March 31, 2005

Only international pressure can end corruption, says minister

Sipho Shongwe, a traditional chief who last year was appointed by King Mswati as the minister in charge of health and social welfare, sounded shocked and wounded following his first encounters with the depths of corruption in government. Of all the acts of bribery and nepotism, kickbacks by private contractors of public funds to government officials and patronage that finds the public service bloated with officials' family members, it was mischief at the fuel pump that set off the minister. "On many occasions when the fuel consumption in a government car is compared with the kilometres the car was supposed to have travelled, there is a huge difference which shows that the car has been diverted for personal errands," said Shongwe at the hand-over of two vehicles to the health ministry, gifts from the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF).
At the same time the minister was promising the UNICEF representative that the donated cars would not be misused, former justice minister Magwagwa Mduli was regaling his colleagues in parliament with accusations that some cabinet ministers were switching registration plates on their government vehicles to get away with their use for personal matters. Such petty corruption, well known even in the world's richest countries, is more than an annoyance in a small, impoverished nation like Swaziland. The finance ministry two weeks ago cited the first estimation of the cost of government corruption. A private consultant found that the national treasury loses about 80 million dollars a year to various rip-offs conducted by government officials, often in collaboration with private interests.
Finance Minister Majozi Sithole broke this news to parliamentarians when he delivered his budget speech Mar. 9. "The twin evils of bribery and corruption have become the order of the day in the country," he said. In a prelude to what the finance ministry hopes will be the first real attempt to address government corruption in Swaziland's 38 years since independence, Sithole said malpractices are killing the economy by a thousand cuts. He said "highly placed individuals connive with government officials to inflate contracts or even make government pay for services that were never rendered". Sithole said construction projects were particularly lucrative for the corruption conspirators, though no area of public spending is immune. (IRIN)

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