict of interest by the Minister when performing his public duties, however he advised him to practice good governance. “It’s true, there might be a conflict of interest because as Minister, he is likely to take decisions that might benefit his businesses. Even though he resigned from the Montigny Board, he still has shareholding interests and I would advise him to practice good governance and rescue himself whenever a matter that impact his businesses is discussed in Cabinet. During my term as a Prime Minister, I used to rescue myself and leave Cabinet meetings every time a matter that touched on petrol was discussed. Sometimes former DPM, the late Albert Shabangu would ask me to stay after declaring my interest but I would say no!, my mere presence would intimidate others when discussing the matter” said the highly regarded former Prime Minister.
Johannes Manikela, the Chairman of the Federation of Swazi Business Community (FESBC) Hhohho Branch said businesspeople were slowly being pushed out of business as government through the Minister of Finance suspended tenders. Responding to questions from this publication, the FESBC Chairman said the Minister was likely to implement cost cutting measures to save money that would then be channeled to businesses linked to him.
“The economy is now stagnant as government blocked everything including tenders. As business people, the involvement of this Minister who doubles as a businessman in Cabinet has a negative impact to our companies, he is likely to channel money to his own businesses” he said.
But Finance Minister Neal Rijkernburg, when responding to questions from this Swaziland News wondered how he could divert resources for the benefit of his businesses as government was not a one-man show.
“How could one divert public resources ?Government is not a one-man show, I have a large team that I work with and have many people above me. Give me an example of how this would even be possible. We have clearly declared our interests as Cabinet Ministers” said the Finance Minister. The sentiments of the Minister were concurred by a comment from Government Spokesperson Percy Simelane who consistently maintained that Ministers declare their interests whenever Cabinet discuss issues that affect business to which they are involved. Responding to questions from this publication, Simelane said at this juncture, they were not aware of the Minister’s business dealings with government directly or indirectly. “We are not aware of the Minister’s business dealings with government directly or indirectly. Our experience is that when Cabinet is discussing an issue that affects a business where a Minister is involved in, that Minister declares his interest and leaves the discussion. Former Prime Minister AT Dlamini stopped chairing Cabinet and left each time fuel was discussed because he had filling stations. Procedurally, Ministers are not suppose to do business with government” said the Government Spokesperson.
But an investigation by this publication into the establishment and affairs of Montingy Investments uncovered that it was fast becoming powerful with political influence through the Minister and its links to royalty. This Swaziland News gathered that despite the concerns among the business community regarding the company’s political connections, trade unions accused the Montigny of violating workers rights with impunity due to its political connections. When reached for comments by this Swaziland News, Wander Mkhonza, the Secretary General of the Amalgamated Trade Union of Swaziland (ATUSWA) said it was unfortunate that a company funded with worker’s pension funds ill-treat employees with impunity. Mkhonza said Montigny, due to its political connections was fast becoming a company that disregards the rights of workers without fear of being held accountable.
“This is a company that is funded with workers pensions but you will be shocked to learn that employees in that company are not treated like human beings, they work long hours yet they are underpaid. We will use all available platforms to fight this and if it calls for this matter to be reported to ILO, we will do so, people are suffering in that company,” said the ATUSWA Secretary General.
When reached for comments, Andrew Le Roux, the Executive Director at Montigny Investments said as a company they cannot respond to spurious claims by ATUSWA whose “leaders are associated with terrorists organizations.
“Montigny does not respond to spurious claims by entities who’s leaders are associated with terrorists organizations, and who have been found by the Labour Commissioner to be guilty of misrepresenting themselves and defrauding their members” said the Executive Director. Research conducted by this publication regarding the disadvantages of capitalism suggests that it promotes inequality and channel resources to few individuals. On or around October 2018, Neal Rijkernburg, the then member of the Royal Board of Trustees who doubled as a Chief Executive Officer(CEO) at Montigny presented before King Mswati during Sibaya People’s Parliament that freezing salary increment for civil servants would be ideal to boost the economy. It was those sentiments that triggered tensions between government and trade unions, further confirming allegations that the Minister was practising capitalism. Speaking to this Swaziland News on the subject matter, Sikelela Dlamini, the vibrant Secretary General of the Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT) said Neal’s presence in Cabinet might create chaos in the country as he will work towards challenging financial resources towards his capitalist syndicate and disregard the interests of workers and the Small and Medium Enterprise(SMEs). Dlamini wondered why government expects them to understand that the country had no money when the Finance Minister presented during Sibaya that salaries increment for civil servants should be frozen.
“The Finance Minister’s presence in Cabinet will create chaos in this country because he will not only sabotage his business competitors but is likely to implement decisions that might worsen the plight of workers. Capitalists are always prepared to channel money to their coffers, they don’t care about the rights of workers and the society,this is what Neal is doing now” said the SNAT Secretary General.
Dlamini further accused Montigny of commercializing houses at Bhunya Village that are used by teachers, forcing them to pay about E2,500 rent despite that the educators receive E600,00 from government as housing allowance. But senior sources within Montigny Investments refuted the allegations that they were ill-treating workers and escalating rent for teachers.
“These teachers want to use the company houses for free and we can’t allow that to happen. They always claim government is paying them E600.00 as housing allowance but they don’t pay even the little that they receive from government, they want to use these houses for free. Regarding the issue of underpaying workers, I can tell you confidently that we are paying above the Government Gazette and one wonders what really is underpaying employees if we pay above the stipulated scale” said the insider.
Andrew Le Roux, the Executive Director at Montigny Investments said SNAT should encourage its members to pay their rentals so that the shareholding of their pension fund could perform well. “If SNAT was honest of it’s interest in the performance of their members pension funds, they would actually be encouraging their members to pay their rentals, and not owe millions of Emalangeni for numerous years and expect other productive members of the society to pay” said the Executive Director.
An independent investigation by this Swaziland News further uncovered that the Finance Minister is linked to Bulembu Ministries Swaziland, a company with business links to the controversial Farmers Bank. Ward Kevin Michael is the core-Director of Bulembu Ministries, an entity whose business premises is situated at Bulembu. Minister Rijikernburg’s portfolio deals with issues that affects financial regulations through the Central Bank and as such, independent analysts said he might find himself conflicted due to his business links with the Farmers Bank.
The Minister, with the same Ward Kevin Michael are also linked to a company known as Mobilize (PTY) LTD, initially, this entity had three Directors before the resignation of Resell Peter Dennis on 02 December 2015. Mobilize, among others deals with installation of mobile TV screens and selling advertising space to companies. An investigation by this publication uncovered that among the potential clients of this company is the Sincemphetelo Motor Vehicle Accident Fund (SMVAF), a government entity where the Minister allegedly influenced the ‘removal’ of Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Helmon Vilakati pending an investigation into payment of about E30million to employees. The investigation report into the affairs of SMVAF was released to the media this week and senior political sources revealed that the Minister was likely to use it as justification for the non-renewal of the former CEO contract. The Minister later appointed Sizakele Dlamini as Acting CEO immediately, who implemented changes within the company by introducing the Corporate Affairs department that will deal with projects among others. Dlamini was later appointed Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Finance, however she continued with her duties at MVA saying she got a directive from the Minister to do so. Responding to questions from this publication during a press conference last week, Dlamini said Minister Neal Rijkernburg directed her to complete her contract before taking up her new position as PS. “Even before I was appointed acting CEO here, I was employed at the Ministry of Finance and it was agreed that I would be in this position for a certain period. So it is not defiance but an arrangement agreed between me and the Minister that I must finish my mandate within the stipulated three months extension and then go back to Finance” she said. Minister Rijkernburg is also associated with a company known as Somacel Swaziland (PTY) LTD, whose other Directors include Mbuso Nhlanhla Simelane and Le Roux Andrew Robert. It transpired during the course of this investigation that Le Roux Andrew Robert features prominently in the capitalists clique (see diagram). Other entities to which the Minister has business interests include Usuthu Development Corporation, Swazi Poles (PTY) LTD, Bulembu Development Corporation, Armagh Investments and NHR Board.