By Phathizwe-Chief Zulu
King Mswati III’s royal budget has been increased to $69.8 million in the current financial year at a time when Swaziland continues to struggle with rising poverty and a sluggish economic growth, official documents reveal.
According to official figures mentioned in the “Government of the Kingdom of Swaziland’s estimates for the years from April 1, 2016 to March 31, 2019” report, the royal budget was $55.3 million in the last financial year, but this year it has been increased by $13.9 million.
The budget also has an extra $6.7 million allocation for the king’s private jet.
Moreover, the budget for construction of link roads to royal palaces has been increased by $6.4 million. It was $2 million in the last budget.
The royal houses budget was also increased by $10 million to reach $17 million.
Royal emolument and civil list, which includes salaries for the king, the queen mother and others in the royal service, were allocated $25.8 million in the current financial year.
Budget increase slammed
The Swaziland Solidarity Network, a pro-democracy organization, strongly criticized the increase in the royal budget.
“It's sad that the country's social expenditure always takes a back seat to satisfy the king’s greed. It’s a painful act that shows that if he had his own way he would keep all the country's money to himself,” the organization’s Communications Manager Lucky Lukhele said.
King Mswati III has 13 palaces and a number of guest houses. He also owns a fleet of luxury vehicles, including top-of-the-range Mercedes Benz, Rolls Royce and BMWs. Meanwhile, the finance minister in March had warned about a 7 percent decline in total revenue for the 2016/17 financial year.
In 2015, the Central Bank of Swaziland noted that its Southern African neighbors had posted on average 3 percent Gross Domestic Product growth, while Swaziland’s growth stood at only 0.32 percent. According to United Nations Development Programme, 63 percent Swazis live under less than one dollar a day.
No debate allowed
The royal budget is not allowed to be debated by the local parliament or scrutinized by the Public Accounts Committee. In fact, it is a normal government practice to not include any details about the royal budget in the budget speech.
Lukhele also spoke about the culture of self-censorship in the local media when it comes to reporting on royal spending. In Swaziland, the monarch is treated as sacrosanct. While budget estimates come out months after the finance minister’s speech, the local mainstream media avoids reporting on the royal budget completely.
“The ban on reporting on royal expenditure and other shenanigans is indicative of the king’s dictatorship which actively suppresses the free flow of information to keep the public ignorant,” he said.
While the king’s budget soared, grants for the elderly was reduced by $488,000 from $12.3 million to $11.8 million, according to budget documents.
In its defense, government spokesman Percy Simelane told Anadolu Agency the Swazi king like all other heads of states does not make his own budget.
"It is the government that does budgets. And, the king is not involved. It is unfair to criticize his majesty for the increased budget," Simelane said.
He also said "his majesty's government" spends a lot of money on social services like paying for free primary education and providing food to children in some neighborhoods.
Last year, figures from Forbes magazine estimated the king’s wealth to be $100 million. While in 2009, the magazine estimated his personal wealth at $200 million. In 2013, the king had refuted figures quoted in international media. “I was very surprised and wondered where I got all this amount of money,” the king had been quoted as saying by The Times of Swaziland.