opinionBy Richard Roooney
The claim by Swaziland Finance Minister Mazozi Sithole that King Mswati III has asked him to freeze the Royal budget so he can help his subjects during the present economic crisis has rightly been met with suspicion by observers of the kingdom.
The Times of Swaziland reported that Sithole told CNN that the King wanted to do his bit to help his kingdom that is facing economic meltdown.
Sithole was reported by CNN saying, 'I brief him [the king], he has concerns and he will, as he did this year, say whatever you work don't even increase my budget because I understand the fiscal situation.'
What CNN and the Times did not report was that in the Swazi national budget introduced in February 2012 King Mswati and his royal family continued to receive E210 million a year from the Swazi taxpayer for their own use. This was the same amount they got in the financial year 2011/12, but was an increase of 23 percent over 2010/11 and a whopping 63 percent compared with what the king took from his subjects in 2009/10.
But Sithole failed to point out that in the 2012 budget as well as R210 million for the king, a further R250 million was provided for various royal projects, including the refurbishment of state houses, the maintenance of roads to palaces and royal security training.
The king's office, which manages the royal trust fund and business arm Tibiyo - which is not taxed and does not use its profits for ordinary Swazis - was given R5 million, up from the R70,000 it was given the previous year.
Observers note that the king, who is sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarch, has had many chances in the past to cut back on his spending and reduce the amount of money he takes from his subjects, but so far has in fact increased his budget, rather than reduced it. In 2011 as Swaziland hurtled towards financial meltdown Sithole in his budget demanded 10 percent budget cuts (later increased further) from government departments, but in the same budget the amount of money given to the king increased by 23 percent.
All this is happening while seven in ten of Swaziland's tiny 1 million population live in abject poverty earning less than US$2 a day; three in ten are so hungry they are medically diagnosed as malnourished and the kingdom has the highest rate of HIV infection in the world.
Despite the poverty of the kingdom, King Mswati continues to live a lavish lifestyle. He has 13 palaces, fleets of top-of-the-range Mercedes and BMW cars and at least one Rolls Royce.
Earlier this year he acquired a private jet, estimated to cost US$17 million. He refused to say who had paid for it, leading to speculation that the money came from public funds.
The king continues to travel abroad in style. In May this year he went to London to visit Queen Elizabeth II for lunch on a trip estimated to cost US$794,500.
The previous year he was in London with a party of 50 people for the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middlelton, staying at a US$1,000 per night hotel on a trip that was also estimated to cost US$700 000 for the hire of a private jet to take the king and his party from Swaziland to the UK.
Earlier this year Queen LaMotsa, the second of the king's wives, stayed at a Johannesburg hotel on a personal trip at a cost of US$60,000 a month.
In July 2012, some of the king's 13 wives went on a shopping trip to Las Vegas, where 66 people reportedly stayed in 10 separate villas - each costing US$2,400 per night. The party were reported by South African newspapers to have travelled by private jet which might have cost US$4.1 million.
In August 2009, five of King Mswati's wives went on a shopping trip through Europe and the Middle East that cost an estimated US$6 million.
In 2009, Forbes magazine estimated that King Mswati himself had a personal fortune worth US$200 million. Forbes also said King Mswati is the beneficiary of two funds created by his father Sobhuza II in trust for the Swazi nation. During his reign, he has absolute discretion over use of the income. The trust has been estimated to be worth US$10 billion.
King Mswati also holds 'in trust for the Swazi nation' the profits of Tibiyo Taka Ngwane, an investment fund with extensive shares in a number of businesses, industries, property developments and tourism facilities in Swaziland. This money is supposed to be used for the benefit of the people but the vast majority is actually used for the king's own personal use.
All of the above are things that King Mswati has actually done. All the trips and spending are verifiable, they are not the figments of the collective imaginations of anti-Swazi forces.
So, we have no reason to believe Sithole when he says the king is about to make sacrifices for his people. Indeed, we will find out more soon enough where the king's feelings really are - the next national budget in Swaziland is due in three months' time in February 2013.