The Government of Swaziland / eSwatini is to seek another E1.2 billion (US$83 million) in loans to complete the building of a conference centre and hotel to house an African Union summit that will not now take place.
Costs of the building under construction at Ezulwini have already exceeded E1bn and are estimated to be a further E2bn over the next three years.
The International Convention Centre and five star hotel project known as ICC-FISH was started because Swaziland hoped to house an African Union summit in 2020. But it has not won the contract for this.
The Government of Swaziland, which was not elected by handpicked by absolute monarch King Mswati III, tabled a ‘certificate of urgency’ on Monday (7 October 2019) to pass a bill to allow it to borrow US$83 million (about E1.2bn) from the Bank of the Republic of China (Taiwan).
The Times of eSwatini reported there was controversy in the House of Assembly when the bill was sent to be discussed by committee as it was not clear if a majority of members present voted in its favour.
The Eswatini News (formerly Swazi News) reported last week that costs of ICC-FISH had already reached E1.027bn and this had been financed mainly by Taiwan. Bathroom fittings alone at the hotel cost E78m.
Swaziland’s economy is in meltdown and public services in health and education are grinding to a halt. However in March 2018 the government declared the building of ICC-FISH to be a priority and earmarked E1.5bn for it in the national budget. This was more than the sum allocated to the Ministry of Agriculture (E1.4bn) or the Ministry of Defence (E1.15bn). It was the biggest single capital project in Swaziland’s budget that year. Total capital spending was set at E5.6bn.
The hotel and conference centre is another project supported by the King Mswati III. He believes such buildings add to the prestige of his kingdom and will make it a First World nation by 2022. He already has an airport named in his honour that cost an estimated E2.5bn to build but only has one airline using it. King Mswati III International Airport has been described as a ‘white elephant’ and a ‘vanity project’ for the King.
In 2013 when the plan for the development of ICC-FISH was announced the cost was estimated at E1bn. Completion of the work was expected by 2016.
In September 2017 it was reported that King Mswati had visited Las Vegas in the United States to try to get the Caesars Palace company (famous for its hotel and casino) to manage the ICC-FISH. ‘The King’s Office Correspondent’, writing at the time in the Swazi Observer, a newspaper in effect owned by the King, reported Caesars Palace management had promised to submit a proposal on what it would cost to manage the ICC and hotel.
In 2013, when the plan for building was announced the Swazi Observer reported, ‘The scope of the project include a facility of international standards with a Swazi theme, a facility to handle up to 4,500 delegates at a time, trade centre for high value exhibition, a secure chamber room to take 53 heads of state, 3,500 seat banqueting hall, restaurants, 1,500 seat theatre, and special holding rooms.’
ICC-FISH was intended to house the African Union (AU) summit which is held twice a year and lasts about eight days.
In February 2019 it was announced Swaziland had missed out to South Africa on the chance to host the 2020 AU summit. Media in South Africa said this was because Swaziland did not have the resources to fulfil the role.
It is no secret that Swaziland is broke. Hospitals have run out of vital drugs and schools have been forced to close because the government has not paid its suppliers. In his budget speech in March 2018 Finance Minister Martin Dlamini said government owed E3.1bn (US$230 million) in total to its suppliers for goods and services.
In 2016, when King Mswati was Chair of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) he took about E40m, mostly from public funds, to host a lavish Heads of State summit at a time when his government was so poor it could release only E22m of the E305m earmarked for drought relief in that year’s national budget.
When he formally opened the Swaziland Parliament on 8 February 2019, King Mswati demanded severe public spending cuts for the coming year. He said the kingdom’s spending had ‘surpassed sustainable levels’ and government debts were increasing. The kingdom’s financial reserves were falling and there was little economic growth. He warned that taxes collected in Swaziland would not be enough to pay the bills.
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