MBABANE: King Mswati and Finance Minister Neal Rijikernberg allegedly manipulated the law and influenced Parliament to establish the Eswatini National Petroleum Company(ENPC) to be sustained with funds sourced indirectly from members of the public through the recent systematic increase in petrol prices.
The establishment of the Petroleum Company forms part of the Phuzumoya Oil Reserves project that was marred by serious allegations of corruption and or abuse of power, the King’s Government now intends to commence the construction of the reserves at a cost of over E1.6 billion after terminating a contract with Kantey and Templer Swaziland(PTY) LTD that had initially quoted E900million.
When asked to respond and clarify the political influence that resulted to his company being sidelined in the project, Mondli Nxumalo, the Director of Kantey and Templer Swaziland(PTY) LTD referred comments to the Ministry of Natural Resources.
“Even if we might be interested in commenting in this matter, for now we prefer not to say anything, the Ministry of Natural Resources is better positioned to comment in this matter”, he said.
Documents in our possession suggest that after sidelining the company that was initially awarded the tender to construct the oil reserves, unsuspecting members of the public were systematically forced to fund part of the King’s project from their pockets through a petrol price increase, owners of the various filling stations in the country were allegedly 'forced' to comply with the Petroleum Act of 2020 to fund their new competitor in complete violation of the Competition Act.
An independent investigation by this Swaziland News uncovered that on or around 08 February 2021, subsequent to the establishment of the oil company through provisions of the Petroleum Act 2020, Dorcas Dlamini, the Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Natural Resources wrote a letter to all fillings stations in the country demanding that they pay 35c per litre of fuel to the newly established politically connected Petroleum company with strong links to King Mswati.
“The Ministry kindly informs the Oil Industry that oil companies will be required to pay a fuel levy of 35c/l to the Eswatini National Petroleum Company(ENPC) as per clause 33(1b) of the Petroleum Act No. 18, 2020 Gazette No. 183 of 2020. The above mentioned levy, to be recorded as ENPC levy in the slate, will be introduced to the fuel price structure with effect from the 1st February 2021”, read the letter from the Natural Resources Principal Secretary addressed to Bongani Zwane, the Oil Industry Secretary.
Reached for comments by this publication, Bongani Zwane, the Secretary of the Oil Industry confirmed receiving the letter from the Natural Resources Ministry adding that as fuel retailers they had no alternative but to comply as directed through the letter.
“I received the letter, whether we are happy with the new directive or not, there’s nothing we can do because it’s the law and we are now expected to comply” he said.
But insiders within the fuel industry told this publication that the establishment of the Petroleum Company suggests that the other oil companies are now expected to fund their competitor through the fuel levy.
“This new directive suggests that we are now expected to fund our competitor, the Petroleum Company will establish filling stations and sell fuel just like us but receive the payment from our fuel companies as well, this is unfair competition”, said an insider within the Oil Industry.
But an independent investigation conducted by this publication further uncovered that the collection of the fuel levy that seeks to generate revenue for the royal linked Petroleum Company came shortly after an increase in fuel prices.
On or around 03 February 2021, Dorcas Dlamini, the Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Natural Resources and Energy released a press statement informing the public about an increase in fuel prices.
“The Ministry of Natural Resources and Energy hereby notifies members of the public that the price of all fuel products(i.e Petrol, Diesel and illuminating paraffin) shall increase by 70 cents/litre with effect from midnight of Thursday 4th February 2021” , read part of the statement from the PS dated 03 February 2021.
Documentary evidence in our possession further substantiates that 50% of the revenue to be collected from members of the public as per the directive from the King’s government in respect of the recent petrol price increase will fund the newly established politically connected Petroleum Company. This is contained in a letter dated O8 February 2021 from the Natural Resources Principal Secretary directed to other Oil companies that include Total Swaziland, Galp Swaziland, Phakama Oil and Engen Swaziland among others.
When reached for comments, Fannie Mtsetfwa, the Sales and Marketing Director at Galp Swaziland said he can’t comment at this juncture as they intend writing to the Ministry demanding clarification regarding the new Petroleum levy.
“We can’t comment at the moment because we intend writing to the Ministry demanding clarification regarding the new fuel levy, there are things we don’t understand hence we need clarity”, said the Galp Sales and Marketing Director.
It has been disclosed that even though the project that seeks to dig deeper in the pockets of Swazis was facilitated within the Ministry of Natural Resources, it was allegedly 'masterminded' by Finance Minister Neal Rijikernberg, a powerful capitalist who owns various companies with links to King Mswati.
A questionnaire was sent to the Finance Minister where he was asked to clarify some issues surrounding the establishment of the fuel company, however, he had not responded at the time of compiling this report.
On or around the 15th February 2021, Peter Bhembe, the Minister of Natural Resources and Energy when speaking during a press conference said the Oil Company was 100% owned by the King's government adding that it seeks to ensure the security of fuel supply.
"The National Oil Company is 100% owned by Government and will, amongst other objectives, be responsible for ensuring security of fuel supply in the country through various methods including the establishment of national strategic stocks and shall ensure availability of adequate and affordable fuel in rural and remote areas", said the Minister.