A cash windfall for social projects worth at least E100m (10m US dollars) promised by Swaziland’s Minister of Finance may not exist.
I reported in March 2009 that Majozi Sithole told the Swazi Parliament that the government had managed to retrieve the E28m it had spent (illegally) on a deposit for a private jet for King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch.
Sithole said the money had grown from E28m and with interest it was now worth E100m. The money was reported to be from donor agencies and was be used for unnamed social projects in Swaziland.
I doubted the truth of the statement at the time and now it seems I am not alone.
According to the Times of Swaziland, the kingdom’s only independent daily newspaper, the E100m has now grown to E400m, but nobody knew where the money is. The newspaper calls the claim that the money exists ‘a hoax’ and asks has the ‘Swazi nation been taken for a ride?’
The money was said to be under the trust of Professor Frans Whelpton at the University of South Africa. It was also said that the donors refused to allow the money to be given directly to the Government of Swaziland. By the government’s own admission about E40m a month is lost to corruption in Swaziland.
Whelpton told the Times that he has not received any money and he doesn’t know who the donors are.
The Times said the funds would no longer come from Canada as had originally been announced but would now come from Germany.
In an interesting twist this week, Barnabas Dlamini, Swaziland’s illegally-appointed prime minister, tried to blame Whelpton for the confusion.
According to the Swazi Observer, the newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati, Dlamini told a breakfast meeting that Whelpton was involved in the project of his own accord and that the Swazi Government were ‘extra careful in our dealings with him’.
Dlamini went on to say, ‘We’re waiting to see whether the donor money is there as promised by him.’
The incompetence of the government is staggering. The whole sorry affair started because the government had secretly and illegally entered into a contract to buy a private jet for the king. When news leaked out and the outcry travelled around the world, the government was forced to abandon the contract and lost the E28m deposit.
This was in 2002 and since then the government has often told the Swazi people the money is to be refunded. And each time, nothing happens.
I doubt if much will come from the present debacle. I can’t see any connection between a lost jet deposit worth E28million and E400 million of donor funds for health and education projects.
What I can’t work out is whether the Swazi Government is simply lying to get itself out of a hole or whether the prime minister and the finance minister genuinely believe that donor agencies would be so lax as to give a professor E400m to spend as he saw fit in Swaziland.
And the final twist in the saga: the company that was to provide the jet has an outstanding court claim against Swaziland for breach of contract – for a cool E47m.