New PM Cleopas Dlamini has his work cut out

New PM Cleopas Dlamini has his work cut out

By Vuyisile Hlatshwayo                                                                                    

King Mswati III has appointed Cleopas Sipho Dlamini as new Prime Minister of the Kingdom of eSwatini in utter disregard of the people’s wishes for genuine political reforms.

His unconstitutional appointment in the wake of pro-democracy calls proves a clear intent of the absolute monarch to stamp his authority and perpetuate the status quo.

The retired Public Service Pension Fund (PSPF) chief executive officer replaces the late Ambrose Mandvulo Dlamini, who succumbed to Covid-19 in late November 2020.

Inhlase has learnt that the new prime minister was first earmarked to succeed Barnabas Sibusiso Dlamini in 2018. However, Mandvulo, who enjoyed the full backing of the king’s first daughter, Princess Sikhanyiso, outmanoeuvred him.

Ironically, King Mswati, who took a swipe at pro-democracy protesters for contravening the constitution, has repeatedly done likewise in all his PM appointments since its adoption 16 years ago. Senator Dlamini’s appointment is in breach of Section 67 (1) of the Constitution which states that the King shall appoint the prime minister from among the members of the House acting on the recommendation of the King’s Advisory Council.  

Unprepared to depart from tradition, he has yet again settled for another member of the Dlamini dynasty. He dashed hopes of a non-Dlamini PM by not confirming the Acing PM Themba Nhlanganiso Masuku to the position.

The newly appointed PM hails from Ludlawini Royal Kraal in northern Hhohho. He is a progeny of Prince Mphatfwa, one of the many sons of King Mswati II. Even though he boasts a lineage of pure blue blood as the son of Phineas and Olga Dlamini (nee Mdluli), he has chosen not to use the royal title of prince.

Despite his monarchist bloodline and connections, Dlamini has made his mark in the business world, though not without reputational controversy.  He is a consummate economist and the King has claimed that it is this that set him apart as the new appointee.

A third product of Salesian High School to occupy the citadel of power at Hospital Hill, he is armed with an M.Sc. degree in Economics from Portland State University, Oregon in the United States of America. He earned his BA (Hons) in Economics from the University of South Africa (Unisa) in 1983. He also obtained a B. Com degree with an Economics major from the University of Botswana and Swaziland in 1977.

He started his career as planning officer in the Ministry of Finance in 1978. In 1980, he became a research officer responsible for collection of economic statistics on prices, production and retail trading. In 1986, he climbed up the ladder becoming manager, investments and exchange. He was responsible for treasury operations, supervision of currency and money markets traders.

Dlamini’s exposure to investments and exchange saw him being recruited as Director, Investments and Exchange at the Central Bank of eSwatini in 1992. He rose through the ranks from Director, Investments and Exchange, Director, Research Department to Senior Director Operations. As Head of Investments and Exchange, one of his responsibilities was treasury management. In the Research Department, he advised the Ministry of Finance on domestic debt and international issues.

His expertise in investments landed him the PSPF chief executive officer post in 2013. Under his stewardship, the PSPF investment portfolio grew in leaps and bounds. He spearheaded the government’s campaign to invest 30 per cent of pensions or retirement assets in the local economy. When he retired in 2018, local PSPF investments stood at 45 per cent.

Whilst at the helm, the Fund invested in retail, agriculture, asset management, mobile phone network and tourism and hospitality within and outside the country. Its retail portfolio included Gables Shopping Centre, New Mall Shopping Centre, Bhunu Mall Shopping Centre and Pick n Pay Lorjaf. It also invested in forestry and dairy farming through its stakes in Montigny Investments and Swazi Milk. It made inroads into the tourism and hospitality industry through the posh Hilton Hotel. PSPF acquired stakes in MTN Eswatini and Eswatini Mobile.  

The Fund further grew its investments through fund managers locally and globally. It invested in the locally-based operations Old Mutual, Stanlib, African Alliance, Allan Gray and Inhlonhla. It also invested in the South Africa-based Allan Gray, Foord, Sanlam, Stanlib and Alaxander Forbes as well as global businesses. On his retirement in 2018, the PSPF recorded a total of assets worth E21.7 billion, according to the 2018 annual report for the Public Service Pension Fund.

Despite his notable achievements, stories abound about how under his leadership PSPF was turned into a ‘piggy bank’ for the cash-strapped government struggling to pay its huge wage bill. PSPF allegedly wasted E7 million of the pensioners’ money on a plot it purchased from the then PM Barnabas Sibusiso Dlamini, which had cost him E93 000.

Blinded by loyalty, Dlamini once pledged pension funds to the job creation initiative King Mswati launched during a Job Summit. The pensioners took him to task demanding to know who had given him permission. Although the controversial pledge never saw the light of the day, it ingratiated him with the higher authorities.

True to Allister Miller’s words “There is no road so full of traps as one that leads to a king”, Dlamini’s way to the heart of the king and kingmakers has been not easy. He had a protracted divorce court battle with his wife, Cynthia Simelane, and admitted that he committed adultery. One of his grounds for filing divorce papers was that his wife was obsessively and intolerably religious. All that provided his detractors with ammunition to pull him down.  

Former retiring Financial Services and Regulatory Authority (FSRA) boss, Sandile Dlamini, lifted a lid on his alleged contravention of corporate governance. He claimed that PSPF granted huge loans to entities without any loan agreements and supporting documents. The FSRA investigators found that PSPF allegedly took major investment decisions on certain acquisitions without the involvement of its Investment Committee.

PSPF further disinvested large sums of funds from local financial institutions to offshore destinations, according to the FSRA investigators’ findings. Dlamini tried to dismiss all that as a smear campaign. The Barnabas Sibusiso Dlamini-led cabinet saved his skin. It instructed FSRA to withdraw a court application. Refusing to be silenced, Dlamini (Sandile), publicly made a damning statement blaming rampant corruption on Dlaminism.

With tradition coursing in his veins, the new prime minister ticks all the boxes, according to his appointing finger. King Mswati has handpicked Dlamini under the veneer of his business acumen, but a closer version of the truth is because of his abiding sense of loyalty. His appointment amid the political uprising has been met with mixed reactions across the spectrum. Banking on his business experience, the business community believes he is the right man for the job. But the pro-democracy campaigners, under the banner of the Political Parties Assembly (PPA), believes that his royal assignment will perpetuate the status quo.

“There is nothing that Pudemo expects from Mswati’s PM. We call on all Swazis to identify their role in the struggle to change this country from tinkhundla autocracy to democracy,” says the People’s United Democratic Movement (Pudemo) secretary general Wandile Dludlu.

Dlamini is taking over the reins of a country teetering on the brink. He has to hit the ground running as he must quickly come up with a multi-pronged recovery strategy to restore peace, order and stability. He must implement the reconstruction programme and heal the polarised, troubled nation. Only time will tell if he carries out his duties in service of the nation or perpetuating the iron grip of the monarchy.

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