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In recent months, our streets, office parks, diners, and living rooms have been abuzz with discussions about "Swazi Secrets"—an International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) investigation revealing what appears to be suspicious money flows in the country.

The project implicates prominent figures from various sectors, including business, politics, and even the church.

Reads the project’s definition on the ICIJ website:

“The project is based on a leak of more than 890,000 internal records from the Eswatini Financial Intelligence Unit. These documents were obtained by Distributed Denial of Secrets, a nonprofit devoted to publishing and archiving leaks, which shared them with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. ICIJ coordinated a team of 38 journalists across 11 countries to explore the documents.

The leak is the largest of its kind from a financial intelligence unit in an African country. The documents include bank records, police investigation reports, court affidavits, and confidential exchanges between government agencies within southern Africa. The records also include details about banks in African countries and beyond that have facilitated financial transactions for people and companies suspected of criminal activity.”

The implications of the "Swazi Secrets" report for Eswatini's economy are significant. The revelation of the country's involvement in gold smuggling and weak anti-money laundering controls can undermine investor confidence and deter foreign investments, essential for economic growth. It can also tarnish the reputation of financial institutions, potentially leading to increased scrutiny and sanctions from international regulatory bodies. The exposure of alleged corruption and illicit activities involving figures close to the royal family may further erode public trust in the government, creating political instability that could disrupt economic activities and development efforts.

Ordinarily, a government should respond to such a report with immediate and decisive action to restore public trust and uphold the rule of law. This involves launching thorough and transparent investigations into the allegations, holding accountable those alleged to be involved in corruption and criminal activities, and strengthening anti-money laundering and financial regulatory frameworks to prevent future abuses. The government should also engage with international partners to ensure compliance with global standards and demonstrate a commitment to reform. By prioritizing the resolution of these issues and addressing the root causes of corruption and mismanagement, the government can work towards rebuilding confidence in its institutions and promoting a stable, prosperous economy.

But not in Eswatini. Instead, the government has taken a weird posture that leaves one wondering as to where this country is headed.

Quite recently, during Prime Minister Russell Dlamini’s session with the Editors Forum to be precise, the Head of Government demonstrated either a lack or shallow understanding of the implications of this matter. Asked about the government’s reaction to it, he said the leaks should encourage investors because “they now know that every transaction is being monitored and captured” and argued that what was meant to destroy the country is now working positively for the country.

The Prime Minister did not end there. He said the leak was a result of someone downloading the documents and not from a hack, and then releasing them to the media houses.

“We have a good lead on who is doing it and why they are doing it. I’m not at liberty to disclose further information; I could jeopardize the investigation process,” said Dlamini.

What is particularly disturbing about Prime Minister Russell Dlamini's statement is the evident disconnect and lack of seriousness in addressing the core issues of corruption and weak anti-money laundering controls revealed by the leaks. Instead of acknowledging the gravity of the situation and committing to reforms, the Prime Minister downplays the implications by suggesting that the exposure should encourage investors, as it supposedly demonstrates that transactions are monitored. This perspective reflects a shallow understanding of how such revelations typically erode investor confidence and highlight systemic governance failures.

When asked by The Bridge to clarify government's position, the Government Spokesperson Alpheous Nxumalo first referred the publication to the Ministry of Finance, but later took the same approach of focusing on the manner in which the documents were leaked as opposed to the content, referring to them as "stolen documents."

By focusing on the method of the leak and the identity of the leaker, rather than the content of the leaks and the need for accountability, the government shifts attention away from the urgent need for governmental reform and transparency. This response is inadequate and troubling, as it fails to address the serious allegations and the need for meaningful action to combat corruption and restore public trust.

How quickly a narrative can be manipulated! Mbabane East Member of Parliament (MP) Welcome Dlamini seems to have read from the same script as the Prime Minister. The Mbabane East MP is also more concerned about the leak and how it happened as opposed to its content and holding the implicated individuals accountable. This is contained in Parliament’s Order Paper for Thursday 27th June 2024, in which Dlamini moved a motion in this regard.

“To move that the Hon. Minister Finance should, within a period of seven (7) days, provide a detailed response to the honourable House on how more than 890 000 internal records from the Eswatini Financial Intelligence Unit (EFIU) got into the hands of non-profit entity called the Distributed Denial of Secrets that is now known as “the largest leak of its kind from a Financial Intelligence Unit in an African country”. Has anyone been held accountable for the leak? What measures, if any, have been put in place to ensure that such a leak does not happen in future? Why should financial and non-financial institutions have confidence that their information with the EFIU is safe and well protected?” reads the motion by Dlamini, seconded by Hhukwini MP Alec Lushaba.

What is troubling about this parliament motion is its focus on the mechanics of the leak rather than the substance of the information revealed. By demanding a detailed response on how the records were leaked, whether anyone has been held accountable for the leak itself, and the measures to prevent future leaks, the motion diverts attention from the critical issues of alleged corruption, money laundering, and governance failures that the leak exposed. It prioritizes the security of the Financial Intelligence Unit's data over addressing the alleged rampant misuse of funds and systemic corruption harming the country's economy and citizens' well-being. This approach reflects a concerning reluctance to confront and rectify the underlying problems, signaling a preference for maintaining appearances rather than implementing necessary reforms to restore integrity and public trust in government institutions.

The Mbabane East MP did not respond to a question by this publication when asked to clarify further. 

The Medical Drugs forensic audit report carried out by Funduzi Forensic Services is another matter highlighting the government's apparent lack of interest in accountability. The report should have been delivered to the Auditor General’s Office, after which it would be expected to go to the police and the Director of Public Prosecutions to ensure that those implicated are charged and can clear their names in court if necessary. Instead, there has been an effort to discredit the company that conducted the audit, with its director lamenting that he is being attacked for merely doing his job while the culprits walk free. This is yet another clear demonstration that the state is not taking decisive action to address the nation's pressing issues and hold people accountable through the judicial system.

Earlier this month, in the same session with editors, Prime Minister Russell Dlamini was visibly emotional when questioned about the missing COVID-19 funds at the National Disaster Management Agency (NDMA) during his tenure as CEO, and went on to accuse the Auditor General (AG)’s Office of providing incorrect information to the media, questioning its competence and undermining its constitutional integrity.

Again here, the Prime Minister shifted the focus away from the serious issue of alleged financial mismanagement and corruption, which needs transparent investigation and resolution. This response not only erodes trust in the government's willingness to address corruption but also weakens the authority of institutions designed to ensure accountability and integrity in public office.