King Mswat III and Indlovukazi Ntombi
By Nimrod Mabuza
As ordinary emaSwati battle the realities of high inflation, mounting national debt and unemployment, government says things are looking up and has given the king and the royal household a bigger chunk of the budget, three times bigger than the country’s financially strapped national university will get.
Government has made as subvention a budget provision of E446 million for the University of Eswatini which has been closed for almost two months because of a strike by staff including lecturers over salaries. This is a drop in the ocean for the kingdom’s national university which is laden with a wage bill of over E40 million a month. The subvention is not even half of what it had requested; E1billion for a smooth running of its operations.
With a higher-than-normal increase in the Southern Africa Customs Union (SACU) receipts this time, as announced by Minister for Finance, Neal Rijkenberg, King Mswati III and the royal household will also be smiling all the way to the bank this financial year.
After taking a small knock to his budget last year, receiving only E991 million because of the difficult financial period of 2021/22 and 2022/23, this time, 2023/24, King Mswati will take home a whopping E1.038 billion for the recurrent and capital budget for royalty.
In his Budget Speech, Rijkenberg announced that SACU receipts had risen from E5 billion in 2022/23 to E11 billion in 2023/24 financial years, an increase representing 10 per cent in one year.
SACU represent more than 60 percent of the national budget and have kept this country alive for the longest time since its inception in 1910.
When one considers the aggressive drive by the Eswatini Revenue Services (ERS) to collect taxes in the last financial year, resulting in an increase in the tax base, all belts may be loosened this time around.
The royal budget includes an allocation for wages for the king, Indlovukazi, the rest of the royal household and payments to any other person as the king may decide.
This year, Rijkenberg’s budget has made a generous allocation for royal provisions. He has set aside a budget allocation of E431 million for the Royal Emoluments and Civil List.
This allocation represents an increase of E20 million from E411 million in the 2021/22 and 2022/23 financial year.
Rijkenberg’s overall budget of E1.038 billion, recurrent and capital, for King Mswati and the royal household represents about 3.8% of the total national budget of E26 billion.
According to the constitution of 2005, the budget for Royal emoluments and civil list cannot be reduced at any given time. Up to 1998, the royal budget was increased by not less than 15% annually. Since then it has been going up by about five percent.
Last month, following the opening of parliament by the king, Rijkenberg presented the 2023/24 budget which he described as one that “aims to bring a more positive and promising year ahead of us and a good base for the years to come.”
In his Budget Speech, Rijkenberg declared that “we have overcome” adding that over the years “we have been lamenting over government’s failure to meet its statutory obligations, such as paying suppliers on time and remitting all other transfers, especially to schools. Times have indeed been very difficult, but we have overcome.”
He said an achievement is that this budget puts emaSwati on a sustainable economic path.
The finance minister gloated that eSwatini’s economic growth outperformed all other countries in the region but cautioned: “Despite these achievements, many emaSwati may not yet be seeing or experiencing these benefits in their daily lives and may not be receiving the social and economic dividends.
“This Budget begins to address this, by ensuring that all emaSwati receive better service delivery.”
He was right that hundreds of emaSwati have not seen or experienced the benefits of an economic growth in their daily lives.
Mphikeleli Vilakati of Lomahasha, east of eSwatini, has been looking for a job for almost 20 years. He completed high school in 2004. He has been in every nook and cranny of this kingdom but jobs remain elusive.
The World Bank, in its latest report stated that “unemployment, inequality, and poverty are high in Eswatini partly due to weak job creation in the formal economy.”
The budget estimates show that this budget has a number of provisions that will serve the interests of King Mswati and the royal household quite generously.
One allocation is that of E128 million for the construction and “supervision of hangar apron to accommodate two aircrafts.”
The budget provision is under the Ministry of Public Works and Transport. The two hangars, according to budget estimates, are to accommodate an Airbus 340 – 3000 and an MD – 87.
These are King Mswati’s private jets. The budget will also cover the construction of an office for aircraft maintenance staff and storeroom.
A budget of E39.3 million is set aside for the celebrations. King Mswati has announced that in September the kingdom would celebrate his 55th birthday and 55 years of independence. On April 19, which is his birthday, a lavish party was thrown for the king at Lozitha palace.
Another budget allocation that serves the interest of royalty is E20 million for the construction of dance arena platform and grandstand at Hlane Royal Residence. Hlane is annually home to the second phase of the royal marula (buganu) festival.
There is another allocation totalling E4.5 million for the payment of compensation to families affected by the expansion of Lozitha Palace and Manzana Guest House.
It is allocated under the Ministry of Agriculture.
The allocation comprises E2.5 million for compensation of a remaining homestead affected by the expansion of Lozitha Palace and E2 million compensation for a remaining homestead at Manzana.
The budget provision for compensation of families affected by the expansion of royal residences have featured in the budget for the past three years.
Rijkenberg described his budget as one that “seeks to make additional provisions to the most critical and mandatory line items and programmes to ensure that operations are not compromised.”
In that regard, he increased the budget for scholarships for students wishing to pursue studies in tertiary institutions, thus diffusing for the time being a potentially explosive situation as the cut in scholarships prompted an outcry, countrywide.
He announced that: “The ministry has increased the scholarship budget from E361 million by an additional E286 million to be a total of E647 million. This will increase the number of new scholarships from 2 500 to 3 500 scholarships this year.”
He told parliament that he also tabled before it “regulations for the establishment of a National Student Loan Revolving Fund that will be managed by one of the commercial banks. This fund should solve the problem of limited scholarships in time.”
While increasing scholarships for students in tertiary institutions, Rijkenberg noticeably failed to improve the fortunes of the financial struggling University of eSwatini (UNESWA), which has been closed for over a month now following a strike by academic staff.
The crumbling institution of higher learning got an almost equal budget allocation with the obscure eSwatini National Treasury (ENT), a royal institution under the King’s Office.
History shows that the national treasury was created in pre-independent Swaziland by King Sobhuza II, solely to get funds for royalty from the colonial administration.
After independence, the national treasury was not dissolved and its functions are barely known by the populace. It is accountable only to the king.
A budget provision of E445 million has been made for the national treasury, reflecting an increase of E29 million from last year’s allocation of E416 million.
As already stated, Rijkenberg was not as generous to UNESWA. A budget provision of E446.4 million was made for the university.
This reflects an increase of a miserable E37 million for an institution as large as UNESWA which had filed a request for a subvention of close to E1 billion. UNESWA employs over 700 people, local and expatriates.
A sum of E1.4 million separates the budget allocation to ENT and UNESWA, which has three campuses; Kwaluseni, Luyengo and Mbabane.
The budget allocation to UNESWA constitutes about 40% of what it requested. The decline in funding for UNESWA has been persisting since 2008/09.
Early in the year, UNESWA bursar, Mfan’uzile Dlamini reportedly confirmed that the institution was technically insolvent. Auditor General, Timothy Matsebula had also reported the same in his May 2022 report.
Minister Rijkenberg was not done with royalty as he made a budget provision of E160 million for the construction, rehabilitation and maintenance of royal residences.
He retained the same budget allocation as last year’s for the royal residences. This allocation is under the ENT.
The King’s Office, led by Chief Mgwagwa Gamedze got a lower budget than the past financial year, however.
A sum of about E2 million was set aside for the King’s Office. In the past financial year, it received E3.8 million.
King Mswati and the royal household also enjoy massive funding from Tibiyo Taka Ngwane, the royal investment company which controls about half of the national economy.
Tibiyo is solely answerable to the king with a board appointed by the king and always led by a senior prince.
Tibiyo was established in 1968 and it has been written about in many research papers by scholars that this was part of an extensive ambition by the monarchy to capitalise the royal household.
For social grants, Mr Rijkenberg set aside E505 million. It caters for over 70 000 elderly emaSwati. This is E60 million higher than the budget for ENT. This budget caters for over 70 000 elderly at E500 per month per person.
It was puzzling but not entirely unexpected when the House of Assembly questioned the budget allocation to one of King Mswati’s vanity projects; the International Convention Centre and the Five-Star Hotel.
The House was not bothered that over the years it approved without question budget for ICC & FISH.
But this year being the last year of the 11th parliament, anything is possible. It boggles the mind as to why question the expenditure when the structure is getting the final touches.
A total budget of about E810 million, both local and loan funds, has been set aside for the project. Over E5 billion has been spent on the ICC and FISH.
All along, parliament saw nothing wrong with the expenditure.
The House did not think it prudent to question the allocation of a budget of over E76 million to the office of the Minister of Defence.
The king serves as the Minister for Defence. The office of Minister for Defence is usually allocated a budget far higher than every other ministry.
For this current year, budget allocation to ministers’ office is around E3 million and is slightly higher than usual because it includes exit packages for ministers.