Nobody will be surprised to learn that the cost of celebrations in 2008 to glorify King Mswati III overran by E32.6 million (about US$5 million).
The so-called 40/40 celebration to mark both the king’s 40th birthday and the 40th anniversary of Swaziland’s independence from Great Britain were supposed to cost the kingdom, ruled by King Mswati, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, E17 million but ended up costing ‘at least’ E50.2 million.
We have to say ‘at least’ because the sad truth is that nobody can be sure (or ever will be sure) exactly how much the extravaganza for the king cost.
The news of the massive waste of money is revealed just as Swaziland is reeling under the pressure of savage financial cuts, imposed by the International Monetary Fund, after years of mismanagement of the economy by successive Swazi governments – handpicked by King Mswati.
The massive waste has come to light in the ‘Comprehensive Project Completion Report’ (CPCR), written by Luke Mswane, chair of the double celebrations committee that oversaw the 40/40 celebration that took place on one day – 6 September 2008.
The CPCR highlights a catalogue of mismanagement. Next to no time was made available to set a proper budget for the events and it became impossible to keep track of the money. At least E1.8 million was spent on capital projects without any formal written authority.
The CPCR also states that E500 000 was budgeted for labour costs, but overtime paid to civil servants amounted to E5 million.
Tellingly, since the world was led to believe that King Mswati’s joy at his 40th birthday and the independence anniversary was shared by his subjects, Mswane’s report states that there was actually a lack of interest in the event and it was impossible to attract sponsors. They had expected sponsors to pay E0.8 million but in fact only E104,000 was given.
(At the celebration, the King said, ‘I am aware that the world might be wondering as to why we are so excited in celebrating 40 years of our independence. The answer is simple, we are celebrating our nationhood and also thanking God almighty for preserving us as a nation. We are celebrating the unity, peace, stability and progress that we have enjoyed for the past 40 years.’ Not for the first time the king showed he is completely out of touch with his subjects.)
In his report, Mswane showed how inept the government was in organising the celebration. The project was only launched at the end of October 2007, less than a year before the celebrations. As a result there was not enough time for proper planning and proper costing of all the activities and services that were going to be required before and during the celebrations. He also gave a list of problems that arose because nobody was sure on the rules governing purchasing goods and services for the celebrations.
I said back in 2008 that the 40/40 celebration had turned out to be a public relations disaster for the king. Instead of praising Mswati, the international media coverage of the event showed him as a man out of touch with his people. He was seen as selfish and greedy. It was estimated at the time that the bash might have cost as much as US$10 million (about E70 million at the then exchange rate). It was pointed out that while the king wallows in this wealth, seven out of ten of his subjects earned less than one dollar a day. Six out of ten relied on international food aid and four in ten were moving from hunger to starvation. And of course, Swaziland continues to have the highest rate of HIV infection in the world.
It was known to be a public relations disaster then: now we know it was a financial disaster too.