About four former employees at eSwatini National Trust Commission (ENTC) who retired in February and March this year only got paid their pension last week. Ordinarily, they should have been paid within six to nine weeks of their last day at work. The workers have had to endure months of suffering and uncertainty as a result of lack of income.

The reason for this is the employer’s old practice of not consistently remitting contributions to the parastatal’s pension funds at Sibaya, eSwatini National provident Fund and SwaziMed. These monies include employees’ contributions

The Bridge investigations have revealed that the monies are used as part of the parastatal's overheads in an attempt to give an impression that the entity is afloat and viable while it waits for funds either through subvention or some other form of grants from government or external funders.

One other ‘innovative’ way of sourcing funds at the institution is to write proposals ostensibly for capital projects. This then presents an opportune chance to siphon funds during the rollout of the said funded projects by systematically escalating costs.

For example, during a construction project at Malolotja, a E3 000 geyser had its cost price escalated to cost E62 000 per unit. This attracted the attention of senior officers from the Ministry of Tourism who descended for investigations whose report and findings later disappeared into the thin air.

When asked for comments, Human Resources Manager Clinton Dlamini politely indicated that it is the sole preserve of the Chief Executive Officer to comment on organizational and stakeholder issues of such magnitude.

The CEO, Hlobsile Skhosana, gave a detailed response denying knowledge or involvement in any malfeasance at her institution, including deliberate falsification of books of accounts. She did, however, acknowledge the history of non payment of statutory contributions. Quite astonishingly, a senior officer in the Ministry of Tourism and Environmental Affairs downplayed the anomaly, saying he has it in good authority that even government does default on remittances from time to time but on a much bigger scale.

A board member at the Public Service Pension Fund confirmed it as a normal practice for the government not to pay contributions for prolonged periods without any apparent negative effects because, given the size of its investment portfolio, the PSPF can pay out pension and other member benefits even if the government is in serious arrears.

Simply put, adds the board member, “the Fund borrows government money to service its wage bill and for other overheads by being over lenient. And for a small and unprofitable parastatal like the ENTC, such will almost immediately elicit negative repercussions for the individual member."

One recently retired former employee Mr. Simon Thwala confirmed that he only finally got paid last week after retiring in March. Notably, he said that is all he is prepared to say.

Compounded Misery

Clement Fakudze, an official from the Union of Swaziland Conservation Workers explained that what compounds the misery of their members is the fact that the entity also defaults on remittances to financial institutions like Building Society, Swazi Bank, First Finance and Amandla Financial Services where individual employees have loans to service.

This then leaves the employees in perpetual arrears and subsequent poor credit records. An old arrangement that sees the employer deducting from individual employees' salaries and forwarding loan repayments to the financial institutions initially looked appealing and less risky because, employees thought, it eliminates any chances of them defaulting on the repayment of their loan. Ironically, if not tragically, it is the same once favoured arrangement that has proved to be the source of their misery and stress.

With hindsight, an unavoidable question arises: wasn’t such a deal always too good to be true, or did employees’ representatives dropped their guard when they agreed to such an arrangement instead of the conventional time-honoured debit order arrangement? An officer of the ENTC Staff Association refuses to blame his predecessors for the ‘poor’ judgement saying at the face of it, it looks like a good innovation but with the benefit of hindsight may now be seen as having been too adventurous.

Could it be that this was a plan hatched in hell by then authorities? A former senior official who served with the former Chief Executive Officer, Dr Cliff Dlamini, doesn’t think so.

Look, I have good reason to believe the idea and intentions were sincere, noble and well meaning. It was meant to improve chances of credit approval especially for our blue collar workers, and the parastatal has plenty of those Of course, the situation was later exploited for and in pursuit of other nefarious ends. What is now happening is a classic case of falsification of books to give a positive picture of the entity. And in all honesty, the current CEO is deserving of some sympathy and praise for she found the entity in an already very bad state of financial and administrative affairs."

Two senior officers, one stationed at the Headquarters and the other at Malolotja, are believed to be involved in a massive siphoning of ENTC funds, especially during the implementation of the projects. One of them is said to have some form of ownership in a construction company, while the other is alleged to be running tourist transportation and booking company.

Both officers are said to be blue-eyed boys of Minister for Tourism and Environmental Affairs, Moses Vilakati, under whose portfolio the parastatal falls. The Minister ignored an invitation to comment on the allegations. The two officers will remain unnamed for now because at the time of going to press they hadn’t been invited to comment owing to their inaccessibility.

For her part, the current CEO Hlobsile Skhosana acknowledges that there has been a myriad of problems and challenges she inherited when she joined the eSwatini National Trust Commission.

Adds Skhosana: “it is also important to note that, unlike other parastatals, the ENTC’s subvention is only able to cover about 70% of salaries, with the rest coming from business units which, unfortunately, have been hard hit by the COVID 19 pandemic. But I have made sure that under my tenure all contributions are paid as budgeted for." Intriguingly, Skhosana indicated her worry as to ‘what happened to the money that was budgeted for that in the previous years before May 2020.'

The CEO continued to wonder: “why did the previous management fail to pay those statutory contributions and loans when COVID wasn’t there and they were getting better revenue?" She also clarified that the entity hasn’t received any government funding since 2020 and therefore no capital project has been implemented under her watch. She unflinchingly counterposes the notion that her management is hostile towards its two social partners and categorically denies any threat to de-recognise organized labour representation.

All we have done is actually do all we can to save the organization and normalize the situation." Skhosana replaced Dr Cliff Dlamini who has since joined the Centre for Coordination of Agriculture Research and Development for Southern Africa (CCARDESA) as its Executive Director. Before leaving, Dlamini is said to have complained of frustration at the hands of one of the Minister’s blue-eyed officers.

Ex CEO Dr Cliff Dlamini

Worth noting is the fact that a member of the Staff Association did corroborate the CEO’s assertion that it is in the previous tenures of management that a lot of things went haywire. Our source, who wanted to remain anonymous, cited systematic victimization and made an example of a former warden, Ngwane Dlamini, who was dismissed after being suspected of being a whistleblower. In the hearing, something irregular and bizarre happened. The hearing was chaired by Board Chairperson Dr Sikhomba Gumbi who resisted calls to recuse himself.

Dlamini and his representative in the hearing argued that a chairperson sourced outside the entity’s structures would be impartial and neutral. They emphasized that justice should not only be done, but it must also be seen to be manifestly done. Citing many irregularities, the charged employee and his representative ran to the court to pray for the nullification of the process.

It came to pass that the court poked holes on the entire disciplinary process and accordingly nullified it. Strangely, the warden contract was terminated. Dlamini has since been replaced by Teddy Dlamini. 

A former senior employee of the parastatal explained that the organisation is like this because it seen as an employment bureau for traditionalists and loyalists.  As such, its recruitment is often in the form of quotas and lists drawn by unknown and faceless labadzala just like it is the case with recruitment at the Kings Office, Tibiyo TakaNgwane and for certain positions in the security forces.

For this reason,  one cannot be seen to be openly critical of the establishment as this limits chances of your relatives’ employment.