Swaziland’s Sikhuphe Airport, the multi-billion rand vanity project of King Mswati III, has construction flaws and is likely to be unusable, a South African newspaper has claimed.
The Mail and Guardian reported it had two confidential technical reports by engineer Derrick Dlamini alleging that there were major structural defects in the airport’s concrete apron and ‘that it is unfit for use by large commercial aircraft’.
The Swazi Government has denied the claim. Percy Simelane, the Swaziland government spokesperson, said the state was ‘absolutely’ satisfied with the work done.
The newspaper also said that there might be ‘widespread fraud and other irregularities’ at the airport, but did not give details.
The newspaper reported the cost of the airport was in the region of R2.36 billion (US$236 million), but estimates in the past have put the cost much higher. One report in 2010, in the Swazi Observer, the newspaper in effect owned by the king, estimated it could be as much as US$1 billion.
The king has been the leading force behind the airport which is being built in a wilderness in eastern Swaziland, about 80km from the kingdom’s capital, Mbabane. No needs analysis was done before the project started and to date no airline has agreed to use the airport, which is many years behind schedule for completion. Swaziland already has an underused airport at Matsapha, close to both the kingdom’s capital, Mbabane, and its main commercial city, Manzini.
The newspaper reported Sikhuphe airport was scheduled to open later this year (2013).
Sikhuphe is an on-going project to build an ‘international airport’. Since the idea for the airport was first raised by King Mswati, who rules as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, more than 10 years ago independent observers have called it a waste of resources.
As long ago as 2003, the International Monetary Fund said it should not be built because it would divert funds away from much needed projects to fight poverty in Swaziland. About seven in ten of King Mswati’s 1.1 million subjects live in abject poverty, earning less than US$2 per day.
Meanwhile, the king has a lavish lifestyle, including a personal fortune, once estimated by Forbes magazine to be US$200 million, 13 palaces, a private jet and fleets of top-of-the range Mercedes and BMW cars.
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