Mmegi/The Reporter (Gaborone)

24 June 2009

Botswana: Kasane Airport Expansion to Cost P180m

Members of Parliament (MPs) started debate on the P180 million loan for the expansion of Kasane Airport to cater for large aircraft. The loan, which has been acquired from the OPEC Fund for International Development (OFID), will be repaid in 14 years at 0.4 percent interest per annum.

Minister of Finance and Development Planning Baledzi, Gaolathe told Parliament yesterday that the main objective of the project is to rehabilitate the airport, extending the runway from 2,000 meters to 3,000 meters; widening the runway from 30 to 45 meters; and refurbishing the terminal building to accommodate 673, 000 passengers per annum by 2030. The expansion will also provide serviced land for private tenants to erect their own hangars as well as construction of new airport offices.

"The airport is expected to be self-sustaining by generating income from landing fees, parking fees, passenger charges and rental of commercial area and hangar facilities," he said. The minister added that other benefits of the project are reduction in delays in landing and take-off, handling passengers, handling of freight, and reduction in the smuggling of goods, as well as an increase in foreign currency earnings.

Gaolathe revealed that OFID will provide P74.7 million, while the Arab Bank for Economic Development in Africa (BADEA) will contribute P59.8million.

Several MPs welcomed the loan, saying there is need for infrastructure development given the stiff competition for tourists coming to the southern African region.

However, Gaborone Central MP, Dumelang Saleshando cautioned that government should not rush to any institution that offers a loan without keeping tabs on the national debt.

He lamented that legislators are not really empowered to access all the information they need with regards to government access and agreements on loans from foreign sources.

He advised that government should consider getting loans from local sources, as that would be more beneficial to Batswana.

During the exchange between Saleshando and several ministers, Gaolathe explained that his ministry has a Loan Monitoring Unit whose mandate is to keep an eye on government debt. He asserted that the loans for government should not exceed five percent of gross domestic product (GDP) but they have slightly exceeded that because of the current global economic meltdown.

Saleshando was not satisfied with the answers he was getting from Gaolathe and other ministers. Assistant Minister of Finance and Development Planning, Keletso Rakhudu chipped in, reminding Saleshando that as MPs they can do their own research and get the information they need. "Oh, roles have changed?" Saleshando said. He said Rakhudu used to be passionate about access to information to the extent that he even wanted to table a motion calling on government to draft a Freedom of Information Act as a matter of urgency. Apparently, he had noticed some change in Rakhudu.

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