Swaziland’s pro-democracy and civil society organizations have asked the government to scrap plans to buy a new presidential jet for King Mswati III, estimated to cost $13.2 million.
The banned opposition and pro-democracy group, the People's United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO), described the move to buy the new jet as insensitive and corrupt, adding that the amount could be better spent to alleviate the economic challenges Swazis face.
The group says this comes at a period when about one in four of the country’s 1.3 million population is in danger of hunger because of prolonged drought in the southern African region.
Vincent Ncongwane, general secretary of the newly re-registered Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA), says Swazis are unhappy with the government’s plans to purchase the new jet. He expressed concern that the government will go ahead with those plans when local media reports show the Labor Ministry does not have transportation to ensure that its inspectors carry out their duties.
“We do not see what good use the purchase of the jet is going to do for the workers of Swaziland,” said Ncongwane.
Supporters of the administration in Mbabane say there is a need for King Mswati to have safe transport. They add that the king’s security and safety are paramount. They also say he is the best person to travel abroad to attract foreign investors who would create jobs for Swazis.
“The issue of the king not having a safe transport is not the point of debate here. The point of debate here is can the country afford to buy this jet? It is sad that we have a parliament here that there is no opposition, therefore there has not been much opposition [there] against the purchase of the jet,” said Ncongwane
Critics of the trade union say the group has yet to forcefully demand the government reconsider its decision to buy the plane; but, Ncongwane said the criticism is unjustified. He says current rules make it difficult for the group to participate in street protests if they are not labor related.