PARLIAMENTORY AMBUSH GONE WRONG
Granted that there was an atom of integrity or confidence in the Parliament of the Kingdom of eSwatini, its annihilation was finally confirmed on Friday 11 March 2022 when Speaker Petros Mavimbela unilaterally overruled the House, saying, “My word is final.” In a horrible incidence reminiscent of the infamous November 28 Statement when then Prime Minister Barnabas Dlamini boldly faced the world and said he would defy the courts, Mavimbela told MPs that matters discussed in committees should not be brought up for discussion in the main House comprised of all MPs. “If you were not in the committees when issues were discussed, then it is your own baby,” he said. The Speaker went on to tell those MPs who were against this to go out of parliament. Clearly, Eswatini parliament has become a Mavimbela’s backyard, albeit on the instruction of his bosses as the Ludzidzini-zation of parliament continues without regard for the suffering people of eSwatini.
But what is the contentious issue and why is Mavimbela and company behaving in this manner? Well, Mavimbela overruled parliament and stopped the evoking of "Head 60" - a procedure that empowers parliament to make sure that public funds are precautionary frozen in the case of queries and unsatisfactory explanation by Government Ministries. Once funds are subjected to "Head 60" it means they cannot be used until the Ministry comes to explain to the satisfaction of Parliament, failing which they are referred to the Consolidated Fund.
An example where this procedure was applied is when parliament had questions concerning Swazi TV funds to build a studio back in 2020. Legislators raised questions pertaining to what they had perceived as being an irregularity, but when the right answers were furnished and explanation given, parliament released the frozen funds for the construction of the television studio. This type of procedure (a rule in other jurisdictions) is used in various parliaments all over the world and has been applied in eSwatini for a long time. It is one way through which the legislature holds the executive to account for (mis)use of public funds.
There is, however, an incidence that led to the suspension of “Head 60” by the Swazi parliament in 2021 and on Friday this was an entry point for Lobamba Lomdzala MP Marwick Khumalo to opportunistically ask if it was still in operation. It raises suspicion as to why a seasoned legislator like Khumalo would ask such a question knowing the importance of “Head 60.” To his dismay, some of the MPs caught him in his own game and quickly brought him to order. In fact, Attorney General (AG) Chief Sifiso Mashampu Khumalo advised that this procedure must now be a parliamentary rule, considering its significance – it is a tool to hold the Executive accountable. Even Finance Minister Neal Rijkenberg was quoted supporting “Head 60” and explaining that it helps his ministry whenever they encounter some problems.
After a heated debate in Parliament, Speaker Petros Mavimbela consulted the AG who advised that "Head 60" was in full force and can be used by Parliament. That is when Mavimbela got disappointed because he had thought the AG would side with him. The Speaker obliged and made his first ruling on the matter – saying “Head 60” should be applied. Lobamba Lomdzala MP Marwick Khumalo and a team of MPs including MP Malambe from Mhlume were vehemently opposed to this, arguing that the procedure should be thrown out of the window. It was an excruciating moment to see MPs who were voted into Parliament by the people opposing something that is meant to protect public funds!
Mavimbela then subjected the matter to a vote where a majority of Members of the House voted in favour of “Head 60.” The Prime Minister, Finance Minister, Princess Phumelele, Prince Kusa and Minister Jabulani “Buy Cash” Mabuza all voted in support of “Head 6.” The Speaker saw that he had lost it. That is when he made history and overruled the House, pronouncing that “Head 60” will not be effected, much against the will of the majority, some of whom started walking out of the House. He had mentioned that those who had a problem with his decision should get out of the House.
The conduct of the Speaker and that of MPs like Marwick Khumalo comes amidst a couple of funds that are being questioned by Parliament, including the tender mess involving Prince Guduza and his sister Princess Lindiwe (Home Affairs Minister), as well as the new Parliament building funds - all of which were to be subjected under "Head 60" before the Speaker overruled Parliament.
The Bridge has been informed that, while the issue of “Head 60” was raised during a debate of the new Parliament building, it was bound to have implications on two more projects. The query on the new Parliament building is that E1.6 billion was budgeted for it based on approximately 84 hectares of land on which it was to be built. Now, the new size of the piece of land is about 9 hectares. The MPs are questioning the rationale for having the same budget, given the huge reduction in the size of the land. Also, the initial plan had about 120 houses for MPs but the new plan does not include this yet the amount of money is still E1.6 billion, half of which will come directly from the government.
The other two projects include some E35 million piece of land which is to be purchased by the Ministry of Economic Planning and Development. There is no further explanation given on this except that E35 million should be set aside. Parliament wants answers. The other one is the E263 million tender mess at Home Affairs. MP Malavi Sihlongonyane of Kukhanyeni gave extensive details on it, including how the company that was awarded the tender did not bid for it in the first place. The company belongs to Prince Guduza and King’s Protocol Officer Khandlela Mdluli. A close friend to Marwick Khumalo, Prince Guduza is also a biological brother (same mother, same father) to Princess Lindiwe who is the Minister for Home Affairs – the Ministry that awarded the tender! Again, parliament wants answers.
It therefore goes without saying that evoking “Head 60’ could mean subjecting all these 3 projects under this parliamentary procedure, hence the allegation that those who opposed it had ulterior motives. There are three things to note here. Firstly, the behaviour of the Speaker is suspect. For instance, he started by heeding to advice by the AG and later changed to the extent of embarrassing himself by overruling the House after a vote.
When MP Sihlongonyane from Kukhanyeni had moved a motion that was supported by MP Scorpion saying the House should follow the advice of the AG the Speaker dismissed it but when Ngudzeni MP Big-boy Mamba moved a motion in a similar fashion the Speaker did not see anything wrong this time around. He was arrogant and ordered opposing MPs out of the House. In fact, he ended up not giving an opportunity to speak for those who supported “Head 60” including MPs Zwane of Nhlambeni, Sihlongonyane of Kukhanyeni, Scorpion Nxumalo of Madlangempisi and Timothy Myeni of Nkilongo.
Secondly, the behaviour of MP Marwick Khumalo – one of the MPs who is perceived to be in carrying the aspirations of the people and their agenda for change – raises many questions here. How can he side with those who are against the people and suppress Parliament’s power to hold the Executive accountable, if indeed he is for the people? Well, the least said about MP Mabhanisi the better because his very presence in Parliament is a poignant reminder about the primitiveness of our body politic. The discredited Kwaluseni MP stood up to call for the passing of budgets for all Government Ministries without debate – what a shame! The House correctly ruled him out of order.
Lastly, none would have expected Cabinet and Royal family members to vote in support of “Head 60,” considering that it places businesses of their friends, bosses and siblings in a predicament. This can only mean one of two things: either the glaring and sharpened contradictions within the ruling establishment or temporary business squabbles of convenience as it relates to the tenders in question. Also, could this mean the regime’s servants and puppets want to loot before the dawn of a new political order? Time will tell.