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MBABANE – A trip to the United States of America (USA) by a nine-member delegation from Eswatini for a political dialogue-oriented programme has been thrown into disarray at the eleventh hour.

This after Parliament stepped in to stop two legislators, a member of the royal family and a member of the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) from being part of this trip. Lobamba Lomdzala Member of Parliament (MP) Marwick Khumalo, Senator Mkhululi Dlamini, Hhohho Regional Administrator Princess Tsandzile and EBC Lungile Magagula were all informed yesterday – the day of departure – that they were not permitted to travel. The communication was made by Clerk to Parliament Benedict Xaba. There are conflicting reasons given for stopping the four from proceeding with the trip; while Xaba told the Times SUNDAY that it was because procedure was not followed when the invite was made, MP Khumalo said he was told that there was a royal command against them taking part in the journey.

A document seen by this publication details that the trip was part of the US Government’s International Visitor Leadership Programme (IVLP) and was ‘designed specifically to support a productive and positive national dialogue’. The country is awaiting a national dialogue process that is expected to address the current political crisis. The withdrawal of the quartet left the other five to continue with the trip as they flew out of South Africa on Friday night, with their flight having been scheduled for 8pm. The five who travelled to the USA are political activist Barnes Dlamini from the Institute for Democracy and Leadership (IDEAL); Reverend Zwanini Shabalala from the Council of Swaziland Churches; Human Rights Lawyer Mary Pais Da Silva; Times SUNDAY Senior Journalist Mfanukhona Nkambule and former Eswatini Observer journalist Zwelethu Dlamini who is also attached to the Swaziland Media Workers Union.


It is understood that the schedule is such that the delegation will first spend time in Washington DC and then go to Seattle. MP Khumalo, who is the longest serving House of Assembly member as he will mark 25 consecutive years as a legislator when the term of office of the current 11th Parliament ends in 2023, had to turn back at the OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, South Africa, where he was ready to connect to the United States of America. Senator Dlamini, meanwhile, is said to have turned back at the King Mswati III International Airport after receiving calls not to proceed with the trip.  Khumalo was supposed to represent the House of Assembly; Dlamini (Mkhululi) was to represent Senate; Princess Tsandzile was to represent the Ministry of Tinkhundla Administration and Regional Development, given his position as Hhohho Regional Administrator and Magagula was to represent government as EBC Legal Advisor and Technical Head of the National Dialogue Preparation Committee.

Clerk to Parliament Benedict Xaba yesterday confirmed that the quartet was stopped from being part of the trip because of administrative issues.
He said procedure was not followed in many aspects of arranging for the trip to happen, mainly because Parliament was not informed timeously about it. “There is procedure when legislators have to embark on external travel. Those responsible have to follow protocol when inviting them. But in this case, it was administration gone wrong,” he said. But MP Khumalo said had he been told that the problem had to do with procedure, he would have continued with the trip, but he abandoned it out of respect for authority.

“There was no procedure that was flouted here. The Clerk told me about a royal command. I asked him as to who told him about the command; whether he had been told directly by the person responsible for commands and he cited someone close to the King whom I can’t name. As a person who was brought up properly, I still have that modicum of respect for authority. Otherwise, I would have proceeded on the trip but I respected the fact that there was a royal command,” Khumalo said.

Abandon trip

He related that he had initially told the Clerk that he expected that it would be the House Of Assembly Speaker, Petros Mavimbela, who would tell him to abandon the trip, hence he boarded the flight from KMIII International Airport to Johannesburg. “When I got to O.R Tambo International Airport, the calls and messages from the Speaker intensified and I was told of the royal command, which I then respected,” continued the MP.
The Clerk, though, said he did not tell Khumalo about any ‘royal command’ but spoke to him and the others only about procedure. Xaba said procedurally, he, as Parliament Controlling Officer, had to be informed about any invite that is extended to members of Parliament and this notice has to be communicated with his office at least 21 days before the date of travel happens.

“With this trip, the invitation came at short notice, which was a week before the trip. It was brought to me by the legislators and I told them that I would not recognise it because it was not meant for me but was addressed to them. I also told the legislators that there was no diplomatic note from Foreign Affairs informing me about the trip,” the Clerk to Parliament said. However, US Embassy Public Affairs Officer Stephanie Sandoval said they had sent a diplomatic note to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation explaining about the IVLP. This publication managed to see the diplomatic note which is dated May 9, 2022, which provides details about the trip and the proposed participants.

“In support of our joint efforts to encourage a productive and positive national dialogue, the U.S. Embassy would like to invite a select group of government decision-makers, civil society actors, and media influencers to meet experts and leaders in the U.S. who have experience carrying out dialogues, creating policy compromise, and communicating them in balanced, informed ways. The programme is intended to be in-person, so these individuals spend time together, work together and learn from each other,” reads the diplomatic note. It further reads: “The programme will allow attendees to meet counterparts in organisations like the UN, US Institute of Peace, think tanks, peace/conflict management researchers, local governments who have dealt with mediation/arbitration issues, messaging experts (particularly crisis messaging), electoral systems experts, and more.” Sandoval, outside of the diplomatic note, said the delegation’s programme included, but not limited to meeting the following: Akram Elias (federalism briefing); the Bipartisan Policy Centre; Patricia Maulden at George Mason; the Montgomery County Community Faith Advisors; the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the International Republican Institute.

Not aware

Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Newman Ntshangase said he was not aware of the diplomatic note because he had not assumed his position when it was sent. “I did not even find the issue on the table when I came into office,” he said. Efforts to get hold of Minister Thuli Dladla were not successful. Meanwhile, the Clerk to Parliament said after having informed MP Khumalo and Senator Dlamini that there was no communication addressed to him, the two legislators then returned with letters that were addressed to the House of Assembly speaker and Senate president respectively. “Even then, the letters were not intended for me. The speaker and Senate president had to communicate with me as controlling officer, which was when we looked at the letters and considered a number of issues, including how the two had been chosen,” Xaba said.

He said they took into great consideration the fact that the American embassy did not write to Parliament and also engage them in deciding on those who should go to represent Parliament. “The selection and procedure just did not go well. The invitation did not go through the proper channels. Who selected the people to form part of the trip and why them?” he said. According to Xaba, ‘the process was short-circuited and had risks’.“Parliament deals with procedures and this would have set a bad precedence and render Parliament ungovernable,” he stated.He said when another country or government invites a sitting legislator; they have to do so through Parliament instead of writing directly to the politician.When asked about another controversial trip to Mainland China that was undertaken by some legislators without seeking Parliament’s permission, Xaba said even though he was not yet the controlling officer then, but that trip was unlawful and was not supposed to happen.

In May 2019, five legislators drew controversy when they visited Mainland China without government’s knowledge and without seeking Parliament’s permission.Those who formed part of the trip were Prince Thumbumuzi, Senator Prince Magudvulela, Senator Sylvia Mthethwa, Lobamba MP Marwick Khumalo and Mhlume MP Victor Malambe. Prince Thumbumuzi, the son of King Sobhuza II and brother to His Majesty King Mswati III, is the one who ensured that the legislators travelled to the world superpower even though the Kingdom of Eswatini does not have formal diplomatic relations with the Asian country. Instead, Eswatini has diplomatic relations with the Republic of China, also known as Taiwan, which is regarded by Mainland China to be a renegade province. Citing this trip, MP Khumalo said he understood then government’s concern that they went to a country that did not have diplomatic relations with Eswatini. “But I don’t understand the fuss about the trip to the United States because this is a country that I believe we enjoy very good diplomatic relations with. What’s the fear about this trip? What could the Americans do to us,” he said. He said if Parliament did not get a diplomatic note on the trip, then it should not blame the US Embassy but government’s own inefficiency because the Americans did follow procedure of notifying the Foreign Affairs Ministry about the intended travel.  

Respect invitation

Xaba, on the other hand, said there was a circular from the Secretary to Cabinet that was currently in force, which states clearly what should happen with respect to an invitation for an external trip. “The circular demands the 21 days notice before the trip and for me as controlling officer to then inform the prime minister; all these did not happen,” he said. The clerk said if a legislator is going to represent the House or Parliament, there has to be a discussion prior to that trip taking place and that politician should get a mandate and agenda from colleagues. “The position and agenda of the country was not given to these legislators; so how were they going to represent Parliament?” he wondered.

He explained that had he received the invitation on time, he would have then brought the matter to the Parliament Executive Committee (EXCO), which comprises the speaker, president, deputy speaker, deputy president, clerk to Parliament and the Parliament legal advisor. He said the EXCO, after its deliberations, would then take the issue to the House Committee for further consideration and it is there where the criteria and calibre of candidates to undertake the trip would be determined. “If we had allowed the legislators to go on the trip without having followed these processes, then we would have encountered problems in future. An MP could have moved a motion that questioned Parliament on the criteria that was used in selecting those who travelled to the USA and we would have had no answers,” Xaba said.

He said stopping the quartet from travelling to the USA was nothing personal and there was no malice intended but was purely issues of procedure.
“We interrogated the matter internally and then informed them of the implications. We are thankful to them for having listened to us even though this happened on the last day. As Parliament, we had to account,” he said. Xaba said the positions of all four were linked to Parliament operations, which is why it was him who stopped their participation in the US trip. He said the other five were independent and had no link to Parliament, hence they were free to proceed with the journey. The clerk said they would communicate with the US Embassy and seek a meeting with them to clarify their position.

“We apologise to the United States for what has happened but we had to follow procedure. We will clarify officially to the ambassador in a meeting we hope to have with her and Foreign Affairs minister,” Xaba stated. Attempts were made to get comment from Princess Tsandzile and Senator Dlamini, but their mobile phones rang unanswered. Mavimbela, the speaker, said he did not have anything to say about the trip and referred any enquiries to Xaba. It is understood that by last night, high-level talks were taking place with the intention of having the quartet finally travel to the US to join the other group.

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