Africa’s last absolute monarch, Swaziland has bought a fleet of luxury BMW cars worth US$7.5 million ahead of its King’s 50/50 celebrations.

The cost of the cars alone burst the US$1.7 million budget the government earmarked for the festivities to mark King Mswati III’s 50th birthday and the 50th anniversary of Swaziland’s independence from Great Britain in 1968.

The Taiwanese Government has though donated an extra US$1.3 million but that still leaves Swaziland US$4.5 million short on the cost of the cars alone.

Diplomatic Watch reports that Swaziland’s main exports are soft-drink concentrates, confectionery, canned fruit and other food products, especially those based on sugar and fruit; clothing and textiles; wood pulp, timber and paper/board products.

The Times Sunday, an independent newspaper in Swaziland reported (11 March 2018) the cars would be used by the Close Protection Unit which is responsible for protecting dignitaries.

The newspaper did not say how many vehicles were purchased. It said the Ministry of Public Works and Transport announced the E89 million purchase in a report tabled in parliament last week. It said Lindiwe Dlamini, Minister of Public Works and Transport, had not responded to questions it sent to her regarding the purchase.

The cars were bought through the government’s Central Transport Administration (CTA) which was severely criticised in the Auditor General’s most recent report for illegally spending millions of emalangeni and not keeping proper financial records.

The purchase raises questions about the lack of financial control around the 50/50 celebrations. In 2008 the budget for the 40/40 celebrations overran by E32.6 million (about US$5 million at the then exchange rate). E17 million was budgeted but it ended up costing at least E50.2 million. The exact figure is still uncertain. The total cost of the entire 40/40 celebrations was E39 million less than the cost of the BMW vehicles this year.

2010 the Auditor General reported that E1,839,934 was spent illegally because capital release warrants had not been made. Salary overtime claims from civil servants amounted to E5 million. The Weekend Observer newspaper in Swaziland reported (18 December 2010), ‘Civil servants who had access to claim overtime pay in their various workstations took advantage of the lax arrangements at the celebrations committee to drain money.’

More than E1 million was spent on providing 14 portable toilets (E71,428 each) for the three-day event. The Weekend Observer (30 August 2008) reported other sanitary expenses, ‘E173,000 is needed for hiring 10 of 10,000 litre water tanks over the same period. E94,500 is required for 100 bales of toilet paper, whilst E5,500 is needed for 10 of 25 litre liquid soap. For five boxes of sunlight soap E7,100 is sought, while E7,900 is required for detergents, amongst other things.’ It estimated more than E2 million was spent in total on sanitary arrangements.

A search by Swazi Media Commentary at the time revealed that that portable toilets could be hired from neighbouring South Africa at a cost starting at about E500 (US$70 at the then exchange rate) a day.