16 May 2017

Swaziland: Swazi PM Dlamini's Dubious Record

opinion

Swaziland's Prime Minster Barnabas Dlamini turned 75 on Monday (15 May 2017) and the Swazi Observer newspaper published a front page tribute and four pages inside to the man who was never elected to office and owes his position to the patronage of King Mswati III.

King Mswati rules Swaziland as an absolute monarch. He appointed Dlamini Prime Minister and he chooses all the government and top judges in his kingdom. He also in effect owns the Swazi Observer.

The newspaper failed to remind its readers that Dlamini has been involved in a questionable business deal that netted him millions of emalangeni. He was also involved in a dubious land deal and was only saved from a formal inquiry by the personal intervention of the King.

Barnabas Dlamini was also humiliated on the world stage in 2010 when he accepted an international award for his 'humanitarian work' from a known con-man.

And, he has a record as an anti-democrat who has advocated that his opponents be tortured.

In 2015, the Times Sunday reported (10 May 2015) that Fusini Investments (Proprietary) Limited, directed by the Prime Minister and two others, bought land for E93,120 from government in 2005, which by then had generated a profit of E7.4 million (US$740,000 at the then exchange rate): a profit of more than 800 percent.

The PM's company sold the land to the Public Service Pension Fund (PSPF), a public organisation that was established in 1993 for the management and administration of pensions for government (public sector) employees.

Prime Minister Dlamini has a history of involvement in questionable land deals. In 2011, he and others escaped scrutiny on land deals after the direct intervention of King Mswati.

They had bought Swazi nation land for themselves at what a select committee report later called 'ridiculously cheap' prices and 'tantamount to theft of State property'.

In late December 2010 it was revealed that Dlamini, his deputy, and four cabinet ministers were at the centre of a land purchase scandal.

Dlamini, who constantly claims he wants to stamp out corruption in the kingdom, was allowed to buy government-controlled land at half price, netting himself a E304,000 (US$43,000 at the then exchange rate) saving. Themba Masuku, the then Deputy PM and four ministers each received discounts of between 30 and 50 percent on their purchases. None of these people were elected to the Swazi Parliament - all were appointed by the King.

The politicians were allowed to purchase the so-called 'crown land' (which is owned by the King on behalf of the Swazi nation) in the Swazi capital Mbabane without having to compete with other would-be buyers. They were given the land at below market value, in effect cheating the Swazi people out of the money.

Two of the ministers who took advantage of this scam were members of the Swazi Royal Family, which is headed by King Mswati, sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarch.

The ministers involved were Minister of Natural Resources and Energy, Princess Tsandzile; Minister of Economic Planning and Development, Prince Hlangusemphi; Minister of Home Affairs, Chief Mgwagwa Gamedze; and the Minister of Agriculture, Clement Dlamini.

The Times of Swaziland, the kingdom's only independent daily newspaper, reported at the time that the Prime Minister made the biggest killing. He was allocated 'a portion of land measuring 6,084 square metres. He paid E304,000 for the land after it was discounted from the initial price of E608,000. Effectively, he was granted a 50 percent discount.'

In total the land was sold at about E1 million less than it was worth, the Times estimated.

Former government ministers also benefited from the land purchase scandal. They included two members of the Swazi Royal Family. Prince David received a 50 percent discount on land worth E97,000 allocated to him. Prince Mbilini also received land, but the exact details of his windfall were not known, the Times reported.

It was believed that at least nine former ministers were also given land at discounted prices.

It later emerged that the Swazi Cabinet, which was hand-picked by the King, approved the land purchase. This, in effect, meant they approved a plan that allowed themselves to save hundreds of thousands of emalangeni on the land scam.

It was later revealed that the Prime Minister and the others were not eligible for discounts on the land because such discounts were only available to poor people. In Swaziland seven in ten people have incomes of less than US$2 per day.

Prince Guduza, Speaker of the Swaziland House of Assembly, rebuked Barnabas Dlamini, the Prime Minister, for 'interference of the highest order', after the Swazi Parliament decided to set up a seven-member select committee to investigate the land deals and he called MPs in to see him 'one-by-one' to try to get them on his side.

The whole land deal scandal reached a climax in May 2011 when Dlamini took Prince Guduza, the Speaker of the House of Assembly, to court to stop a debate about the PM's irregular land deals taking place.

He succeeded in getting a High Court order to stop parliament debating the land issue and publication of a select committee report into the affair. The House of Assembly ignored the court and debated anyway.

The select committee report described the conduct of Lindiwe Dlamini, Minister of Housing and Urban Development, in the deals as corrupt and treasonous.

The report stated that the authority for land deals was unconstitutionally taken away from the King's Office, by Lindiwe Dlamini.

'The act of the minister was not only unconstitutional but also seriously undermined the authority and sovereignty of the office of the Ingwenyama [the King] and was therefore treasonous,' the report stated.

The report made more than 20 findings, including:

That the Minister for Housing and Urban Development [Lindiwe Dlamini] acted unconstitutionally and with total disregard of the Crown Land Disposal regulations of 2003, which were promulgated in line with the provisions of the Crown Land Disposal Act of 1911.

That the cabinet ministers concerned used their positions to gain unfair advantage over other Swazis who had applied for the land many years ago, by-passing the Crown Land Disposal Committee in the process.

The Prime Minister and the Minister for Natural Resources and Energy [Princess Tsandzile] bought the land at ridiculously low prices. The most disturbing aspect is that the Prime Minister was awarded the certificate to develop his portion and designs approved without having paid for the plot and records show that he only did so on February, 22 2011, long after the Select Committee was appointed.

That the current administration has no respect for the constitution, as there are many laws that deal with land issues and until now they have not been aligned with the constitution.

That the Attorney General was never consulted on this land deal.

That the allocation of land to ministers through a cabinet decision was unlawful and it smacks of an element of personal aggrandisement since such action is not supported by any legal instrument. Receiving a housing allowance on the one hand and on the other hand apportioning crown land to oneself, is tantamount to theft of State property.

That, as a custodian of State assets and property, by virtue of its position in government, cabinet had no legal right to take a collective decision on the allocation of land to ministers, even worse, that in the process it violated the Constitution, 2005.

In June 2011, King Mswati confirmed his status as an absolute monarch when he ordered the House of Assembly and the Senate to stop discussing the land scandal. He said he would decide what would happen to the land.

The King's decision to intervene was kept private and the media were excluded from a joint meeting of the House of Assembly and Senate at which the King's dictate was given.

Dlamini then instructed the media in Swaziland to stop discussing the land deal. He said, 'His Majesty said the issue should be put to rest. It means the matter has been concluded because the King's word is a command and the law. I take it that it is over and I hope journalists will take it as having been concluded. There is no need for journalists to keep bringing this matter up and spicing it. It has to be taken out of the news,'

Parliament was informed by both its presiding officers (Speaker Prince Guduza and Senate President Gelane Zwane) that the King had ordered the PM to withdraw his court action regarding the land issue and that the land in question would be returned to government ownership.

Dlamini is a human rights' abuser

Dlamini has a poor human rights record going back more than a decade, but he is known to be close to King Mswati. In October 2012, the House of Assembly passed a vote of no-confidence in Dlamini and his government and according to the Swaziland Constitution the King was obliged (he had no discretion in the matter) to sack the PM and government.

King Mswati did not do so and instead put pressure on the House of Assembly to reverse its vote.

Dlamini has been appointed four times by the King to be PM of Swaziland. His record shows him as a hard man with little regard for human rights. He supports the King in his desire to stop all dissent and brand oppositions as 'terrorists'.

When introducing Dlamini as the PM in 2008, King Mwsati told him publicly to get the terrorists and all who supported them. Dlamini set about his task with zeal. He banned four prodemocracy organisations.

His Attorney General Majahenkhaba Dlamini told Swazis affiliated with the political formations to resign with immediate effect or feel the full force of the law. Under the Suppression of Terrorism Act (STA), enacted the same year Dlamini came to power, members and supporters of these groups could face up to 25 years in jail.

Under the draconian provisions of the STA, anyone who disagrees with the ruling elite faces being branded a terrorist supporter.

The Attorney General stressed that the government was after supporters of the banned organisations. Supporting an organisation, he said, 'includes associating with such banned formations or aiding materialistic through provision of commodities such as food and weapons.'

This happened at a time when the call for democracy in Swaziland was being heard loudly both inside the kingdom and in the international community.

The Dlamini-led Government clamped down on dissent. In 2011, Amnesty International reported the ill-treatment, house searches and surveillance of communications and meetings of civil society and political activists. Armed police conducted raids and prolonged searches in the homes of dozens of high profile human rights defenders, trade unionists and political activists while investigating a spate of petrol bombings. Some of the searches, particularly of political activists, were done without search warrants.

In 2010, Dlamini publicly threatened to use torture against dissidents and foreigners who campaigned for democracy in his kingdom. He said the use of 'bastinado', the flogging of the bare soles of the feet, was his preferred method.

Dlamini told the Times of Swaziland newspaper he wanted, 'to punish dissidents and foreigners who come to the country and disturb the peace'.

But Dlamini's abuse of human rights did not start with his appointment in 2008. He was a former PM and held office for seven and a half years until 2003. While in office he gained a reputation as someone who ignored the rule of law.

In 2003, he refused to recognise two court judgements that challenged the king's right to rule by decree. This led to the resignation of all six judges in the Appeal Court. The court had ruled that the king had no constitutional mandate to override parliament by issuing his own decrees.

In a report running for more than 50,000 words, Amnesty International looked back to the years 2002 and 2003 and identified activities of Dlamini that, 'included the repeated ignoring of court rulings, interference in court proceedings, intimidating judicial officers, manipulating terms and conditions of employment to undermine the independence of the judiciary, the effective replacement of the Judicial Services Commission with an unaccountable and secretive body (officially known as the Special Committee on Justice but popularly called the Thursday Committee), and the harassment of individuals whose rights had been upheld by the courts.'

Barnabas Dlamini falls for Humanitarian Award con-trick

In October 2010, Barnabas Dlamini travelled to the Bahamas to receive an international award for his 'humanitarian' work, even though it had been revealed to be a con-trick.

He received a medal from a known con-artist called Rudy King. At the centre of the scandal was an organisation called World Citizen Awards (WCA) headed by King. The Swazi Government had put out a press release saying WCA was to honour Dlamini for the work he was doing for human rights.

The Swazi Media Commentary (SMC) website went to the Internet and found the website for WCA. On there was a list of trustees who were said to be the backbone of the organisation. Each person listed had a reputation as advocates for human rights and it seemed odd that they would vote to give Dlamini a medal.

SMC emailed each of the trustees and within hours received a reply from one of them that said he was the victim of a hoax. It turned out that none of the trustees had ever heard of WCA and certainly were not supporters.

The Associated Press (AP) news agency took up the story and realised that the WCA was a sham organisation consisting only of a website and an accommodation address.

Once the AP story hit the Internet, journalists in the Bahamas who knew Rudy King of old ran reports about his background as a con artist.

But Barnabas Dlamini still flew at Swazi taxpayers' expense across the world to collect his medal.

Later, he defended accepting the award by saying Rudy King was respected in Swaziland and had been 'in and out of the country since the century began'.

He told a news conference that the media 'had sung his praises' when he wanted to open an office in Swaziland.

Dlamini also said King had previously awarded his medal to other Swazi luminaries.

He said, 'In 2005 he gave an award to a prince (David), gave a medal to Prince Guduza in 2007 and to the prime minister in 2008, so what is the difference now in 2010? His history in Swaziland is rich. This is the fourth medal he has presented to Swazis but now the focus is on 2010.'

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