By Ntombi Mhlongo
The protection of police officers who had been a prime target of the violence instigators in and out of their line of duty will cost the taxpayers about E35 million. This money has been allocated to the Royal Eswatini Police Service (REPS) to cater for the procurement of security equipment, according to the Supplementary Budget presented in Parliament last week. The equipment includes bulletproof vests and helmets. Known as ballistic-resistant body armour, the vests and helmets protect against bullet penetrations and the blunt trauma associated with bullet impacts.
These vests include soft body armour that protects against handgun bullets and less flexible tactical armour composed of soft and hard components that protect against rifle bullets
When a report on the budget was tabled by the Finance Sessional Committee in Parliament recently, it was highlighted that the police service needed the money to ensure the safety of police officers.
Arguably, if the country did not experience the gruesome killing of the police, the E35 million budget could have been used for other commitments of national interest like in the education sector which is riddled by a myriad of challenges including insufficient funds to pay for tertiary students’ scholarships.
Again, the money would have been allocated to the public health sector. Currently, most of the public health facilities (clinics and hospitals) are faced with an acute medical drugs shortage that is threatening the lives of emaSwati.
This expense to be incurred by taxpayers is one of many which have come because of the political unrest that has gripped the country since 2021 which was ignited by the pro-democracy faction. the economy.
A series of protests in Eswatini against the monarchy and for democratisation began in late June 2021. Starting as a peaceful protest on June 20, they escalated after June 25 into violence and looting and torching of both public and private businesses. The looting and torching of businesses
It was reported that property damages caused by those who participated in pro-democracy protests were estimated at approximately E3 billion.
This was disclosed last night by Senator Manqoba Khumalo, the Minister of Commerce, Industry and Trade. Khumalo said business property damages that occurred nationwide resulted in 5 000 job losses. He said informal traders and SMEs were affected by the burning of commercial buildings, which was accompanied by the looting of goods. Movable assets such as trucks were burnt as well.
Following the political unrest, the country’s authorities formed the Reconstruction Fund, an intervention aimed at supporting all those who were affected.
Justifying the budget, Deputy Chairperson of the Sessional Committee and MP Madala Mhlanga said that it was meant to respond to a request made by the police service to be provided with vests to protect themselves.
In June this year, there was panic all over the country following the death of two police officers who were shot by unknown people, believed to be part of the pro-democracy insurgents. Reports circulating on social media say the shooting of the police officers is a revenge attack against the law enforcers for allegedly shooting some of the protestors to death during the June 21 violent unrest.
The two police officers were gunned down as part of what was believed to be revenge.
The first officer was shot dead at Mathangeni, Matsapha while another was shot near the Manzini Club traffic circle.
Following the shooting, the National Commissioner of Police William Tsintsibala Dlamini came out to state that police officers will be provided with bulletproof vests to safeguard them against any form of attack.
In the first quarter performance report for his office for the current financial year, Prime Minister Cleopas Sipho Dlamini highlighted that the operational environment of the police service continued to be challenging due to ongoing acts of violence that are headlined by arson attacks which he said are unending thus threatening peace and security in the country.
The PM said the government noted with concern a new and shocking dimension that the civil unrest had taken whereby police officers are targeted for shooting through elements driven by what he termed terrorist intents resulting in the loss of the two officers.
He said the hostility and targeting of law enforcers in and of their line of duty was a grave concern as the law enforcers are there to safeguard the peace and security of the country, its people and property.
Government Spokesperson Alpheus Nxumalo said after noting the trend where police officers were attacked and even killed, the government found it imperative that something should be done so that they were protected.
“The police must conduct their duties without fear and with a clear objective to defeat the insurgency that is attacking them and the citizens. That is my perspective and I do feel that such an extra budget would be forthcoming from time to time,” said Nxumalo.
He said it should be clear that when one attacked a police officer, it was tantamount to attacking the state.
“Police officers execute their duties according to the mandate and framework of the state. That is why they wear uniforms which have a unique sign. Police will not be able to help the community if we do not make sure as a country to create an enabling environment for them. The logic of a budget for national security can never be sizeable,” he said.