Swaziland: 'Loyalty Oath Muzzles Public Servants'

A proposed new 'loyalty oath' law in Swaziland could muzzle public servants from revealing corruption in the kingdom.

And, it would forbid public servants from associating with prodemocracy campaigners.

The law called the Swaziland Public Service Charter is being drafted by the Swaziland Government.

The draft law states in part, 'A public official shall not, except with due authorisation, communicate to any person any information that s/he comes across in the performance of official duties.

Whether on or off-duty and except in the performance of lawful duties, a public servant shall not associate with persons whose conduct is the subject of police or judicial investigation, or whose lifestyle is ostentatious to the point of indiscretion.'

If the law goes ahead, public servants will not be able to disclose to the media, non-government organisations or the public wrong-doing they encounter during the course of their duties.

The draft law makes no specific mention of corruption, but in Swaziland, much of the information people know about corrupt behaviour comes through the kingdom's newspapers, often sourced by public servants.

In 2011 newspapers in Swaziland, often using information leaked by public servants, exposed corrupt land deals involving the Prime Minister Barnabas Dlamini and a number of his cabinet colleagues and senior political figures in Swaziland.

It was only the direct intervention of King Mswati III, who rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarch, which stopped the land-scam corruption cases going to court.

The draft law also says a public servant, 'shall not associate with persons whose conduct is the subject of police or judicial investigation'. This is being taken to include members of the prodemocracy movement in Swaziland, where political parties are not allowed to take part in the kingdom's elections.

Under the Suppression of Terrorism Act 2008, many groups campaigning for democracy in Swaziland have been banned as 'terrorist groups'.

This makes it illegal to be a member or a supporter of such groups. It is known that despite the penalties which include prison, a number of public servants are members or supporters of such groups, which include the People's United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO), the most well-known opposition party.

The crackdown on public servants, if the law is enacted, will be widely felt across the kingdom where there are thought to be more than 30,000 public servants whose salary takes up about 40 percent of the total Swazi national budget.

The existence of the draft law was revealed by the Observer Sunday, a newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati.

It reported, 'The oath will be renewed after every five years or when a public servant is appointed to a new office - whichever comes earlier.

'The allegiance will be pledged to the State and the People of the Kingdom of Swaziland.'

The newspaper added, 'As part of the oath, the government employees will undertake to carry out their duties and functions as well as conduct themselves in the interests of the people of Swaziland "and not seek instructions in regard to the performance of my duties from any person or authority whose interests conflict with those of Swaziland".'

The Observer added members of the government would not be subject to the new law.

'Cabinet, which is the executive branch of government, shall have the responsibility of promoting and ensuring that provisions of the Charter are enforced,' it reported.

In Swaziland, no members of the government are elected by the people, they are all appointed by King Mswati.

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