King Mswati III’s budget allocation this year remains unchanged from that of last year. The last time there was a freeze on the budget for the royal family was in 2010 during the global financial crisis. Minister of finance, Neal Rijkenberg told parliament that the government was beginning to get the fundamentals right on government spending but that Covid-19 remained a real threat to the economy, writes NIMROD MABUZA.
In the midst of a devastating coronavirus pandemic, a collapsing economy, huge job losses in the private sector and a threat to cut some 3000 jobs in the public service, the royal family received an unchanged budget allocation from last year.
Minister of Finance, Neal Rijkenberg made a budget provision of E411 million for royal emoluments and civil list.
This is the same amount as last year’s budget provision for the monarchy.
This country’s royal family lives a lavish lifestyle that the vast majority of emaSwati could not even wrap their heads around even if they dreamed of it.
With a budget allocation of almost half a billion, how much does King Mswati III earn? What about the Indluvukazi earn? Or emakhosikati and their children?
It has been said that King Mswati is one of the richest leaders in Africa with his fortunes valued at billions of Emalangeni.
At best, emaSwati could demand the release of the annual audit report of royal finances that is presently only known to the king and the royal board of trustees.
In 2009, Forbes Magazine listed King Mswati as one of the richest royals of the world. Over the years, the royal budget has been increasing steadily to almost unsustainable levels despite government whining over a huge wage bill for public servants and a lack of finances for service delivery projects.
The freezing of the royal budget may well be the king’s own gesture at walking his talk after warning emaSwati during the opening of parliament last month of tough times ahead, partly because of the Covid-19 pandemic and many years of poor management of the economy.
The last time the royal emoluments and civil list budget allocation was frozen was in 2010, at the height of the world global financial crisis whose effects were felt even on our shores.
It was a time when the government was struggling to pay its bills, particularly salaries of public servants and other creditors.
In recent time, King Mswati has appointed his children to various portfolios, mainly committees, where they draw salaries from the public purse independently from the royal budget.
Whether they are now paid twice, from the public purse and the royal emoluments and civil list is not clear because there is no public accounting for royal expenditure.
Prince Lindani is the Director of Economic Affairs in the King’s Office and his brother Prince Sicalo is now Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Defence.
Their elder sister, Princess Sikhanyiso is the Minister of Information, Communication and Technology. She does not work for her salary and has flatly refused to return from a maternity leave she took in 2019. Nkhooosi!
The E411 million budget allocation for the royal family is higher than that allocated to the financially troubled University of Eswatini by E2m.
When he opened parliament last month, King Mswati conceded that a tough year lies ahead and called for, amongst other things, cautious spending.
“This will also be a tough year so we will have to be very cautious with our spending and be vigilant in our fight against corruption, particularly with the uncertainty over the lifespan of the pandemic.
“Government should continue ensuring that the economy does not collapse as we have witnessed in other countries around the world. Some have declared an inability to finance their budgets. Only a properly managed fiscus and carefully guarded reserves will ensure Eswatini averts such a situation,” said the king.
The king cautioned that in these tough times, world countries would be less generous to others.
“We need to be proficient by achieving more with less in the use of government resources in order to attain macro-economic stability, accelerate economic growth, create jobs, raise incomes, provide for the welfare of those less privileged and reduce poverty,” said the king.
A week later, Minister Rijkenberg reiterated the king’s words when he called for cautious spending; spending according to what is available.
He warned of rocky path ahead and “…the next three years are going to be even tougher.”
Rijkenberg, however, gave a glimmer of hope when he announced that in the past two years, government has been working hard fixing the fundamentals of ‘our economy.”
“I can confidently say that for the first time in many years the fundamentals of our economy are slowly but steadily improving,” he said.
He cautioned, that: “However, while we are busy fixing our fundamentals, we must acknowledge that there is yet a mountain to climb. We entered the Covid-19 pandemic from an already deteriorating macro-fiscal position with sluggish growth and waning institutional strength.
“The widespread effects of the pandemic on the fiscus and the economy have significantly and permanently altered the course of our trajectory.”
The minister stressed the importance of getting the basics right because “if we do not get the basics right, we will remain in an unsustainable fiscal position and we will see the effects of the pandemic persist over the medium term.
“This will negatively affect each and every liSwati due to stagnating economic growth, subdued employment creation, lower revenue receipts and higher debt-servicing costs.”
The entire budget, recurrent and capital, for king and the royal household is slightly over E1 billion but lower than last year’s and for the first time in many years, there is no budget for the construction of link-roads to palaces.
The projects which has become part and parcel of the royal budget has been deferred.
The royal budget is about 4.1 percent of total national budget which stands at E24.4 billion.
The royal budget is never debated in parliament. So are royal initiated projects such as the International Convention Centre and the Five-Star Hotel, now at the runaway cost of over E6 billion and climbing.
Shortly before she left the country at the end of her assignment here, then American Ambassador, Lisa Peterson called for an amendment of the Constitution of 2005 to allow for parliamentary debate on the royal budget.
Ambassador Peterson pointed out at Section 9(2) as one that completely shuts out parliament’s ability to debate the royal budget.
This section reads; “Any remuneration prescribed under this section shall be a charge on and paid out of the Consolidated Fund and shall not be reduced during the continuance in office of King and iNgwenyama.”
The obscure Eswatini National Treasury, which is responsible for national courts and different national councils, has had its budget provision reduced by E3 million – from E429 million last year to E426 million.
Its budget allocation is far higher than that of the Judiciary which has been allocated just about E74 million. The Anti-corruption Commission has been allocated just about E26 million.
According to the budget estimates, Minister Rijkenberg made a budget provision of E7.7 million to the King’s Office.
This is higher than the budget provision made to the Human Rights Commission, tasked with, among other things, to investigate human rights abuses and complaints, corruption matters and also serves as an Integrity Commission.
The Human Rights Commission has been allocated E6.5million, which barely covers salaries.
A budget allocation of E160 million has been made to the Eswatini National Treasury for the construction, rehabilitation and maintenance of royal palaces and residences. This is the only capital project for the royal household.
Construction, rehabilitation and maintenance of state houses has become an annual event.
The University of Swaziland, which for more than 10 years now has been operating on a shoe-string budget, has been allocated E409 million.
This is less than half of what the tertiary institution requested. Usually, the institution’s request stands at around E900 million. The university has been struggling to survive as moves are underway to turn it around.
The office of the Minister of Defence, where Prince Sicalo holds fort has been allocated a budget of E69 million – E2 million less than last year’s allocation of about E71 million.
It is, however, far higher than the budget for the prime minister, which is E3.5 million.
King Mswati III is the substantive Minister of Defence and Prince Sicalo is the principal secretary. He is in charge of a budget of E1.24billion.
As usual, the Ministry of Education and Training got the lion’s share of the budget. Minister Rijkenberg allocated it E3.5 billion which represents 14.5% of total national budget.
It was followed by the Ministry of Health with E2.8 billion which represents 11.5% of total national budget.
The Ministry of Defence is third, followed by the police with a budget of slightly over E1 billion.
Story Produced by Inhlase Centre for Investigative Journalism.