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Mbabane - Swaziland's King Mswati, 80 percent of whose subjects are landless peasants, has pushed through plans to build five new palaces for some of his 11 wives a cost of more than $4-million (about R24-million) - all of it out of public funds.
"Next month the project will kick-start and the first royal residence will be built," Roy Fanourakis, CEO of the King's Office at Lozitha, Mswati's principal palace 30 km (20 miles) east of the capital Mbabane, told the Times of Swaziland on Sunday.
Mswati, sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarch, has sparked criticism for his lavish lifestyle despite his small kingdom's many problems, which include one of the world's highest Aids infection rates and widespread poverty.
Palace sources said Mswati had initially hoped to build palaces for each of his 11 wives at an estimated cost of about $15-million. But the Times said plans now involved just five new royal residences for about $820 000 apiece.
A further $3-million will be spent on furnishings.
The palace project looks likely to reignite debate over royal prerogatives in a country whose economy has been in decline for 10 years.
Last year, $1,5-million was spent on luxury cars and homes for Mswati's elder relatives. Swazi taxpayers lost $45-million on a down payment for a luxury jet for Mswati's personal use when the deal fell through.
The Times of Swaziland also reported on Sunday that the king was contemplating spending about $3-million on a house in London for an "educational attache" whose main duty would be supervising royal Swazi children being schooled in the United Kingdom.