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Monday, 23 April 2018

CHIEF JUSTICE UNDER FIRE FROM LAWYERS

The Law Society of Swaziland has criticised the kingdom’s Chief Justice for banning two lawyers from practising.

It says he has no legal right to do this.

The row started when CJ Bheki Maphalala banned two lawyers from appearing in courts because they had allegedly not passed on monies due to their clients. He said he could do this under sections 139 (5)| and 142 of the Constitution.

The Law Society of Swaziland disputed this and said it was the body to deal with the matter through its disciplinary tribunal.

Now, the Times of Swaziland reports that the CJ is threatening to close down 70 law firms in the kingdom where King Mswati III rules as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch. The newspaper reported on Monday (23 April 2018) he had given firms 21 days to submit audited trust certificates that demonstrate financial worthiness. About 70 firms have failed to do this, the Times reported.

Swaziland has a long history of disputes with the Chief Justice. In February 2016, the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) reported King Mswati III’s absolute monarchy in Swaziland ‘ultimately is incompatible with a society based on the rule of law.’

The report, Justice Locked Out: Swaziland’s Rule of Law Crisis, called on Swaziland’s Constitution to be amended to bring it in line ‘with regional and universal international law and standards, in particular on the separation of powers and respect for judicial independence.’

An international mission investigated Swaziland following the attempted arrest and the impeachment of former Chief Justice Michael Ramodibedi and the arrest of the Minister of Justice Sibusiso Shongwe, two High Court judges Mpendulo Simelane and Jacobus Annandale and High Court Registrar Fikile Nhlabatsi in April 2015. 

The report stated the judicial crisis was ‘part of a worrying trend of repeated interference by the Executive and of the Judiciary’s inability to defend its independence, exacerbated by apparent strife within the ruling authorities of Swaziland. 

  
‘Swaziland’s Constitution, while providing for judicial independence in principle, does not contain the necessary safeguards to guarantee it. Overall, the legislative and regulatory framework falls short of international law and standards, including African regional standards.’

It added, ‘The mission found that some members of the Judiciary have exercised their mandate with a lack of integrity and professionalism. In particular, former Chief Justice Ramodibedi failed to protect and defend the institutional independence of the Judiciary, and played a reprehensible role in undermining both the institutional independence of the Judiciary and that of individual judges in Swaziland. 

‘He also presided over, or was involved in the case allocation of, legal proceedings in which he had a personal interest or in which he acted at the apparent behest of members of the Executive, further undermining the independence and impartiality of the Judiciary.  

‘Based upon its independent research, including its consultations with various stakeholders, the fact-finding mission determined that this latest crisis has served to expose already existing divisions within and between the Judiciary and the Executive.  The consequence has been an abuse of the justice system to settle political scores, further damaging the independence of the Judiciary in the process.  

‘Overall, the events that triggered the international fact-finding mission are both a reflection of a systemic crisis and potentially a contributing factor to its deepening further. In light of its findings, this report includes the fact-finding mission’s recommendations for reform to the Crown, Executive and Legislature, the Judiciary, the legal profession, the international community and civil society, which it considers will strengthen the rule of law, respect for human rights and access to justice and effective remedies in the Kingdom of Swaziland.’

See also

JURISTS: DEEP FLAWS IN LEGAL SYSTEM
SWAZI JUDICIAL CRISIS: KING’S WORD IS LAW
http://swazimedia.blogspot.com/2015/05/judicial-crisis-kings-word-is-law.html

POLICE BEAT CROWD HUNGRY FOR FOOD

Police in Swaziland beat hungry people with batons as they tried to get free food during King Mswati’s 50th birthday celebration.

‘There were loud screams from the crowd as batons started flying as the officers bashed some people,” The Times of Swaziland reported.

It described the crowd as ‘frenzied’.

The newspaper reported on Monday (23 April 2018) that free food was being given out at the King Sobhuza II Memorial Stadium in Nhlangano when word spread that there would not be enough food for everyone.

‘Immediately people began pushing and shoving with some falling to the ground in the process,’ The Times reported.

It happened as people gathered to watch a speech from the King transmitted on a big screen. In Swaziland seven in 10 of the 1.1 million people live in abject poverty with incomes less than the equivalent of US$2 per day. At Royal occasions free food and other gifts are distributed.

The newspaper also reported there was a ‘stampede’ as thousands of people struggled to claim gifts of t-shirts and kangas.

Later, King Mswati, who rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, wore a suit weighing 6 kg and beaded with diamonds at a banquet for 700 people. Centrepiece was a birthday cake with 52 layers.

The World Food Program has reported 350,000 people are in need of emergency food assistance in Swaziland, with 640,000 potentially affected by some degree of food insecurity at the peak of the lean season.

See also

SWAZI KING WEARS SUIT OF DIAMONDS
NO NAME CHANGE YET FOR SWAZILAND
KING UNILATERALLY RENAMES SWAZILAND
NOTHING TO CELEBRATE FOR MOST SWAZIS

Sunday, 22 April 2018

SWAZI KING WEARS SUIT OF DIAMONDS

(King Mswati in his diamond suit. Picture: Swazi Observer)


In the month that India donated US$1 million to help feed starving children in Swaziland, King Mswati III, the kingdom’s absolute monarch, wore a suit of diamonds weighing 6 kg and received a cake with 52 layers at his birthday party attended by 700 guests.

A few days earlier he received his second private jet that after VIP upgrading might have cost US$30 million. 

Meanwhile, seven in ten of his 1.1 million subjects live in abject poverty with incomes less than US$2 per day and 640,000 of them in need of food.

The Observer on Saturday, a newspaper in Swaziland in effect owned by the King, reported (21 April 2018) the cake was ‘fit for a King’.

It reported, ‘The cake comprised of 52 layers and it was white and gold and part of the decoration on it was the silver number 50.’ It had been baked by a South African company.

The Observer also reported the King wore a blue suit that weighed 6 kg (13 lbs) and took eight months to make. 

‘It was hand made and beaded with diamonds,’ it reported. 

The King threw a garden party for 700 guests, including the President of Taiwan Tsai Ing-wen, and the Vice-President of Equatorial Guinea, Theodore Nguema Obiang Mangue, it added.

The King marked his birthday while more than one in three of his subjects were kept alive by international food aid. The World Food Program has reported 350,000 people are in need of emergency food assistance, with 640,000 potentially affected by some degree of food insecurity at the peak of the lean season.

It reported, ‘Chronic malnutrition is a main concern in Swaziland: stunting affects 26 percent of children under five years. Swaziland is vulnerable to drought in the south east. 77 percent of Swazis rely on subsistence farming for their livelihoods.’ 

In September 2017, it was found that some people in Swaziland were so hungry they willingly ate dog food, a newspaper in the kingdom reported. It came after residents looted a van full of dog food that overturned on the Manzini – Mbabane highway.

A report in July 2013 called The Cost of Hunger in Africa, which was prepared by the Government of Swaziland working together with World Food Program, found that around 270,000 adults in the kingdom, or more than 40 percent of its workers, suffered from stunted growth due to malnutrition. As a result, they were more likely to get sick, do poorly in school, be less productive at work and have shorter lives.

Poverty is so grinding in Swaziland that people, close to starvation, have been known to eat cow dung in order to fill their stomachs before they can take ARV drugs to treat their HIV status.  In 2011, newspapers in Swaziland reported the case of a woman who was forced to take this drastic action.

See also

MORE SWAZI KING’S BIRTHDAY EXCESSES
SECRECY OVER COST OF KING’S NEW JET
‘NO COMMONWEALTH HEADS AT 50-50’

Saturday, 21 April 2018

NO NAME CHANGE YET FOR SWAZILAND

Swaziland has not yet changed its name to eSwatini, despite a public announcement from the absolute ruler King Mswati III. 

There needs to be a legal instrument directing the name change.

This was said by Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Minister Chief Mgwagwa Gamedze after the King’s speech.

Already, opposition is growing inside the tiny impoverished kingdom to the King’s message.

The Observer on Saturday, a newspaper in Swaziland in effect owned by the King, reported (21 April 2018), Gamedze saying, ‘We stand guided by the Attorney General on the matter. With that instrument of a name change, we will then forward same correspondence to the United Nations, African Union and SADC [Southern African Development Community], which are the main international bodies. They will then inform their subsequent structures of the name change. So we expect the process of the name change to start soon with the legal instrument (gazette), so that we can inform the rest of the world thereafter.’

It is not clear how much discussion will take before the ‘legal instrument’ is issued. King Mswati rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch. Political parties are banned from taking part in elections and the King appoints the Prime Minister and government ministers.

It is possible the King would simply make a proclamation, without further discussion. There is a precedent for this. In 1973 Mswati’s father King Sobhuza II proclaimed that from that date power in the kingdom rested with the King. He dissolved the democratically-elected parliament and banned political parties. That proclamation has not been cancelled and remains in force. 

The King’s announcement of the name change was made during his speech on Thursday at a celebration to mark his 50th birthday and the half-century anniversary of Independence from Great Britain.  It came as a surprise and was made without public consultation.

Criticism of the move will be quiet within Swaziland. Those advocating for democracy face arrest and imprisonment under the Suppression of Terrorism Act

The AFP news agency reported that, ‘Critics of the King, who took the throne in 1986 aged 18, said the move was an example of his authoritarian and wasteful reign in a country that suffers dire poverty.’

It quoted Alvit Dlamini, head of the Ngwane National Liberatory Congress, saying, ‘We see here King Mswati’s autocratic style. He can’t change the name of the country on his own. He was supposed to consult the nation.’

AFP reported, the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland warned that the process was not immediate. ‘When the king has made a pronouncement, due process must take its course,’ acting general secretary Mduduzi Gina said AFP. ‘The legislature must initiate a process to amend the constitution. The change cannot be a knee-jerk reaction.’

See also

KING UNILATERALLY RENAMES SWAZILAND
NOTHING TO CELEBRATE FOR MOST SWAZIS

Friday, 20 April 2018

NOTHING TO CELEBRATE FOR MOST SWAZIS

Kenworthy News Media, 19 April 2018
Swaziland is one of the world’s most unequal countries, where over ten percent survive on food aid. Absolute monarch King Mswati is celebrating his and his independent country’s 50th birthday by giving himself a new plane and throwing a huge party, writes Kenworthy News Media.

Today (19 April 2018), Swaziland’s absolute monarch King Mswati III begun what Swaziland’s official tourist website refers to as “lavish celebrations” and “a party fit for a king”.

The so-called 50/50 celebrations are a combined celebration of Mswati’s 50th birthday and the 50th anniversary of Swaziland’s independence in September.

King Mswati amongst other things bought himself an A340-300 Airbus that was flown into the King Mswati III Airport a couple of days ago. The plane is believed to have cost US$15 million.

Food aid and evictions
Many of King Mswati’s subjects can only dream of such opulence. According to the World Food Programme, about 14 percent survive on food aid from the UN. According to the World Bank, over 40 percent earn less than US$1.90 a day.


Just days before the celebrations, Pakistan donated 1 million US Dollars to help feed starving children in Swaziland, according to Swazi Media Commentary. The Swazi government claimed it could not afford to pay for the food.

Two weeks ago, 61 people in rural Swaziland, including more than 30 children, were left homeless after their homes were demolished by armed police and bulldozers, Amnesty International reported. The evictions were carried out in accordance with a court order.

“The affected people were not provided with an alternative accommodation, forcing some of them to take refuge at a local school. Others slept in the open at the site of the demolitions with their belongings”, Amnesty International wrote in a press release.

According to the British human rights organisation, “Swaziland has a long history of forced evictions”.

Robin Hood in reverse
Many ordinary Swazis have been forced to contribute to King Mswati’s celebrations, even though he is worth an estimated US$200 million.


South African paper eNCA reported, that over $80.000 that had been intended for retired and disabled people in Swaziland were instead used to help pay for King Mswati’s birthday party.
Judges were also sent a memorandum from the office of Swaziland’s Chief Justice on April 4, where they were asked to make a contribution of a minimum of $160 for the 50/50 celebrations.

Coupless dictatorship
According to government spokesperson Percy Simelane, the 50/50 celebrations are worth celebrating, however, because of Swaziland’s peaceful history since independence.


“We are politically stable and have never experienced a coup in those 50 years”, he told online newspaper The Swaziland.

But the so-called peaceful nature of King Mswati’s regime comes at a price, especially for ordinary Swazis.

The King controls parliament, the judiciary and the economy. Political parties are banned from taking part in elections. Political activists are beaten up by police. And those advocating democracy are prosecuted under a terrorism act that Amnesty International has called “inherently repressive”.

Change through activism and democracy
Even so, people in Swaziland continue to protest. Every year, on the anniversary of Swaziland’s independence from Great Britain on 6 September, Swaziland’s democratic movement campaign for democracy through marches, seminars and workshops. This so-called Global Week of Action is organised by the Swaziland United Democratic Front.


Last year between four and five thousand people marched to Swaziland’s parliament to deliver a petition demanding a people’s government, land reforms, rural development and affordable health and education.

And as recently as last Friday (13 April 2018), about 2.000 people marched through the capital Mbabane to protest against poor and worsening living conditions. The march was arranged by the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland.

According to political coordinator of the Swaziland United Democratic Front, Wandile Dludlu, bringing about democratic change in Swaziland is the only way to improve the situation for the majority of Swazis.

“Until Swazis truly own and run their country, celebrations such as 50/50 are just personal enrichment journeys of the king and his close associates, local as well as international”, says Dludlu.

See also

KING UNILATERALLY RENAMES SWAZILAND
SECRECY OVER COST OF KING’S NEW JET
THOUSANDS PROTEST IN SWAZILAND
https://swazimedia.blogspot.co.uk/2018/04/thousands-protest-in-swaziland.html

Thursday, 19 April 2018

KING UNILATERALLY RENAMES SWAZILAND

King Mswati III of Swaziland demonstrated on Thursday his ability to rule as an autocratic monarch by unilaterally renaming his kingdom on his 50th birthday.

His surprise command came during his speech at a celebration that had largely gone unheralded outside of the tiny impoverished kingdom.

The King wearing a red military uniform spoke at what had become known as the 50/50 Celebration to mark both his birthday and the 50th anniversary of Swaziland’s Independence from Great Britain that falls on 6 September 2018.

The Kings proclamation might prove to be unconstitutional, but he has shown little respect for the Swaziland Constitution that was adopted in 2005 and came into effect a year later.

The King said Swaziland would now be called ‘the Kingdom of eSwatini’. He had been using this name for some years, even when addressing international bodies such as the United Nations, but his kingdom was always known officially as ‘The Kingdom of Swaziland.’

Chris Fitch, one of the few journalists from a global media organisation present at the speech which was made at the Mavuso stadium in Manzini, Swaziland, reported on the Geographical website, King Mswati told his audience, ‘As we are aware the name “Swaziland” was inherited from the British. If we are to give true meaning to our independence, time has come to give our country a name of its people. It must be said that this process is long overdue, particularly if you consider how other countries in the region localised their names after independence.’

Fitch reported, ‘After the modest whistles that greeted most of the King’s pronouncements, the flag-waving crowd saved their loudest cheers for the declaration that the country would revert to their indigenous name. “I have the pleasure to present to you,” he declared, “on this historic day, a new name for the kingdom. Our country will now be called — the Kingdom of eSwatini”’.

The announcement from the King was widely derided on social media with posters debating new names for institutions such as the Royal Swazi Police and the University of Swaziland. Thursday (19 April 2018) and Friday are public holidays in Swaziland so the heavily-censored media in the kingdom itself have yet to report on the name change, but it is expected they will give enthusiastic support to the move.

Days before the 50/50 Celebration the King had given himself a birthday present when he took delivery of his second private jet – this one an A340-300 Airbus – that might have cost as much as US$30 million, paid for out of public funds.

Seven in ten of his 1.1 million subjects live in abject poverty with incomes less than the equivalent of US$2 per day.

In Swaziland, political parties are not allowed to contest elections and the King chooses the Prime Minister and government. He also chooses the heads of the army and police force. Opposition voices are silenced by the Suppression of Terrorism Act.

See also

SECRECY OVER COST OF KING’S NEW JET
‘NO COMMONWEALTH HEADS AT 50/50’
THOUSANDS PROTEST IN SWAZILAND

ELECTION BOARD AWAITS KING’S COMMAND

Swaziland’s Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) Chair Chief Gija Dlamini says he is waiting for King Mswati III’s command before opening the polls.

King Mswati rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch. Although elections are held every five years international polling observers say they are bogus.

Political parties are not allowed to take part in the election and the King choses the Prime Minister and cabinet members. Only a man with the surname Dlamini can by tradition be appointed as Prime Minister. The King is a Dlamini.  

The King is in control of Swaziland ahead of the 2018 election and he will be in control after it, regardless of which individuals the people vote into the House of Assembly.

Political debate is severely curtailed in the kingdom and advocates for multiparty democracy are regularly arrested and charged under the Suppression of Terrorism Act or the Sedition and Subversive Activities Act.

Chief Gija Dlamini, himself a member of the Swazi Royal Family, told the Swazi Observer, a newspaper in effect owned by the King, that preparations were ready for the election. All he needed was the King’s command.

The Observer reported on Wednesday (18 April 2018), ‘He said once the King had given the required command, they would announce the beginning of registration for elections to the nation.’

It quoted him saying, ‘All systems are ready for the commencement of the national duty, and we cannot just announce before we get the King’s command, which will give us the go ahead to announce dates for registration.’

The election process is surrounded by misinformation. In February 2017 the Observer reported Dlamini speaking on behalf of the King. It quoted him saying, ‘If any Swazi fails to register to vote for the upcoming 2018 national elections then they are abandoning their basic right of choosing their own leader, thus hurting the whole kingdom in the process because they would be silencing their own voice because voting unites the kingdom and gives all people a voice and a chance to be counted, but most fundamentally of all, Swazis through voting, have the right to choose who they feel will lead them to the future.’

Dlamini made the comments at a consultative meeting on civic education for traditional leaders at Pigg’s Peak on 2 February 2017.

However, he misled his audience and those who read his statement in the newspaper. The Swazi people have no say in who their leaders are. They are only allowed to select 55 of the 65 members of the House of Assembly, the other 10 are appointed by the King. None of the 30 members of the Swaziland Senate are elected by the people; the King appoints 20 members and the other 10 are appointed by the House of Assembly.

He also choses senior civil servants and top judges. The elections have no real purpose other than to give King Mswati a fig leaf of democracy. The Swazi Parliament has no powers. King Mswati can, and does, overrule decisions he does not like. This was the case in October 2012 when the King refused to accept a vote of no confidence passed by the House of Assembly on his government, even though he was obliged by the constitution to do so. 

After the last election in 2013 a number of groups that had been official observers of the process reported the election was not free and fair. 

The official report of the Commonwealth Observer Mission called for a review of the kingdom’s constitution. It said members of parliament ‘continue to have severely limited powers’ and political parties are banned. 

The Commonwealth observers said there was ‘considerable room for improving the democratic system’.

They called for King Mswati’s powers to be reduced. ‘The presence of the monarch in everyday political life inevitably associates the institution of monarchy with politics, a situation that runs counter to the development that the re-establishment of the Parliament and the devolution of executive authority into the hands of elected officials,’ it said.

The report said the constitution needed to be revisited with an open debate on what changes were necessary.

It added, ‘This should ideally be carried out through a fully inclusive, consultative process with all Swazi political organisations and civil society (if needed) with the help of constitutional experts.’

The African Union (AU) also urged Swaziland to review the Constitution, especially in the areas of ‘freedoms of conscience, expression, peaceful assembly, association and movement as well as international principles for free and fair elections and participation in electoral process.’ 

The AU called on Swaziland to implement the African Commission’s Resolution
on Swaziland in 2012 that called on the Government, ‘to respect, protect and fulfil the rights to freedom of expression, freedom of association and freedom of assembly’.

Richard Rooney

See also

EARLY ELECTION CAMPAIGNING ILLEGAL
 
FALSE CLAIM OVER SWAZI DEMOCRACY
 
THE CASE FOR POLITICAL PARTIES
 
SWAZI ELECTION ‘WILL BE A FRAUD’
http://swazimedia.blogspot.com/2013/02/swazi-election-will-be-fraud.html

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

PENSIONERS MARCH TO STOP ‘LOOTING’

Public service pensioners marched through the streets of the Swaziland capital on Tuesday (17 April 2018) to protest at plans by the unelected government to ‘loot’ their pension funds.

They were led by the Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT) with the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA), Swaziland Youth Congress (SWAYOCO) and representatives of other trade unions. They delivered petitions to government ministries in Mbabane, and to parliament at Lobamba.

They want a decision to take their Public Service Pension Fund (PSPF) under government control reversed.

In Swaziland, King Mswati III rules as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch. Political parties are banned from taking part in elections and the King appoints the Prime Minister and other top ministers. Advocates for democracy are prosecuted under the Suppression of Terrorism Act.

Pensioners fear money in the PSPF will be misused by government. On Friday the King took delivery of an A340 Airbus, his second private jet. It was paid for out of public funds and may have cost as much as US$30 million. The King also has 13 palaces and fleets of top-of-the range BMW and Mercedes cars.

Meanwhile, seven in ten of the estimated 1.1 million population live in abject poverty with incomes less than the equivalent of US$2 per day.

The Swazi Observer, a newspaper in effect owned by the King, reported on Wednesday the pensioners said the PSPF was ‘now at risk of being depleted by government’. It added they said ‘government will find it easy to loot the pensioners’ money’.

In a separate development, the Swazi Government intends to compel insurance companies and retirement funds in the kingdom to invest at least 50 percent of their funds in Swaziland. At present, the requirement is 30 percent.

Financial Services Regulatory Authority (FSRA) Chief Executive Officer Sandile Dlamini told local media as at December 2017 total assets held by retirement funds and insurance companies were E32 billion (US$2.66 billion), with less than E5 billion invested locally. 

In his budget in March 2018 Minister of Finance Martin Dlamini said foreign-owned banks in Swaziland would be expected to pay 2.5 percent of their annual income to the government. This prompted warnings from the banks that they might leave the kingdom

Swaziland’s economy is in freefall and has been for many years. Government increased Value Added Tax by 1 percent in the budget. State pensions for people aged 60 and over were frozen, but E5.5 million was earmarked to buy the Prime Minister Barnabas Dlamini a retirement home. E1.5 billion will be spent on a conference centre and five-star hotel to house an African Union summit.

Finance Minister Dlamini listed a catalogue of problems during his budget speech on 1 March 2018. He said he took his lead when constructing the budget from the King who in his speech opening Parliament in February 2018 commanded his government, ‘to prepare a budget that is based on available resources’.

Dlamini told Parliament, ‘The public sector has grown at a much faster pace over the years creating significant dependency in the economy and compromising growth and employment creation. This has led to the large size of government, increased the wage bill significantly, and limited the space for social and infrastructure spending.’

He added, ‘Government spending continues to outpace its ability to raise enough revenues resulting in cash flow challenges and accumulation of arrears.’

He said the Government owed E3.1 billion to its suppliers for goods and services and it was trying to find ways to find money to repay these debts.

Dlamini added, ‘In recent years, Government has not been able to raise enough revenues to cover the ever increasing expenditures, which is a clear indication that the current Government model cannot be sustained in the medium-term.’ He announced a freeze on all government recruiting.

The cost of food in the kingdom rose 19 percent in 2016 and a further 2.6 percent in 2017. The slowdown in price increases was put down to improved weather conditions for agricultural production after a drought. 

Transport costs rose 9.6 percent in 2016 and a further 3.9 percent in 2017. Communication costs (mainly phones) rose 4.7 percent in 2016 and by a further 0.4 percent in 2017.

Swaziland has been given a B2 rating (on a scale from A – C) with a ‘negative outlook’ by international credit rating agency Moody’s, Dlamini said. The poor rating is ‘due to the financial and economic pressures we continue to face’, he added.

See also

SWAZI BUDGET, A TALE OF WOES
SECRECY OVER COST OF KING’S NEW JET
https://swazimedia.blogspot.co.uk/2018/04/secrecy-over-cost-of-kings-new-jet.html

SECRECY OVER COST OF KING’S NEW JET


King Mswati III the absolute ruler of impoverished Swaziland took delivery of his second private jet on Friday amid secrecy about the true cost of its purchase.

The A340-300 Airbus was flown into King Mswati III Airport with great fanfare just days before he was due to celebrate his 50th birthday. 

Mbongeni Mbingo, Managing Editor of the Swazi Observer Group, newspapers in effect owned by the King, wrote on Sunday (15 April 2018), ‘The buzz that filled the VIP Airport was one of sheer excitement as authorities, including those from the King’s Office, marvelled at the Airbus A340-300 which stood there monstrously.’

He added, ‘It was as if it was a statement of its own, the sheer size of this new state aircraft fitting the status of the head of state, and justifying the need for the country to go in search of a plane to cater for His Majesty the King’s international trips.’

King Mswati rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch. Political parties are banned from taking part in elections and opponents are prosecuted under the Suppression of Terrorism Act.

It has been widely reported within Swaziland and elsewhere that the 17-year-old plane cost US$13.2 million to purchase from China Airlines in Taiwan. The A340 Airbus is a long-range wide-bodied passenger plane. Usually, it seats 375 passengers and has a range of 12,400 to 16,700 km (7,700 to 10,400 miles). Following the purchase, the Airbus was completely refurbished. With the upgrades it could now be worth as much as US$30 million, but it has not been revealed how much the upgrades cost or where the work was carried out. It was reported on the website CH Aviation that the plane flew into Swaziland from Hamburg, Germany. 

In 2015, Luftfahrt-Versicherungslosungen AG of Zurich, Switzerland, a specialist aviation brokerage company, was tasked with finding insurance cover for the aircraft. It reported at the time the ‘agreed value’ of the plane to be US$15 million. It added, ‘Agreed value at inception will be US$15 million increasing to US$30 million during completion work over the next 11 to 12 months.’

Industry insiders said at the time the refurbishment costs could be more than anticipated by Luftfahrt-Versicherungslosungen, depending on the degree of luxury the King demanded. Plans were drawn up to build a state room, a lounge and a royal lavatory on the aircraft. Similar planes with ‘VIP’ upgrades of their interior were being offered for sale on the Internet for US$44 million.

A special hangar for the plane is to be built at King Mswati III International Airport at a cost of E200 million (US$16.6 million), to house the Airbus and the King’s other plane, a smaller modified McDonnel Douglas DC-9-87, also known as an MD-87. That plane cost US$9.5 million in 2012.

King Mswati has a global reputation for living a lavish lifestyle with fleets of top-of-the-range BMW and Mercedes cars and a Rolls Royce. The King has 13 palaces and he, his family, and their entourage take expensive international trips.  Meanwhile, seven in ten of the King’s 1.1 million subjects live in abject poverty on incomes of less than the equivalent of US$2 per day.

In the week that he took delivery of the plane, Pakistan donated US$1 million to help feed staving children in Swaziland because the Swazi Government says it cannot afford to do so. In 2016 the United States announced it would provide US$6.35 million in drought relief. This was US$1 million less than the deposit paid at the time on the King’s plane. About 300,000 people in Swaziland are still at risk of severe hunger as a result of drought and the government has declared a state of emergency appealing for international aid donations.

There has been no public discussion on how much it will cost to run the Airbus. Swaziland’s economy is in the doldrums and in March 2018 ahead of the national budget the King ordered his ministers ‘to prepare a budget that is based on available resources’. Finance Minister Martin Dlamini said in his budget speech, ‘Government has conducted a thorough analysis of our expenditure in order to prioritise only the most pressing concerns.’
 
It is possible to make an informed estimation on the ongoing costs of the new plane. This is based on the known costs of the King’s first plane, the much smaller MD-87. Documents seen by Swazi Media Commentary revealed the jet cost US$9.5 million to purchase in 2012 and at least another US$4.1 million was spent on refurbishments before the King took delivery.

In 2012 the King’s company Inchatsavane signed an aircraft management operating agreement with Greek-based Gain Jet Aviation. As part of the deal the King was required to deposit US$500,000, described as ‘average two months operating costs’ to guarantee future payments. On this basis the operating costs of the aircraft would be US$250,000 per month or US$3 million per year. In the six years since the jet has been flying, the operating costs would have reached US$18 million (about E216 million).

The figure set by Gain Jet Aviation was only an estimate. Another estimate of costs of operating an MD-87 is available from Conklin and de Decker, Aviation Information. 

It has set the total fixed cost of the MD-87 at US$1,124,525 for a year. This works out at US$93,710 per month. 

Fixed costs are the costs that have to be paid even if the plane never flies. Among the fixed costs it lists are salaries for the pilot, the co-pilot and the flight attendant.

Conklin and de Decker set the variable costs at US$9,736.20 per hour. Variable costs include fuel, maintenance, landing charges at airports, staff expenses and catering.

The US$250,000 per month or US$9,736.20 per hour anticipated for operating costs might be underestimates for the true cost of flying King Mswati’s MD-87.

Gain Jet Aviation invoiced the Swaziland Ministry of Foreign Affairs US$312,500 for a flight in June 2012 from Tokyo (Japan), to Manzini (Swaziland). The flight was spread over two days and included fuel stops in Danang (Vietnam), Male (Maldives), and Dar Es Salaam (Tanzania). The total flying time for the journey was 20 hours 50 minutes.

The company billed for a total of US$312,500, which works out at about US$14,880 per hour.

In August 2014, Gain Jet Aviation invoiced for a trip that was going to take place the following month over 14 days from Swaziland – Tanzania – Maldives – Malaysia – India – Egypt – Nice (France) – Cameroon – Swaziland. The total estimated number of flying hours was 39 hours 35 minutes.


The invoice total was for US$593,750.00, which works out at about US$14,843 per hour.

In 2015 the MD-87 was impounded
during legal disputes and the King leased jets for his travels. Papers filed in a court in Canada revealed he refused to use one jet that had been chartered for him at a cost of more than US$1 million because it only had one toilet, so, a second aircraft was chartered for him at a cost of US$1.425 million. 

Richard Rooney



Picture: Swazi Observer photograph of King Mswati’s A340-300 Airbus at King Mswati III International Airport in Swaziland.

See also

MONEY FOR KING’S JET, BUT NOT DROUGHT
KING’S COMPANY AT CENTRE OF JET ROW
https://swazimedia.blogspot.co.uk/2015/04/kings-company-at-centre-of-jet-row.html