opinionBy Richard Rooney
While AIDS groups are forced to close because their funds have been cut, money is flowing at an increasing rate to King Mswati III and his royal family.
News emerged yesterday (19 April 2011) that groups set up to help Swaziland people living with HIV and AIDS are about to close because they are no longer getting financial support, even though Swaziland's HIV rate of 26.1 percent is the highest in the world.
A report from IRIN said that one AIDS group, the Swaziland AIDS Support Organisation (SASO), was about to close due to lack of funds. The report said 600,000 people in a population in Swaziland of roughly one million had benefited from community outreach programmes run by SASO, or support organizations SASO has helped organize.
SASO is about to grind to a halt. Previous financial benefactors, including the Swazi Government, have had to cut back or eliminate their assistance in the wake of economic meltdown in Swaziland.
Last week, the Swaziland National Network of People Living with HIV and AIDS (SWANNEPHA), the umbrella body with which SASO works closely, announced at a press conference that it was also facing imminent closure if new sources of funding were not found.
SWANNEPHA receives its funding from the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, via Swaziland's National Emergency Response Council on HIV and AIDS (NERCHA). SWANNEPHA had its budget reduced from US$130,000 (E882,000) in 2008 to $100,000 in 2009.
But, while money cannot be found to keep the HIV AIDS support groups going, the same cannot be said about money for King Mswati, sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarch.
In February this year (2011) the budget for King Mswati and the royal household was raised by E40 million (US$5.88 million) for the coming year. By comparison the US$130,000 for SWANNEPHA is a drop in the ocean.
But it doesn't end there. This is for the second consecutive year that the budget for King Mswati Royal increased by E40 million - in the 2010/11 financial year, the royal budget went from E130 million to E170 million.
The greed of King Mswati and the royal family seems to know no bounds. The Nation magazine reported this month (April 2011) that the King's office spent about E13 million ($1. 8 million) on internal decor for three of the royal guest houses.
The decor include furniture, curtains, carpet, wood floor and cladding, bathrooms, artwork and accessories, sound system, multi media system, TV, phones and water meters.
On top of this, E125 million a year is regularly allocated for the rehabilitation, maintenance and construction of state houses. And E25 million is available for link roads to royal residences.
Yesterday was the King's 43rd birthday and next week is the 25th anniversary of his victory in a power struggle within Swaziland that saw him crowned king.
You might therefore be pleased to know that the budget for the Celebrations Office is E12.5 million – roughly 14 times the annual budget of SWANNEPHA.