16 July 2014

Swaziland: King Lives Lavishly On Firms' Dividends

King Mswati III of Swaziland, sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarch, is personally benefitting from monies paid by international companies to operate in his kingdom.

The King is receiving millions of dollars a year from companies including the cell phone giant MTN; sugar conglomerates Illovo and Remgro; Sun International hotels and beverages firm SAB Miller, the South African newspaper Sunday Times has reported.

The newspaper says this money helps prop up the Swazi Royal Family and finances the King's lavish lifestyle which includes palaces, a fleet of luxury cars and international holidays. Meanwhile, about seven in ten of his 1.4 million subjects live in abject poverty with incomes of less than US$2 a day.

The details revealed of the King's income are not new, but media in Swaziland have been scared to publish details for fear of retribution from the monarch. At present a magazine editor and writer are on trial in Swaziland after publishing mild criticisms of the kingdom's judiciary which is hand-picked by the King.

Previous reports on the King's income have appeared on the Internet; however the Sunday Times, which is published in Johannesburg, circulates in Swaziland and this is the first time Swazi people without Internet access have been able to read about the King's finances.

In the past state authorities have attempted, with varying degrees of success, to block copies of newspapers from South Africa that contained reports critical of the King. It is not known if similar attempts were made to restrict circulation of the Sunday Times which was published on 13 July 2014.

In its report the Sunday Times said the companies, which are based in South Africa, 'have all brokered cosy relationships with the monarchy'.

It added, 'These companies have either given large chunks of the shares in their Swazi businesses to Mswati directly or to Swaziland's investment institution, Tibiyo Taka Ngwane over which Mswati has absolute control.'

It reported that MTN, which has a monopoly of the cell phone business in Swaziland, paid dividends directly to the King. He holds 10 percent of the shares in MTN in Swaziland and is referred to by the company as an 'esteemed shareholder'. It said MTN had paid R114 million (US$11.4 million) to the King over the past five years.

The newspaper also reported that the King was receiving income from Tibiyo Taka Ngwane, which paid dividends last year of R218.1 million. The newspaper reported 'several sources' who said it was 'an open secret' that although money generated by Tibiyo was meant to be used for the benefit of the nation, Tibiyo in fact channelled money directly to the Royal Family.

The newspaper quoted a report from Freedom House which stated, 'Foreign companies wishing to enter Swaziland must bribe Mswati with shares or cash in varying amounts depending on the potential for profitability of the proposed venture and the new business's possible impact on Mswati's own business interests.'

The Sunday Times reported that MTN had a monopoly in Swaziland and was used by 57 percent of the population. It said MTN was able to keep prices high, citing the cost of 300 megabytes of data in Swaziland as R149, while in South Africa the same amount of data cost R79.

King Mswati holds substantial stakes in numerous companies. The Sunday Times said sugar giant Illovo owned 60 percent of Ubombo Sugar and Tibiyo owned the other 40 percent. Tibiyo also owned 40 percent of Royal Swazi Spa hotel of which Sun International held an 'indirect' 50.6 percent stake.

Remgro's sugar subsidiary TSB owned a 26.4 percen t stake in the Royal Swaziland Sugar Corporation and Tibiyo held 50 percent. SAB Miller, which owned 60 percent of Swaziland Beverages was in business with Tibiyo, which owned the remaining 40 percent.

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