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Tuesday, 11 August 2009

KING’S AIRPORT BLEEDS SWAZIS DRY

Sikhuphe International Airport, the vanity project of Swaziland’s King Mswati III, will cost E1.5 billion to complete.


That works out at about E1,500 for each man, woman and child in Swaziland. When you consider 70 per cent of Swazis earn less than E8 a day that’s a big sacrifice for King Mswati, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, to ask of his subjects.


Barnabas Dlamini, Swaziland’s illegally-appointed prime minister, announced last week that despite some donations from overseas’ nations, most of the cost of the airport will have to come from the Swazi taxpayer.


The news comes just as Swaziland is being warned that income from the Southern Africa Customs Union (SACU) will fall by half this year and the kingdom is on the brink of bankruptcy.


Dlamini said he was ‘confident’ the airport would be open by June 2010.


Sikhuphe International Airport is a vanity project of King Mswati. It has been forced on the Swazi people even though there is no evidence that Swaziland needs the new airport and no expert study was undertaken into the aviation needs of the kingdom before the king gave the go-ahead for building.


The present airport at Matsapha is underused and if more capacity were needed expansion here would be the most sensible way forward.


Sikhuphe International Airport is being built in one of Swaziland’s many wildernesses in the Lubombo region and a road network needs to be built to connect it to the rest of the kingdom. Meanwhile, Matsapha sits close to the two major towns of Swaziland (Manzini and Mbabane) and is well served by road.


In 2003, the Swazi Government ignored advice from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) about participation in unviable projects, and went ahead anyway with building the airport.


The IMF said pouring money into the airport threatened ‘to crowd out budgetary resources for meeting the country’s urgent social needs and to weaken sentiment among donors’.


This week Swaziland’s Minister of Economic Planning and Development Prince Hlangusemphi said the resumption of construction had proved critics wrong.


‘Some said it would never start, whilst other said it would be a white elephant. They will all be proved wrong.’


But Prince Hlangusemphi is a member of the Swazi Royal Family so what would you expect him to say?


Alas, with Swaziland on the verge of financial meltdown the last thing the kingdom needs is this expensive irrelevance: Minister Hlangusemphi will be forced to eat his words before too long.

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