How king turns eSwatini into fiefdom

How king turns eSwatini into fiefdom

As governance issues continue to be a thorn in the flesh for many emaSwati, King Mswati III has turned the kingdom into a family affair, appointing his children and close family members in key positions, writes Nimrod Mabuza

In a notable act of nepotism, Eswatini’s absolute monarch, King Mswati, has appointed two of his sons to senior positions in the government.

Pince Sicalo was appointed permanent secretary of defence – the highest administrative position in the ministry – in December last year.

The king is the substantive minister of defence, but for parliamentary purposes delegates this responsibility to the minister of foreign affairs and international cooperation.

At almost the same time, he appointed Prince Lindani as director of economic affairs in the king’s office.

Both princes are career soldiers who hold senior ranks in the Umbutfo Swaziland Defence Force, whose academic credentials or other qualifications for their new positions are unknown.

Another of Mswati’s offspring, Princess Sikhanyiso, is the minister of communications. She has been on maternity leave for more than a year.

Mswati is accustomed to acting as a law unto himself – even though the 2005 constitution stipulates that he must exercise executive authority in accordance with the supreme law.

At the celebration of his 50th birthday in 2019, he unilaterally changed the name of the country from Swaziland to eSwatini

Despite the country’s small size and population, and the fact that it faces no external threats, defence has the third largest budget of all the ministries, after education and health.

The defence ministry received an allocation of about E1.2-billion in the last budget. This is in addition to a staggering E140 million budget allocated to the office of the minister of defence.

Annual budgets for most ministries stands at about E2 million.

The constitution of 2005 describes the defence force as a disciplined, non-partisan, permanent body, ultimately subordinate and accountable to the civilian authority.

The two princes also serve on the boards of public enterprises, Lindani on the board of the Eswatini Revenue Authority and his brother on the board of the Central Bank of Eswatini.

They are also paid a salary because of their royal status, drawn from a budget provision of about E500 million for Royal Emoluments and the Civil List.

Prince Sicalo takes over from the long-serving principal secretary in the ministry of defence, Andreas Mathabela who, because of ill-health, took retirement at the age of 72.  He had been working on contract after passing the mandatory retirement age of 60 in the public service

Principal secretaries, in terms of the constitution, are appointed by the king on the advice of the Civil Service Commission on five-year renewable contracts.

But that applies only on paper, as they often hold their positions until retirement or dismissal.

It is unclear how the commission could recommend the appointment of the two princes from outside the civil service.

Despite the huge budget that Prince Sicalo will be required to manage. his academic credentials are also unclear. The website of his Prince Sicalo Foundation, which is involved in charity work, states he was trained at the Libya Military College.

On returning home in 2008, he joined the army where he is responsible for strategic planning, development and logistics. He is also a helicopter pilot.

Prince Lindani was trained at Sandhurst Royal Academy in the United Kingdom. On returning home, he joined the army and underwent training at the Mbuluzi School of Infantry.

In October 2018, King Mswati appointed his eldest daughter, Princess Sikhanyiso, the minister in the information, communications and technology portfolio.

Princess Sikhanyiso served in office for about a year before going on maternity leave. More than a year later she is still at home.

The minister of commerce, trade and industry, Manqoba Khumalo, has been acting in her position for more than a year. This is in violation of the Constitution, which allows a minister to act for another for a period not exceeding six months.

It is not known if she will return to office to finish her five-year term of office, or whether she is still being paid her salary.

The secretary general of the Swaziland National Association of Teachers, Sikelela Dlamini, complained that members of the royal household hold positions in several entities and are paid for all of these.

“We all know that Princess Sikhanyiso is being paid a salary as a police officer. Now she’s in the cabinet,” he said.

At the time of her appointment as a minister Princess Sikhanyiso was reportedly drawing a salary from the police force. It does not appear that she actually works as a policewoman.

One effect of appointing royals to government jobs is that they are above discipline. It became clear that the late prime minister, Ambrose Dlamini, was either unable or unwilling to discipline the princess.

The constitution of 2005 gives the responsibility of overseeing the performance of permanent secretaries to the line minister. As the substantive minister of defence, Mswati will be responsible for keeping his son, Prince Sicalo, in line.

The PS of defence is also expected to account to the Public Accounts Committee in Parliament, but is not a given that he will submit to parliamentary authority.

For two consecutive years, the committee was unable to call the minister of public works, Lindiwe Dlamini, to account.

In 2019, she refused to appear before the committee to explain a road project that collapsed with the loss of more than E500 million in taxpayer’ money.

Last year she again refused to appear before the committee after the Clerk of Parliament, Ndvuna Dlamini, identified her as being responsible for irregular expenditure.

To complete the elections in 2018, King Mswati appointed 10 members of the House of Assembly and 20 of the 30 senators.

Most of the appointments were in conflict with the constitution, which gives the king the power to make the appointments, but stipulates that they should represent marginalised groups that are not adequately represented, and that at least half of them should be women.

Of the 10 royal appointees to the House of Assembly, three were women, and of the 20 senators, seven were women. None of them comes from a marginalised group.

The former US ambassador to Swaziland, Lisa Peterson, criticised the Swazi leadership for violating the constitution.

“I am disappointed, disheartened, and disturbed that parliamentary appointments made by the palace disregard explicit provisions of the country’s constitution,” she said in a statement.

King Mswati has also appointed numerous members of the royal household in the councils that advise him and the Queen Mother.

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