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Friday, 31 July 2020

Swaziland elections watchdog calls for widescale investigation into allegation of vote buying in Senate

An elections support network in Swaziland (eSwatini) has called allegations of bribery around a Senate election ‘shocking’ and is demanding widescale investigations.

The eSwatini Election Support Network (EESN) wants investigations by the police, the Elections and Boundary Commission, the Human Rights and Integrity Commission and the Anticorruption Commission.

It made its call after Ngomuyayona Gamedze, a candidate for  the vacant seat in the Swaziland Senate, withdrew from the race and said he had been asked to pay bribes to secure votes.
A seat became vacant after the death of Senator Mike Temple last year. Gamedze, a former deputy Senate president, was one of five candidates.

In Swaziland the people do not elect the 30 members of the Senate; 20 are appointed by absolute monarch King Mswati III and the others are elected by members of the House of Assembly.

Tjengisile Shabangu, EESN Chairperson, said in a statement published on Facebook, ‘These allegations are shocking. When money becomes a determinant factor to being elected into public office, it perpetuates the inequality gap especially amongst women and other vulnerable groups to participate fairly in the electoral process. This undermines fair participation and transparency of an election. It also undermines electing people of calibre to perform representation and oversight roles in Parliament.’

Shabangu called ‘for critical organs of government to conduct intensive investigations into the credibility and fairness of elections and the applicability of electoral laws for reforms where there is need’.

Shabangu added, ‘The allegations that Members of Parliament demanded to be paid because they also spent lots of money points to a political system that is already not in the best interest of the nation but is in pursuit of personal gain. People elected into public office must show effectiveness in representing national interests as well as be critical of the country’s governance structures.’

Shabangu said, ‘These allegations affirm the EESN observation in its 2018 elections report that the elections were marred with malpractices especially using money to buy favour from the electorate.’
Separately, Sifiso Mabuza, one of the three remaining candidates in the election, complained that police had visited tenants at flats that he rents out and questioned them about him. 

The Times of eSwatini reported, ‘Mabuza said he felt harassed as the police officers also questioned his wife about him and they also went around calling pastors, his former teachers to the extent of asking how far he had gone with his education.’

In Swaziland, police vet candidates for senate elections to see if they qualify for elections. 

According to the Senate (Elections) Act, 2013, for candidates to qualify for nominations they need to be registered voters, have no criminal record as well as be in compliance with eSwatini Revenue Authority (SRA) regulations.  Candidates who entered and lost the last national elections also do not qualify for the nominations.  Candidates who have contract engagements with government would be disqualified if they fail to declare them. Also, candidates who are members of the armed forces do not qualify for nominations.

The election was supposed to take place last Monday (27 July 2020) but was delayed because of the vetting process.

See also

Candidate withdraws as bribery allegation hits another Swaziland Senate election
Swaziland King appoints eight of his family to Senate amid reports of widespread vote buying elsewhere

Wednesday, 29 July 2020

IMF gives Swaziland emergency coronavirus loan but is only half what is needed

The International Monetary Fund has approved a loan of US$110 million to help Swaziland (eSwatini) as it grapples with the coronavirus crisis.

The Swazi Government had earlier said the coronavirus (COVOD-19) pandemic had devasted the economy and it would be US$207 million short of the budget funds it needed for the present financial year.

It applied to the IMF’s Rapid Financing Instrument scheme.

Announcing the assistance the IMF said, ‘The COVID-19 pandemic has magnified eSwatini’s existing economic and social challenges, leading to a sharp decline in growth and large financing needs.’

The announcement was made on Wednesday (29 July 2020).

The IMF added, ‘The immediate priority is to support public health, vulnerable groups and businesses. Once the impact of the pandemic subsides, it is critical to implement the authorities’ fiscal consolidation plan and structural and governance reforms to ensure debt sustainability and achieve a fast and inclusive recovery.’

The IMF said Swaziland’s economy already faced ‘deep economic and social challenges’ before the coronavirus crisis hit the kingdom in March. Swaziland has been on partial lockdown since then. 

The IMF said, ‘Before the pandemic, growth was subdued, the fiscal deficit and public debt were rising, and international reserves declining, amid elevated unemployment and widespread poverty. The pandemic has resulted in a sharp decline in growth and generated large financing needs, magnifying these challenges.’

The coronavirus crisis is worsening in Swaziland. On Wednesday the Ministry of Health announced a record number of positive cases of 147 in a single day. There have been 40 deaths, half of them in the past 14 days. In total 2,551 people have tested positive.

See also

IMF reports Swaziland public debt rising, foreign reserves fallen ‘below adequate levels’

Tuesday, 28 July 2020

Swaziland seeks US$207m IMF loan to save sinking economy as coronavirus worsens

Swaziland (eSwatini) is seeking US$207 million from the International Monetary Fund as its economy continues to slide because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Swazi Finance Minister Neal Rijkenberg said the money was needed ‘to cushion the budget and help address urgent balance of payment needs’ created by the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis.

Swaziland is already in recession and international trade and tax collections within the kingdom have been badly hit since March 2020 when many businesses were forced to lockdown.

In a statement on Tuesday (28 July 2020) Rijkenberg said Swaziland would seek the money from the IMF’s Rapid Financing Instrument (RFI) which had been set up to help countries to help counter the effects of coronavirus.

Rijkenberg said the coronavirus crisis had ‘severely affected eSwatini’s economy, exacerbating pre-existing economic challenges’ which had led to ‘a significant contraction in economic activity’. 

As of 27 July 2020 the Ministry of Health had reported 2,316 positive cases of coronavirus in Swaziland and 24 deaths. 

He added the government had been forced to spend money on a package of measures to tackle the coronavirus crisis that it had not budgeted for. He said, ‘The package includes additional health spending, ramped up food assistance programs, increased social protection transfers and improved access to water and sanitation facilities for the vulnerable. To accommodate this additional expenditure, additional resources have had to be mobilised, which would have worsened Government’s fiscal position, which had already been in a precarious state prior to the emergence of the scourge.’

The US$207 million represents 5.3 percent of Swaziland’s GDP. Rijkenberg said the request would be presented to the IMF Board before the end of this week and the outcome would be communicated soon thereafter.

Separately, also on Tuesday it was reported that the Labour Commissioner, Mthunzi Shabangu’s office had received requests from 105 different companies to retrench 14,048 workers who were presently on unpaid layoffs. Companies said they could no longer afford to pay employees. Labour Advisory Board discussions are expected to take place on Friday.

The IMF rules for receiving the RFI loan include that the country ‘is required to cooperate with the IMF to make efforts to solve its balance of payments difficulties and to describe the general economic policies that it proposes to follow. Prior actions may be required where warranted.’

In February 2020 before the coronavirus pandemic hit Swaziland the IMF reported the kingdom’s economy continued to be in free-fall. Public debt was still rising, domestic arrears had grown, and international currency reserves had fallen ‘below adequate levels’.

The IMF reported, ‘Economic indicators are expected to remain weak. GDP growth [the total value of goods and services in the kingdom] is projected to temporarily pick up in 2020, as the government plans to repay some arrears, but growth would be subdued afterwards as fiscal imbalances persist and the private sector remains hamstrung.’

The IMF predicted the government’s deficit was expected to remain large and public debt would rise to above 60 percent of GDP over the medium-term and contribute to further reduce international currency reserves.

See also

IMF reports Swaziland public debt rising, foreign reserves fallen ‘below adequate levels’
Swaziland hospitals close to overwhelmed by coronavirus, says Heath Minister

Monday, 27 July 2020

Candidate withdraws as bribery allegation hits another Swaziland Senate election

Ngomuyayona Gamedze, a candidate for  the vacant seat in the Swaziland (eSwatini) Senate, has withdrawn from the race and says he was asked to pay bribes to secure votes.

In Swaziland the people do not elect the 30 members of the Senate; 20 are appointed by absolute monarch King Mswati III and the others are elected by members of the House of Assembly.

This is not the first time allegations of bribery during Senate elections have been made.

A seat became vacant after the death of Senator Mike Temple last year. Gamedze, a former deputy Senate president, was one of five candidates.

Gamedze wrote to the Returning Officer, the Clerk to Parliament Ndvuna Dlamini, saying ‘the election is open to the highest bidder’.

He wrote, ‘I am of the opinion that the election will consequently not be fair, just and in national interest. I therefore find myself with no option but to hereby respectfully withdraw my candidacy for the election of a senator.’

In an interview with the Swaziland News, an online newspaper, Gamedze said he had been asked to pay for votes. ‘Anyone who aspires to take over the Senate must be prepared to pay not less than 15 MPs [members of the House of Assembly], E20,000 each (US$1,200), minimum totalling E300,000.’

There were many reports of alleged bribery during the last Senate election in 2018. Police were called after votes were said to have been sold for between E20,000 and E40,000. The Times of Swaziland reported at the time the bribery allegations came to light after one unsuccessful Senate candidate whom it did not name demanded her money back from members of the House of Assembly.

The Observer on Sunday newspaper, which is in effect owned by King Mswati, said in an editorial comment in October 2018, ‘It is now an open secret that the 10 seats available for Senate, to be chosen by the MPs, are now sold to the highest bidder.’

Vusi Kunene, a columnist for the Times of Swaziland, criticised Swaziland’s Elections and Boundaries Commission for not taking action. He wrote, ‘That it is no longer a secret that there is a lot of vote buying and the institution, which is supposed to guard against such, is silent, is worrying.’

The buying of Senate seats in Swaziland is common. In the run-up to the election Ncumbi Maziya, a Commissioner at the EBC, told a workshop for election candidates that members of parliament charged E60,000 for their vote.

The Swazi Observer newspaper reported in August 2018, ‘He said parliamentarians are the most corrupt people. He said he has since gathered that parliamentarians are swindling money from people who want to make it into Senate.’ 

It added, ‘Maziya said he learnt that people are made to fork out money amounting to E60,000 if they want to get a vote to be elected into Senate. “If you have no money you won’t make it into Senate,” Maziya stated.’

The election for the vacant Senate seat was expected to be concluded on Monday (27 July 2020).

See also

Swaziland King appoints eight of his family to Senate amid reports of widespread vote buying elsewhere

U.S. Ambassador to Swaziland wants constitutional change to stop King’s lavish spending

The US Ambassador to Swaziland (eSwatini) Lisa Peterson has called for the kingdom’s constitution to be changed to stop absolute monarch King Mswati III’s lavish spending.

In November 2019 he purchased between 13 and 15 luxury Rolls-Royce cars at an estimated cost of up to US$4 million. He also has two private airplanes, at least 13 palaces and fleets of top-of-the-range cars. At his 50th birthday in 2018 he wore a watch worth US$1.6 million and a suit beaded with diamonds that weighed 6 kg. Days earlier he had taken delivery of his second private jet. This one, an Airbus A340, cost US$13.2 to purchase but with VIP upgrades was estimated to have cost US$30 million.

Peterson who has criticised the King’s lifestyle in the past was speaking with newspaper and magazine editors in a discussion streamed on Facebook on 23 July 2020. She said she had previously had a private meeting with the King where she voiced her concerns.

The Ambassador said she had a ‘concern about Royal Family trips to Disneyworld in the middle of the drought [and] the number of royal children who for some reason go to the UN General Assembly’.


US Ambassador to Swaziland Lisa Peterson
She said the US had given more than half a billion dollars in assistance to eSwatini over the past 15 years. ‘It does reach a point where you ask yourself why are we putting this money in. Why are my taxpayer’s dollars going to this, my children’s tax dollars, heaven forbid, my grandchildren’s tax dollars go to pay for healthcare in this country when someone [the King] clearly has a lot of money and doesn’t quite seem to know what to do with it all.’ 

Speaking about the Rolls-Royce cars she said, ‘I’m still not completely convinced they were a purchase.’

She said all kinds of people talked about the purchase at the time. ‘There was anger, there was disappointment, one person said they felt abandoned.’

She added, ‘I thought it was a golden opportunity for people to mobilise to get something out of this moment of collective anger / anguish, pick your word, and nothing really happened.’

She predicted, ‘I think you’re going to see another kind of gift or purchase that’s going to raise ire again.’

She called on people to advocate for a law on limiting the gifts government officials and the monarchy could accept. ‘[The] gift law should specify that it will apply to everyone,’ she said.

In Swaziland it is impossible to take the King to court. The Ambassador said people needed to send a message to the King, ‘We expect you to behave the way the rest of us have to behave.’

She called for people to advocate to change S9 of the Swazi Constitution which deals with royal emoluments – the amount of money the royal family gets from the national budget each year. S9 (ii) states that the level of the King’s allowances can never be reduced.

She said, ‘That section of the constitution fundamentally takes away any power parliament has over the purse and at a minimum people should be engaged on [saying] we think he has enough already, we should place a cap on this. Change section nine of the constitution so actually there’s some room to move it down if necessary when you are in times of dire fiscal need.’

Ambassador Peterson had previously publicly criticised the King for his lavish spending. Speaking about the purchase of the Rolls-Royce in an interview with The Nation, a monthly magazine, in December 2019, she said, ‘My initial anger was at the excessive luxury enjoyed by a tiny segment of the country, while 40 percent of the population lives on less than E29 per day [US$2], according to the World Bank.’

She added that people in Swaziland felt bound by ‘a cultural expectation’ to keep quiet while more powerful people took advantage of their goodwill and respect.

She said, ‘Goodwill and respect should be earned based on a person’s actions, which must be guided by giving the utmost consideration to human dignity.

‘They require that a person deal honestly with those around him, particularly those who depend on his conscientious leadership. By always dealing honestly, a leader gains the trust and respect of his public.’

Peterson also made comments while giving certificates to young entrepreneurs at Nhlangano on 8 November 2019. A transcript of her speech issued by the US Embassy in Swaziland quoted her saying, ‘While the government continued using its existing vehicle fleet, the palace sees fit to acquire more than a dozen Rolls-Royce vehicles with a minimum  price tag of E52.5 million. To accompany this royal fleet, there is now an even larger fleet of official escort vehicles, purchased  with public funds.’

She said, ‘It is exceedingly difficult for development partners to continue  advocating for assistance to eSwatini when such profligate spending or suspicious giving is taking place.’ 

In an article published in November 2018 by both of Swaziland’s two national daily newspapers she called for the decree that puts King Mswati in power as an absolute monarch to be repealed. She also called for political parties to be allowed to contest elections. 

See also

U.S. Ambassador to Swaziland renews criticism of King’s lavish spending while people live in poverty

Threat to censor U.S. Ambassador to Swaziland after criticism of King’s lavish spending

U.S. Ambassador calls for repeal of decree that makes Swaziland an absolute monarchy