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Monday, 26 September 2011

DOES PM HAVE A FORTUNE FROM MTN?

Barnabas Dlamini, Swaziland’s illegally-appointed Prime Minister, may have amassed a personal fortune from share dealings involving MTN, the only cellphone operator in the kingdom, according to a Swazi democracy activist.

Dlamini has his fingers in a number of pies as head of government and is the man in charge of the parastatal, Swaziland Posts and Telecommunications Corporation (SPTC), says Musa Hlophe of the Swaziland Coalition of Concerned Civic Organisations (SCCCO).

Dlamini is therefore a key decision maker in the affairs of Swaziland’s national posts and telecommunication. But Dlamini also personally holds shares in Swaziland Empowerment Limited (SEL) which in turn has a major shareholding in MTN, Swaziland’s monopoly cellphone provider, and the only competitor for SPTC.

Holphe, writing in his regular column in the Times Sunday yesterday (25 September 2011), says PM Dlamini has publicly declared that while he did not have direct ownership of MTN shares, he was a minor shareholder in SEL which has a 19 per cent stake in MTN.

Holphe writes, ‘He told us these interests were so small that he could see no real conflict of interest.

‘He declared that he held shares in less than one per cent of SEL.

‘Now my colleagues in the press were, no doubt, so stunned at this half attempt at transparency from the PM that they did not go on to ask some questions that would have shed a bit more light on the matter.

‘Firstly they did not ask, “How much less than one per cent do you own? What is the precise figure?”

‘Secondly they did not ask, “Is one per cent a small or big number? How much do you actually earn and own?”

‘“Who are the other shareholders in SEL?” “Does the prime minister have any sort of formal, familial or other sort of relationship with them? In other words, when he makes decisions about SPTC and MTN, is he acting to favour just himself or do his family, friends and colleagues benefit as well?”

‘I was not there to ask these questions so I started to do a little digging.

‘A quick search of the internet starts to give us some very interesting answers.

‘We can see one report says that in 2009 alone MTN paid SEL over 55 million Euros as a result of its profits.

‘At today’s rates, that is over E550 million.

‘I think that may have been a mistake by the journalist who confused the two currencies so I will take the figure as the more conservative E55 million.

‘Now, if the prime minister owns around one per cent of SEL that means that his share of the MTN profits could be as much as half a million Emalangeni.

‘It might be less than this but since he has not published his interests, it is not possible for me to be more accurate. I wish I could.

‘When I look into the few SEL annual reports I could find, I can see they are wise and prudent investors and do not put all of this money directly into the pockets of their shareholders. They keep some for future investments. This has found favour with other investors and made the shares more valuable. In fact, the share price of SEL has risen from E5.10 at the start of 2008 to E18 this week. With under one per cent of the shares, that puts the prime minister’s holdings at something less than E18 million.

‘Again, I cannot tell you exactly how much less because the Human Rights and Integrity Commission refuses to publish details of what the PM and others hold.

‘Maybe he only has one share, in which case his stake is merely a few Emalangeni.

‘It must be somewhere between these two figures but your guess is as good as mine.

‘Since SEL’s main, if not its only, investment is MTN Swaziland it is important to understand that the value of the SEL shares will be slashed if anything happens that affects MTN’s profitability.

‘This government has been at the centre of many decisions that affect the ability of SPTC to properly compete with MTN.

‘Each government decision seems designed to hamper SPTC and enable MTN to continue its monopoly and unfairly increase the wealth of its shareholders which as we now know includes the private wealth of the prime minister.

‘It is shocking to see how much money is generated by MTN and that, in spite of the grinding poverty of the majority of us; vast riches are still secretly flowing into the pockets of the elite.

‘These figures dwarf those of the land grab saga. The PM’s decisions do not seem to benefit the nation, or his office.

‘They seem to benefit the person who holds that office.

‘He may say (as he did in the land grab scandal) that it is all perfectly legal but that is the wrong test. Compliance with the law is a minimum standard not a maximum.

‘Leaders must be held to higher standards. Even if what the PM does is perfectly legal, we should still be asking, is it honourable, decent and wise? Is it moral?

‘By the way, I wonder if the decision to shut down public access to the Lands Registry had anything to do with the land grab scandal.

‘I cannot think of any other reason.

‘As to who else stands to benefit from SEL’s 19 per cent stake in MTN, is hard to determine at this stage.

‘The Swaziland Stock Exchange website does not give any clues.

‘Corruption is like pregnancy – you cannot be a little bit pregnant and you cannot be a little corrupt. You either are or you are not. It is time to tackle corruption properly and declare all interests openly. Ministers with interests must excuse themselves from any decision-making that affects those interests not just the major ones.’

To read the full article, click here.

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