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CALL FOR PM TO WITHDRAW AG STATEMENT, APOLOGISE

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MBABANE - Human Rights Lawyer Sibusiso Nhlabatsi, says the Prime Minister (PM), Russell Dlamini, has attacked good governance and accountability.

Nhlabatsi said Dlamini allegedly watered down any efforts to protect public finances. He said the PM ought to unconditionally withdraw the statement and apologise to the AG, Parliament, the King and the nation at large. According to Nhlabatsi, the PM as the head of government should be the protector of government officials, and not attack them on an issue in which he has an interest. He explained that Dlamini should be the first one to support governance as a man in charge. “The Office of the AG is protected under Section 207 of the Constitution, as it falls under Chapter 11. The Constitution enjoins the AG to audit all institutions, including parastatals and publish reports accordingly. This enables the PAC to hold anyone accused in the report accountable,” Nhlabatsi said.

Incompetence

Nhlabatsi explained that if Dlamini accused the AG of incompetence, it implied that no one would monitor the misuse of funds, thereby creating a free-for-all environment. Adding, he said the PM had all the legal avenues to challenge the audit report of the NDMA if he so wished, or even call for a different audit, but he allegedly chose not to.  “If a whole PM undermines such an important constitutional office, how are the other officers going to work with him?” he wondered. In the same vein, Nhlabatsi noted that not all was lost and to avoid a constitutional crisis, Dlamini ought to unconditionally withdraw the statement and apologise to the AG, Parliament, the King and the nation at large. Furthermore, he said the PM ought to also make an undertaking that government would support the Office of the AG, to fulfil its mandate. Meanwhile, Senator Chief Zabeni Shiba, said rushing to say such statements would be interpreted as if there was something being blocked.

Statements

Shiba said they did not know what the PM meant or saw about the independent institution. According to Shiba, such statements will attract challenges for the country. He made an example about the Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT), saying they wanted all the fired head teachers reinstated. Shiba explained that he was still yet to establish the gist of the matter, which led to Dlamini making such utterances. He mentioned that there was a need for Dlamini to engage with the AG’s Office. Shiba stated that through engagement, they would be able to establish the source of their findings and avoid engaging in conflicts. “This matter can be easily resolved. We are hopeful that they will engage the matter and come up with solutions,” Shiba said.

PQ: Eswatin in serious constitutional crisis
MBABANE - Political Analyst Dr Qambukusa Magagula, popularly known as 'PQ’, says the country is in a serious constitutional crisis. He was reacting to Prime Minister (PM) Russell Dlamini’s utterances, about the Office of the Auditor General (AG). Magagula said the legislative arm of government and the AG’s Office had been rendered dysfunctional by the PM’s statement. He said this was not expected from the head of government. Last week Thursday, Dlamini called to question the competence of the AG’s Office and further cast doubt on the reliability of the audit reports it produces.Responding to media questions during the breakfast meeting with the Editors’ Forum of Eswatini, the PM said the AG, Timothy Matsebula’s reports on the books of the National Disaster Management Agency (NDMA), left a lot to be desired.

Irregularities

Dlamini is the former chief executive officer (CEO) of NDMA.  During Dlamini’s term in office at NDMA, the AG pointed out accounting irregularities during the COVID-19 era. He said while all other auditors found that the books were unqualified, only the AG’s reports pointed to the unaccountability of funds. He wondered if the reports were not inspired by that he (Dlamini) was the CEO of the NDMA during the period under review.“NDMA has been audited eight times now, by professional auditors over the COVID-19 era, such as the internal office of the Ministry of Finance; the Eswatini Public Procurement Regulatory Agency (ESPPRA) and SNG.

“We need to rethink if the reports of the auditor general can be relied upon. We need to reconsider if there is no corruption in the office of the auditor general. What is motivating all this negative publicity about the NDMA?” Dlamini said. The statement has been met with mixed feelings from various quarters, with some people suggesting that it should be withdrawn. The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) also suspended its sittings based on the fact that it is an entity whose work is focused on the reports presented by the AG’s Office, which are tabled in Parliament. During a press conference last Friday, the PAC said it would seek guidance and advice from Parliament and the AG on whether it should continue with its sittings or wait for the allegations by the PM to be addressed. Magagula started by questioning where the PM got his information about the AG’s Office.

According to Magagula, the PM was wrong to make unwarranted statements about the office in a public forum.He said every institution may have mistakes, but there was a way of addressing the mistakes, without embarrassing them or making unwarranted statements. “The biggest question we should be asking is, ‘Where does the PM get such information?’ Does the PM have proof of the sentiments he shared about the AG’s Office or has he conducted any inquiries to form the basis of his observation? If he has not done any of this, this tells us about the calibre of the PM we have,” Magagula said. He explained that as the leader of government, there was a manner to engage with government institutions. He stated that the PM could have engaged on the matter as the Executive if there were issues with the AG’s Office and its reports.

Challenges

Adding, Magagula maintained that the manner in which the PM handled the matter was wrong and this would create challenges for the country. According to Magagula, the country was in a serious constitutional crisis as the legislative arm of government had been rendered dysfunctional by the PM’s statement. He stated that the AG’s Office had been rendered dysfunctional and it was up to Parliament to challenge this matter and seek answers from the PM. “How can the AG’s Office continue with its work if it is incompetent with its reports? Even the PAC has suspended its sittings based on such a statement. “This is serious and in some other countries, there could be consequences for such utterances,” he said. He went on to state that decisions that were taken based on the AG’s reports could be challenged, because the head of government had denounced the reports.

“Someone who was fired from work due to the reports can come back to claim unfair dismissal, especially because the PM has said so. He can go to court to try and reverse the decision. All peace-loving emaSwati need to call for the withdrawal of this statement,” Magagula stated. Adding, Human Rights Lawyer Sifiso Gumedze shared the same sentiments, saying if the PM stands by his assertion, that every report from that the AG’s Office must not be accepted, the country would have a serious constitutional crisis. Gumedze said this would be a constitutional crisis in the sense that, the Legislature, which plays an oversight role on government, would now be deprived of the means to do its job. He explained that the Legislature played the oversight role through the AG’s Office. “The AG’s Office audits different departments and presents its findings to say they have noted that there was mismanagement of public resources. That is the foundation, upon which the PAC then calls that particular department to account, as the only means of providing an oversight.

Reliability

“If the PM, as head of government doubts the reliability of the AG’s Office and reports, it means that the whole accountability process provided by the PAC will collapse,” Gumedze said. According to Gumedze, there would no longer be accountability within government as there would be public institutions that are no longer accountable, and taxpayers’ money would be used willy-nilly. He mentioned that the PM should have not answered the question about NDMA. The human rights lawyer stated that the PM responded to the question out of anger, without realising that he was creating a bigger problem. “He treated the question as a direct attack on him, as the then head of the NDMA. As the head of government, he is the face of government and he can’t have a situation where a head of government is found saying, certain departments within government are incompetent,” he said. Furthermore, he mentioned that the PM, through his statement, was alleging that he was leading an incompetent government.

Institutions

Gumedze said all government institutions at the end of the day, reported to the PM as the head of government. “He is saying, that even himself is incompetent, because the AG’s Office is supposed to report to him. How will they audit the PM’s Office expenses if he says it is incompetent? Gumedze questioned. Meanwhile, Government Spokesperson  Alpheous Nxumalo, said government would provide comprehensive responses today. The Attorney General (AG), Sifiso Khumalo, said the matter would be addressed today in Parliament. He was asked if his office was doing anything to solve the issue. On the other hand, the Deputy Prime Minister (DPM), Thulisile Dladla, as the former PAC Chairperson, was asked to share her insight on the impasse pertaining to the PM statement and the subsequent suspension of the PAC sittings. Dladla said the suspension of PAC sittings was outside the purview of the Executive. She said she was not in a position to respond since it was a matter that was on the lap of the Legislature, as per the chairman's announcement.   “Should there be a need for me to make any intervention on the above matter, it will be in Parliament,” Dladla said. The Minister of Labour and Social Security, Phila Buthelezi, as a former PAC chairperson also chose not to comment on the matter.

SNAT: PAC must end ‘strike,’ hold officers accountable
MBABANE - The Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT) has called upon the Prime Minister (PM), Russell Dlamini, to unconditionally retract the utterances regarding the work of the Auditor General (AG) Office.

SNAT further called upon the commencement of PAC sittings to account for public funds. SNAT Secretary General (SG), Lot Vilakati, said they welcomed the AG’s reports. Vilakati said the reports were credible and accurate, since time immemorial. “From this premise, the work of the AG’s Office should be respected by all citizens. The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) must stop the ‘strike’ and go back to the chamber to hold officers accountable for public funds. The PM must be made to appear before the PAC in Parliament,” Vilakati said. According to Vilakati, as SNAT, they believed that the sentiments of the PM on the constitutional mandate of the AG’s Office were unfortunate, particularly coming from the head of government.

Pronouncements

He explained that such pronouncements, coming from the head of government, were disastrous and deserved utmost condemnation from all quarters of the society.  “As SNAT, we are calling on the PAC to suspend the strike and resume their sittings, since they have already hauled others before them without compromise. “We, however, appreciate the fact that the PAC showed everyone that anyone aggrieved by certain development is constitutionally allowed to go on a strike,” he said. Adding, the SG stated that they had lost many head teachers through the PAC, and if today they are scared to call upon the PM to appear before them, then what about the multitudes of their members who had been defamed while implicated in the AG’s reports in the past?

In the same vein, Vilakati said they believed that they were all equal before the law, more especially before the PAC.  He went on to state that government must uphold the Constitution and the rule of law.  “We are not ready for anything likening itself to the November 28, 2002 statement. As a country, we do not want to go there. The PM, as the head of government, must lead by example and be a patriotic citizen as he always preaches to us. He must go to Parliament and respond to the allegations levelled against him while he was the chief executive officer (CEO) of the National Disaster Management Agency (NDMA). 

What we understand is that such things are not personal, but talk to issues of accountability and good governance,” Vilakati said. Furthermore, he shared that they expected the PM to demonstrate the highest level of understanding of government and defend constitutional structures that are meant to embolden accountability and fight corruption in society. “As SNAT, we are certainly going to be at the Parliament’s gallery when the Ministry of Education and Training (MoET) appears before the reputable committee to follow the proceedings with massive interest,” he said.

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