Jet-setter Mswati goes ahead and buys his plane

King Mswati III is going ahead with the purchase of a controversial multi-million-dollar personal jet that will be used to ferry some heads of state from Johannesburg to attend an international conference in Swaziland next week, a top source in his office said on Tuesday.

The issue of the personal jet has simmered since last year, when pressure from critics at home and international donors prompted the king to announce he would stop the purchase. Swaziland suffers from a high incidence of Aids and suffered a serious drought-induced food shortage last year, making the purchase a drain on public funds.

But the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Mswati had used the jet to travel from Mozambique to the United States recently during a state visit and promotional tour for a Swazi music CD to raise money to fight against Aids.

“It is the same plane that was used by his mother when she went to South Africa for medical attention two months ago,” the source said.

The plane, a Global Express Bombardier, has already been delivered and registered in Johannesburg under the name of the Royal Swaziland Airways Corporation, the source said. The airline has been inactive for six years.

Asked for comment on Tuesday, the managing director of the moribund airways, Charles Jele, dismissed the report that King Mswati was buying the plane.

Jele said he was aware of a jet hired to ferry country leaders from Johannesburg to the British Commonwealth Smart Partnership Summit that begins August 13. But he said the plane, although also a Global Bombardier, had nothing to do with the plane for which the Swazi government paid a $4-million deposit last year.

“This is mere speculation and there is no iota of truth in it,” he said.

Matsapha Airport staff confirmed that the plane was a Bombardier type.

A parliamentary select committee ruled against purchasing the plane, saying it went against national interest. The panel had conducted an investigation into the purchase.

The United States criticised Mswati late last year over his plans to buy the jet at the height of a famine and threatened to halt financial assistance if he went ahead with the purchase.

In an interview with Cable News Network, Mswati vowed that he had dropped plans to buy the plane.

“If my people do not want it, then I do not want it,” he said.

Preparations for the Smart Partnership conference last month generated controversy that prompted Swaziland’s Attorney General Phesheya Dlamini to threaten to resign over alleged corruption.

He was outraged over the “extremely fraudulent” expenditure of one-million dollars on a marquee and other material for the summit that had been offered for free from the Commonwealth. He charged the king’s cronies with misusing the Mswati name to get government business. - Sapa-DPA

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