The Swaziland Government has been forced into making a public statement for the first time after news that it sold maize donated as food aid for hungry children in the kingdom on the open market and deposited the US$3 million takings in a special bank account.
News of the scandal has circulated in media across the world over the past two weeks and the kingdom, ruled by King Mswati III, has been criticised for taking food from the mouths of the hungry.
In Swaziland one in three people are officially classified as malnourished and they rely on donated food from foreign donor agencies to stop from starving. In particular, the maize was intended to feed people in drought stricken areas of the kingdom.
But, instead of feeding King Mswati’s hungry subjects, the government decided to sell the maize on the open market to raise E25 million (US$3 million). This money has been deposited in a special account at the Central Bank of Swaziland.
The sale of nearly 12,000 tonnes of maize raised concerns in the international donor community because donations are expected to be used for their intended purpose. In the past large donor agencies, such as the European Union, have stopped giving money as ‘budget support’ to Swaziland: money that the government would be allowed to spend as it saw fit, because it could not be trusted to spend the money appropriately.
Instead, donor agencies will now only fund specific projects where it is clear how the money, or goods donated, will be used.
In the case of the Japanese food aid, the maize was clearly intended to be used to feed the hungry.
Now, Government Spokesman Percy Simelane has issued a press release claiming that the sale of the maize was not illegal.
He said the donors, the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), were aware of the arrangement. This has not been confirmed by Japan.
Simelane stated that it was not the first time government had sold donated items: a consignment of fertilizer donated by the Japanese government had also been sold.
He said the money raised was put aside to assist in developing pro-poor programmes in agriculture. He did not say how the hungry people of Swaziland had been fed in the absence of the maize.
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