Just as Swaziland is trying to demonstrate to the world that it can run an economy sensibly, the kingdom’s Finance Minister shows his true colours.
Even though Swaziland has run to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and the African Development Bank for money to save the kingdom from financial meltdown, Majozi Sithole wants to spend another E350 million (50 million US dollars) on King Mswati III’s vanity project - Sikhuphe International Airport.
Sithole tabled a supplementary budget this week so that building of the airport – halted in October 2010 because the government couldn’t pay its bills – can continue. If approved the E350 million would raise Swaziland’s deficit from at 13 per cent, to 14.3 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP).
I don’t know what the reaction of the IMF to the astonishing news is, but it won’t be happy. When the nonsensical project to build an airport in the wastelands of Swaziland was unveiled in 2003, the IMF said it was a waste of money that could be better used on development in Swaziland.
But King Mswati isn’t the last absolute monarch in sub-Saharan Africa for nothing. He wanted the airport and so an airport was built. Or at least building started. The project has been behind schedule for most of its life and has been swallowing money – one informed estimate said the airport could cost as much as one billion US dollars by the time it is finished.
If the E350 million is approved, it will bring the money spent on Sikhuphe in 2010/2011 to E706 million.
There has never been an independent ‘needs analysis’ into the airport and to date no airline has committed itself to using it when it is finally opened. So what is it good for? It is a waste of money.
The fact that Sithole and the Swazi Government can bring forward a plan to spend E350 million at a time when 7,000 public service jobs are to be axed and public spending plans cuts demonstrates how incompetent they are.
Why on earth would the IMF support them?