Mbabane: His name is Cleopas Sipho Dlamini, His Majesty King Mswati III called him ‘umsubatsi’. The nation knows him as a man who served the Public Service Pension Fund as CEO for more than 10 years.
While serving at PSPF, his reign was characterized by the turning of the Fund into a ‘piggy bank’ for the cash-strapped government which struggled to pay its huge wage bill and the will of giving loans to his cronies without proper documentation.
The man who divorced his first wife because she was prayerful hails from Ludlawini in the Northern Hhohho region. This is the man as you read this, is swinging on a high black chair at Hospital Hill. He is the new sheriff in town.
Love him or hate him, “I’m here for the job not to be popular,” he said in his first address to the House of Senators last week.
The retired PSPF CEO replaces the late Ambrose Mandvulo Dlamini, who succumbed to Covid -19 related complications in December 2020.
Those who follow the news will also remember him as a man who allegedly gave loans to many companies in the country without signed loan agreements.
The then Chief executive Officer at Financial Service regulatory authority (FRSA) Sandile Dlamini took him to court demanding information including loan agreement.
FSRA, as a regulator for retirement funds and financial services providers, was and is still responsible for ensuring that all retirement funds, fund administrators, investment managers, and anyone associated with them, conduct the business in accordance with the law and principle governing the industry.
The then investigations, according to FSRA, had unearthed that huge loans were granted to entities without any loan agreements and supporting documents. It was also allegedly discovered that PSPF appointed an auditor without the approval of the Board at the tabling of the entity’s financial statement, which according to FSRA, was in contravention of principles of corporate governance.
The team of investigators from FSRA further found that PSPF allegedly took major investment decisions in relation to certain major acquisitions without the involvement of its Investment Committee. “The respondent (PSPF) disinvested large sums of funds from local financial institutions to offshore destinations,” reads one of the findings made by FSRA.
In his affidavit, the former FSRA CEO stated that the preliminary findings that had been already made suggested that there was a need for more intensive investigations into certain other areas, not discounting the inspection that had been carried out.
Cleopas Dlamini dismissed all these as a smear campaign. The then Minister of Public Service, Owen Nxumalo stopped the probe and instructed FSRA to withdraw the court application. Refusing to be silenced, Dlamini (Sandile), publicly made a damning statement blaming rampant corruption on Dlaminism.
As you read this, this is the man who is now entrusted not only with running the country’s socio-economic development but also expected to be transparent and accountable to Parliament.
The biggest challenge facing the country today is the economy and unity.
Then the million-dollar question is: “Is the new Prime Minister from Ludlawini going to be able to unite the nation?” Even though His Majesty King Mswati III didn’t give him a clear mandate on uniting the nation, but it’s a given that he won’t succeed on the latter besides unity.
Highly placed sources suggest that Cleopas was first earmarked to succeed the late Barnabas Dlamini. However, Mandvulo, who enjoyed the full backing of the king’s first daughter, Princess Sikhanyiso, the now Minister of Information and Technology outmaneuvered him.
Ironically, King Mswati III, who took a swipe at pro-democracy protesters for contravening the Constitution, has repeatedly done likewise in all his Prime Minister’s appointments since its adoption 16 years ago.
Unprepared to depart from tradition, he has again settled for another member of the Dlamini dynasty. He dashed hopes of a non-Dlamini PM by not confirming the Acting PM Themba Nhlanganiso Masuku to the position.
Cleopas Dlamini has made his mark in the business world, however not without a reputational controversy. He is a consummate economist and the King claimed such set him apart as the new appointee. He called him umsubatsi.
“Ngitaninika umfana lotwusubatsa nine bekunene,”said the monarch when announcing the Prime Minister.
The new Prime Minister is armed with an M.Sc. degree in Economics from Portland State University, Oregon in the United States of America. He earned his BA (Hons) in Economics from the University of South Africa (UNISA) in 1983. He also obtained a B. Com degree with an Economics major from the University of Botswana and Swaziland in 1977.
He started his career as a planning officer in the Ministry of Finance in 1978. In 1980, he became a research officer responsible for the collection of economic statistics on prices, production, and retail trading. In 1986, he climbed up the ladder becoming a manager, investments and exchange. He was responsible for treasury operations, supervision of currency and money markets traders.
Dlamini’s exposure to investments and exchange saw him being recruited as Director, Investments, and Exchange at the Central Bank of Eswatini in 1992. He rose through the ranks from Director, Investments and Exchange, Director, Research Department to Senior Director Operations. As Head of Investments and Exchange, one of his responsibilities was treasury management. In the Research Department, he advised the Ministry of Finance on domestic debt and international issues.
His expertise in investments landed him the PSPF chief executive officer post in 2013. Under his stewardship, the PSPF investment portfolio grew in leaps and bounds. He spearheaded the government’s campaign to invest 30 percent of pensions or retirement assets in the local economy. When he retired in 2018, local PSPF investments stood at 45 percent.
Whilst at the helm, the Fund invested in retail, agriculture, asset management, mobile phone network, and tourism, and hospitality within and outside the country. Its retail portfolio included Gables Shopping Centre, New Mall Shopping Centre, Bhunu Mall Shopping Centre, and Pick n Pay Lorjaf. It also invested in forestry and dairy farming through its stakes in Montigny Investments and Swazi Milk. It made inroads into the tourism and hospitality industry through the posh Hilton Hotel. PSPF acquired stakes in MTN Eswatini and Eswatini Mobile.
The Fund further grew its investments through fund managers locally and globally. It invested in the locally-based operations of Old Mutual, Stanlib, African Alliance, Allan Gray, and Inhlonhla. It also invested in the South Africa-based Allan Gray, Foord, Sanlam, Stanlib, and Alexander Forbes as well as global businesses. On his retirement in 2018, the PSPF recorded a total of assets worth E21.7 billion, according to the 2018 annual report for the Public Service Pension Fund.
PSPF allegedly wasted E7 million of the pensioners’ money on a plot it purchased from the then PM Barnabas Sibusiso Dlamini, which had cost him E93 000.
Blinded by loyalty, Dlamini once pledged pension funds to the job creation initiative King Mswati launched during a Job Summit. The pensioners took him to task demanding to know who had given him permission. Although the controversial pledge never saw the light of the day, it ingratiated him with the higher authorities.
True to Allister Miller’s words “There is no road so full of traps as one that leads to a king”, Dlamini’s way to the heart of the king and kingmakers has been not easy. He had a protracted divorce court battle with his wife, Cynthia Simelane, and admitted that he committed adultery. One of his grounds for filing divorce papers was that his wife was obsessively and intolerably religious. All that provided his detractors with ammunition to pull him down.
With tradition coursing in his veins, the new prime minister ticks all the boxes, according to his appointing finger. King Mswati has handpicked Dlamini under the veneer of his business acumen, but a closer version of the truth is because of his abiding sense of loyalty. His appointment amid the political uprising has been met with mixed reactions across the spectrum. Banking on his business experience, the business community believes he is the right man for the job. But the pro-democracy campaigners, under the banner of the Political Parties Assembly (PPA), believe that his royal assignment will perpetuate the status quo.
Dlamini is taking over the reins of a country teetering on the brink. He has to hit the ground running as he must quickly come up with a multi-pronged recovery strategy to restore peace, order, and stability. He must implement the reconstruction program and heal the polarized, troubled nation. Only time will tell if he carries out his duties in service of the nation or perpetuating the iron grip of the monarchy.