November 13, 2002

Swazi Parliament fails to stop king's R500m jet

Swaziland stands to lose crucial foreign aid if King Mswati III presses ahead with the purchase of a US $50 million private luxury jet. A South African company confirmed that it is going ahead with the sale of a R500-million luxury private jet to the Swazi government even though its parliament voted against the deal 25-16, with half of the House of Assembly abstaining.

ExecuJet, an aviation company representing Bombardier Aerospace, the Canadian manufacturer of the 18-seater Global Express bought for King Mswati III of Swaziland, said the aircraft would be delivered soon. The Swazi government decided to buy the jet at the same time that United Nation agencies working in the kingdom called for R190-million in emergency relief from international donors to stop thousands of Swazis starving to death. The Swazi parliament voted last month against the plan to buy the aircraft but the deal has not been cancelled.

Jacinda Redman, ExecuJet's marketing manager, said: "The deal with the Swaziland government is still on. Their jet has not yet arrived but is on its way." Redman confirmed that the company knew the deal had caused concern in Swaziland but said: "If the client wants a private jet, we have to deliver it --- it is a simple business practice. As much as we are aware of the controversy in Swaziland, our client wants the aircraft and that's what the client will get."

But Alan Brody, national representative for the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), said the deal could threaten humanitarian aid: "The cost of the airplane is just too high for Swaziland" he said. "In Swazi communities, we find so many children in desperate conditions. About 50 people are dying from AIDS every day in Swaziland, and most of them are leaving orphans behind. I consider that airplane to be the enemy of those orphans,"

In response to the assertion of Prime Minister Sibusiso Dlamini's cabinet, who are all palace appointees, that South Africa was purchasing a similar jet for its president, Brody said: "If the people of South Africa buy a Global Express Bombardier for their president, each of them pays just R10 (US $1) to cover the cost. But if the Swazi people buy the same plane, each of them has to pay R450 (US $45). There are only a few Swazis to share the cost, compared to the numbers of South Africans. "Imagine how spending R450 (US $45) on that airplane is going to feel to a granny who is struggling to feed six or eight orphans, and has no money to pay their school fees."

In October, Mswati was told by British ambassador and European Union (EU) representative to Swaziland, David Reader, that developmental and other assistance would be jeopardised if he went ahead with the purchase of the jet.

In a statement, the Swaziland Democratic Alliance, an umbrella organisation of banned political parties and progressive labour unions, described the parliamentary vote against the plane as meaningless. Under a 1973 State of Emergency, which still exists, the Swazi king had ultimate legislative, executive and judicial authority. It was not yet clear what the impact would be on Swaziland's trade treaties with the EU and the United States. The US African Growth and Opportunities Act is tied to democratic reform in the kingdom and the country's key export, sugar, benefits from a favourable trade treaty with the EU. (Sunday Times, Johannesburg / IRIN)

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