About 300 workers at the Sikhuphe International Airport building site have been laid off because the Swaziland Government hasn’t paid its bills.
The Swazi Government is said to owe the contractors E200 million (29 million US dollars). There is no plan to reemploy the laid-off workers and they have been sent home.
Sikhuphe has been mired in controversy because it is an expensive waste of time. Latest estimates are that if it ever gets finished it will have cost at least 1 billion US dollars (roughly 1,000 dollars per man, woman and child in Swaziland, where seven in ten people are so poor they earn less than one US dollar a day).
There was never a feasibility study to see whether Swaziland needed a new airport and when the plan was first aired in 2003 the International Monetary Fund branded it a waste of money.
This is ironic because in the same week that the layoffs at Sikhuphe have been made, Barnabas Dlamini, Swaziland’s illegally-appointed Prime Minister and colleagues have been in Washington to try to get the IMF to support a loan application so government can pay salaries to its workers this month (October 2010).
So far the IMF has not given Swaziland any budget support and news of the Sikhuphe layoffs should remind it of how the Swazi government squanders money.
The Times of Swaziland, the kingdom’s only independent daily newspaper, reported today (8 October 2010) that contractors were still having talks with the government to try to get the money paid.
Bertram Stewart, Principal Secretary, Ministry of Economic Planning, told the newspaper the government was still processing all the invoice documentation concerning the payment and would pay the contractor.
‘The government system is not fast and everyone knows that,’ he said.
Stewart also said the airport, ‘would be opened at the end of the calendar year’. By my calculation that’s in 12 weeks time. Put the date in your diary and get ready for the next round of excuses as to why the airport remains unfinished.