King Mswati’s E1.074bn amid collapsing public services

SA President Cyril Ramaphosa & King Mswati III

King Mswati’s E1.074bn amid collapsing public services


The taxpayer-funded budgets for the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) heads of state pale in comparison to the hefty budget totalling E1,074 billion allocated to King Mswati III of eSwatini. 

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, who is in charge of the second biggest economy in Africa, draws an annual salary of E4 million from the SA coffers. Newly appointed Namibian President Nangolo Mbumba currently receives E1.2 million, less than the E2 million paid his predecessor Hage Geingob who passed on in early February 2024. 

Botswana President Mokgweetsi Masisi is paid E1.2m from the public purse. The Office of Lesotho King Letsie III is allocated E15.3m in the country’s national budget according to The Kingdom of Lesotho National Draft Budget Estimates for the Financial Year 2024/25.

In his recent budget speech, Minister of Finance Neil Rijkenberg gloated about SACU receipts at record highs. He announced that the SACU receipts increased significantly by 102%, reaching E11.75 billion in the FY2023/24. This represents about 40% of the total national budget of E29.4 billion for the FY2024/25. Last year, the country raked in E5.8 billion from the SACU pool. 

The SACU receipts have remained the mainstay of the faltering eSwatini economy over the years. In a celebratory mood, the finance minister explained that “they play a crucial role in the development of Eswatini and contribute immensely to its social and economic progress”.

The E1.074 billion, recurrent and capital budget for King Mswati and the royal family, represents 3.65% of the total national budget of E29.4 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.

While emaSwati watch, with heavy hearts, the collapsed health and education systems collapse due to inadequate funding, the king and royal family can look forward to a hefty budget increase of 5.8% in the new financial year.

Minister Rijkenberg has increased the royal budget by E25 million which covers wages for the king, iNdlovukazi and other members of the royal family as the king may decide. This is one of several budget provisions annually made to the king and the royal household. 

What remains unknown is how much Tibiyo Taka Ngwane, a royal investment company which has a stake in all the three sugar mills in the country, pumps into the royal family.

The budget for Royal Emoluments and Civil List, according to the 2024/25 budget estimates has been increased from E431 million to E456 million. The budget estimates also show that he allocated a budget provision of the same amount, E456.4 million, as subvention to University of Eswatini (UNESWA).

The budget provision for Royal Emoluments and Civil List is not the only one funded by the taxpayer. Rijkenberg allocated a budget of E455 million to the obscure Eswatini National Treasury. This is a royal institution under the King’s Office. Its audited books, like the rest of the royal entities, are never made public, only for the eyes of the king.

The national treasury was created in pre-independent Swaziland by King Sobhuza II, solely to raise funds for royalty from the colonial administration. 

After independence, the national treasury was not dissolved and its functions are unknown to the populace. It is accountable only to the king. 

It initially had a secretary but the position became defunct on the establishment, in 1992, of the King’s Office run by a Chief Officer who enjoys the same status as a cabinet minister.

The Eswatini National Treasury budget reflects an increase of 2.2%. Last year, the minister allocated the entity a budget of E455m and has increased it by E10 million in 2024/25.  

On capital expenditure, Rijkenberg set aside E160 million for the rehabilitation, maintenance and construction of royal palaces. The same amount was allocated for the same purpose in the 2023/24 fiscal year. 

This budget is under the control of the Eswatini National Treasury. Since audited reports are meant only for the king’s eyes, it is not easy to tell whether the budget allocation served the purpose it was meant for. During his 56th birthday celebration at Mankayane, King Mswati announced that a new palace would be constructed at the small town.

But reports of the Auditor General, prior 1992 when the King’s Office was created, were not encouraging. The then national treasury had been turned into a fattening ranch for a chosen few and cabinet viewed it as an embarrassment to the king.

The King’s Office, headed by Chief Mgwagwa Gamedze, received a budget of E3.5 million, an increase of E1.5 million from last year’s E2 million.

For national celebrations, the finance minister set aside a budget of E39 million. He allocated the same amount even last year. The budget provision for Royal Emoluments and Civil Lists is not the only one funded by the taxpayer. 

Minister Rijkenberg has been generous in allocating money to King Mswati’s pet project, the International Convention Centre and Five-Star Hotel (ICC-FSH). This time, he has allocated it more than E1 billion, despite that there is no end in sight to its completion.

Construction of the ICC & FSH has been on-going since 2015. It was initially supposed to be completed within three years, in time for the 2020 African Union Summit, which was supposed to be held here eSwatini. 

KaNgcaphala former mineworker living in poverty, who asked not to be named, criticised the nation’s burden of supporting the royal household. He bitterly complained that some royal family members hold high-paying positions and receive double salaries.  

“King Mswati’s family and King Sobhuza’s children are paid millions from the national budget. I just wonder where does all this money come from when ex-miners are living in poverty who created all the wealth for this country. It’s time the royal family shared the millions with the poor like us who once created the wealth for this country,” he said.

Swaziland Democratic Nurses Union (SWADNU) Secretary General Mayibongwe Masangane echoed the ex-mineworker’s words, emphasising concerns about the impact of poor health on the country’s economy. 

“It is very disappointing to see our leaders not taking the issue of health seriously. This will impact negatively on the economy as a lot of people will be sick. A sick nation does is not productive and does not contribute to the economic growth. It is a red flag even on investors as they look to maximise their profits. The overall health of the nation should be a priority to the leaders of any country,” says Masangane.

Lot Vilakati, Swaziland National Teachers Association (SNAT) Secretary General, called for prioritisation of public education investment over hefty salaries including royal salaries. He pointed out that much of the Ministry of Education & Training budget goes to salaries rather than infrastructure and equipment. 

“The education of our children will never improve because it does not have an adequate budget. They claim that they are doing everything when we need to teach teachers about AI. We prepared the budget at the end they told us there were no resources for that,” Valakati said. 

Delivering his budget of E29.4 billion in February, Rijkenberg increased the budget subvention of the financially ailing UNESWA by a miserly 2.2% which represents an increase of only E10 million. 

For an institution that has a bill of E40 million a month for salaries, the increase is by every means a drop in the ocean. Every year, it hardly receives even half of its requested budget subvention of about E1 billion.

As a result, the university staff and students seem to spend more time on strikes and other disturbances than normal operations. This month, Eswatini Water Services Corporation (EWSC) and Eswatini Electricity Company cut off services due to unpaid debts running into millions, disrupting studies and forcing the administration to suspend exams. 

NB: SZL1.00 is equivalent to ZAR1.00

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