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Thursday, 30 April 2009

COST OF SWAZILAND KING’S NEW CARS

So just how much did King Mswati III of Swaziland pay for his new fleet of armoured cars for himself and his wives?


After news leaked earlier this month (April 2009) that he was buying up to 20 Mercedes Benz S600 Pullman Guard cars, the king’s defenders have been on the attack.


Reports in the Swazi media and on the internet said the king paid E2.5 million (about 250,000 US dollars) for each of the cars.


Not true, says, the king’s men. The Swazi Observer, the newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati, reports an unnamed ‘source’ saying the purchase price was ‘far less’ than reported. The source doesn’t tell us how much the king did pay.


This lack of information doesn’t seem to trouble the Observer which goes on to report the source saying, ‘Moreover, the status of our Royalty and the pride and value we attach to the institution of the Monarchy dictates that they project the correct image that inspires confidence. The cars and their safety features befit that status. So there is really nothing wrong with the purchase.’


I love the bit about the cars befitting the status of the Swazi Royal Family. About seven in ten of Swaziland’s near one million population live in abject poverty earning less than one US dollar a day, Swaziland has the highest rate of HIV infection in the world and last year six in ten Swazis needed some form of international food aid to fend off hunger.


On that basis the ‘status’ of the kingdom is pretty poor and the king should probably be riding around in an oxen cart not in a fleet of cars that can resist an attack with small arms projectiles, a grenade or other explosive.

The cars also include high-end audio, an intercom, 19-inch flat screen display, DVD player, refrigerator and wood trim as standard.

The ‘source’ told the Observer that the money to buy the cars was not from the government.


‘This was not abuse of taxpayers’ money and the money was not transferred from a government ministry, but these were private Royal funds. Remember that there is a budget for Royalty in Swaziland as is the case elsewhere in the world. Even the biggest democracies have such budgets,’ the ‘source’ said.


The Observer didn’t see the contradiction in the statement. The money was from private funds, but there is a budget for royalty. In the latest budget announced in March the taxpayer was expected to fork out E130 million this year for the king and his family.


It is estimated that King Mswati has a fortune of 200 million US dollars (E2 billion), but it is not clear where this money comes from, but it is understood that the king takes a royalty (no pun intended) on a number of businesses, rents and mineral rights in Swaziland.


Now back to the cost of the cars. It is difficult to find prices for the Mercedes Benz S600 Pullman Guard. There is a saying among dealers in expensive cars that if customers have to ask the price they can’t afford it. Therefore, prices don’t get talked about too much.


I have been able to find one dealer offering the 2009 Mercedes-Benz S65 AMG for a base price of 199,825 US dollars (nearly E20 million). I don’t know if this is the model the king bought and I don’t know how much more you have to pay for extras, but the price is probably a good ball park figure and not far short of what people were saying the king paid when the news first broke.


If you want a closer look at the cars click below for a promotional video placed on YouTube.



Wednesday, 29 April 2009

ZUMA BACKTRACKS ON SWAZI FREEDOM

Although people have rightly poured scorn on claims made in the Swazi Observer, the newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati III, that Swaziland played a major role in getting Jacob Zuma elected as president of South Africa, one significant point has been overlooked.


In its election manifesto the African National Congress (ANC), which won the poll with just under two thirds of the vote, stated the South African government would ‘Spare no energy in our efforts to find urgent, democratic and lasting solutions to the situation in Zimbabwe, Swaziland, Sudan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Western Sahara, Somalia and other countries.’


That seems clear enough to me. Swaziland is not a democracy, it has sub-Saharan Africa’s only absolute monarchy, political parties are banned, Barnabas Dlamini was illegally appointed as the kingdom’s prime minister and the Swazi government is presently ignoring a Swazi High Court ruling that it should abide by the constitution and introduce free primary schooling.


It is right that South Africa as the region’s major democracy should do all in its power to encourage democracy elsewhere.


So far, so good. But a reader of this blog points out to me that once the election was secured, Zuma had a change of heart. In his victory speech he said, ‘We will continue with efforts to find lasting solutions in Zimbabwe, Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Western Sahara, Somalia and other flashpoints.’


Not a mention of Swaziland.


Was this an oversight, a mere slip of the tongue or does it tell us that South Africa under Zuma is not quite as committed to democracy as we were led to believe?


The Observer has been making outrageous claims for the ruling elite in Swaziland and its influence on the South African elections. It says that Zuma made many visits to meet King Mswati in the run up to the election (presumably to hear firsthand the experiences the king has in fighting democratic elections).


The chair of the king’s advisory council, Liqoqo, Prince Logcogco Mangaliso, told the Observer, ‘Swaziland has always had a profound role in the victory of Zuma. Actually, we have always known that he was going to win because he made it a point that he came to the country for assistance. He did not forget his roots and the ancestors and culture and has respect for culture.’


The newspaper also reported that Minister of Foreign Affairs Lutfo Dlamini congratulated the king for organising the fair elections in South Africa (don’t ask me how the king was meant to have done this: South Africa has plenty of experience now in running elections and this was the fourth since the end of apartheid).


There was much optimism among progressives that a Zuma victory in South Africa would hasten democracy in Swaziland but as things stand at present this optimism may be misplaced.

Monday, 27 April 2009

$5bn SWAZI ‘FRAUD’ MYSTERY DEEPENS

The mystery is deepening over an alleged 5 billion US dollar (E50 million) deal to build power stations in Swaziland.


When news that King Mswati III had secured this amount to pay for a company called Franken Mining to build coal power stations broke earlier this month (April 2009) suspicions were aroused because no one could trace a company called Franken Mining.


The waters got murkier when it was revealed that the Swazi Government had not been involved in any negotiations over the project: instead King Mswati deliberately by-passed ministers and his office made the deal itself.


Now, comes further disturbing news about the company at the centre of the deal: Franken Mining.


The Times of Swaziland, the kingdom’s only independent daily newspaper, reports today (27 April 2009) that it has hit a brick wall in its search to find Franken Mining.


It reports, ‘The Times is in possession of correspondence between the company and local officials, who include Reverend Absalom Dlamini, former Minister of Economic Planning and Development and Prince Mangaliso, now referred to as Chief Logcogco.


‘These letters have telephone numbers (both fixed and mobile) as well as a postal box address. They also have an email address.


‘For the last four or five weeks, the landline number listed has not been functioning.Dialling ignites an automatic message purportedly from Telkom South Africa.


‘The message says: “The number you have dialled does not correspond to a subscriber in service.”


‘The mobile phone number is always on voicemail and a recorded message informs the caller not to leave a message, as one will be sent automatically to the owner.


‘According to the letters in our possession, Franken Mining’s postal address is at Menlo Park in Pretoria, South Africa. The deal is also to be facilitated by Professor Frans Whelpton. Professor Whelpton’s name became known when it was linked to negotiations for the return of E28 million paid as a deposit for the king’s jet.’


I questioned the deal in a blogpost on 8 April 2009 and asked if the Swazi people are about to be the victims of a gigantic fraud.


Myself and others working independently have been trying to piece together the background to this deal. Chief among our concerns is that 5 billion dollars is said to be available through donor aid to pay for two coal-powered electricity generating stations to be built in the kingdom but there is no evidence about which international donor agencies have contributed the funding or what process was gone through before awarding the contract to Franken.


Swaziland has a long track record of corruption and financial incompetence and it is estimated by the Swazi Government itself that E40 million is lost to corruption in Swaziland each and every month. Also, the long running saga of the E28 million that was secretly (and illegally) paid as a deposit by the Swazi Government to buy a private jet costing E720 million for King Mswati indicates that Swaziland’s rulers cannot be trusted to spend money wisely.


What we do know about the latest power station project is that it is connected to King Mswati through the Swazi National Council (Liqoqo), the king’s advisory body. Prince Mangaliso, chair of the SNC, confirmed to the Times that funding had been secured on behalf of the King’s Projects. He said the rights to coal reserves in Swaziland had been allocated to Franken Mining.


The sums involved in the power station deal are vast: 5 billion US dollars is roughly the equivalent of Swaziland’s entire gross domestic product. The total amount of imports into Swaziland in 2008 was worth roughly 2 billion US dollars.

Friday, 24 April 2009

SWAZI UNIONS STEP UP PROTESTS

Trade unions in Swaziland have vowed to continue to march to defend the Swazi Constitution, despite a threat from the prime minister to ban all protests in the kingdom.


Barnabas Dlamini, the illegally-appointed prime minister of Swaziland, threatened to ban all protests after trade unions and civil society groups staged a march earlier this month (April 2009) to try to force the Swazi Government to honour its constitutional obligations to introduce free primary schooling. The Swaziland High Court has ruled that the government should uphold the constitution.


Despite police attempts to illegally ban the march and violence during the protest, the trade unions have said they will continue the protest and have called for two days of action next month.


The Swaziland Federation of Labour, the Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions and the Swaziland National Association of Teachers in a joint statement said they have no regrets in holding the demonstration and would march again on 19 and 20 May.


The trade unionists accused parliamentarians of having been cowed to silence as government violated the constitution and ignoring the court judgement in support of free primary education.


They said they would continue with the action because the government needed to be marched against and protested against until it changed course.


The statement said, ‘We note the threats from the prime minister to ban marches. He must remember that the courts (despite the contempt his government treats them with), will be the final determinants on the proposed bans.


‘Despite all that, Mr Prime Minister the protests will continue. We cannot do otherwise and be silent whilst our taxes are wasted. If parliamentarians simply keep silent and fold their arms, for reasons best known to them, we will not.’