For all but dedicated observers of southern African politics, King Mswati III of Swaziland is known primarily for his polygamous lifestyle and its attendant chaos. But the absolute monarch deserves scorn not for his libertinism, but rather the absolutely atrocious way he has handled Swaziland’s public finances. Mswati’s financial recklessness is the reason his nation is now in desperate need of yet another bailout, even after wasting a $350 million loan from neighboring South Africa. As this enlightening column points out, Swaziland’s problem isn’t just Mswati’s personal profligacy; it’s the way he has structured the country’s business sector for the sole purpose of minimizing the amount he must contribute to the treasury:
Outside of state ownership, Tibiyo Taka Ngwane, a trust that manages investments on behalf of Mswati, is also a significant player. By some accounts it owns one-third of privately held assets in the country. Tibiyo’s website says it is one of the main players in the Swazi economy.
Tibiyo’s financials showed assets of R1.3-billion when it last reported. Its holdings include stakes in Nedbank, the Swazi Spa (Sun International), Royal Swazi Sugar, the Bhunu Mall, Swaziland Development Corporation, Royal Villas, Tibiyo Properties and Illovo Sugar, according to the Times of Swaziland.
Tibiyo reported a profit of R150.2-million last year, according to the Swazi Observer, in which Tibiyo has a 100% stake. The trust has been criticised by the IMF because it does not pay tax. Tibiyo supporters say that while it does not pay tax, the underlying companies in which it invests do.
Mswati’s wealth is opaque, but he has featured on Forbes’s billionaire list, with a net worth of R770-million.
I fail to see how Swaziland’s monarchy does not thus qualify as a criminal enterprise, helping itself to a cut of everything that happens in the country without kicking back a slim nickel for the public’s benefit. Here’s to hoping the ongoing protests make some headway, despite the Mswati’s obvious willingness to use violence to suppress them.