11 February 2014

Swaziland: 'Corruption Hit' Airport Set to Open

The Swazi Observer, the newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati III, is reporting that the controversial Sikhuphe Airport will open in March.

The airport, known outside of Swaziland as the King's 'vanity project', was originally scheduled to cost E500 million. Now, it is reported to be E2.5 billion (US$250 million) over budget and its opening, if it goes ahead, will be at least four years behind schedule.

Sikhuphe has been mired in controversy in recent weeks as allegations of corruption in the awarding of contracts have surfaced.

Last month the Times Sunday, an independent newspaper in Swaziland, reported officers from the Anti-Corruption Commission and Auditor General offices were separately investigating how money allocated for construction of the airport was spent since 2003 when the project was launched.

On Tuesday (11 February 2014), the Observer reported plans are going ahead for the King to officially open the airport.

It quoted 'impeccable sources' saying, 'different companies have already been awarded tenders for the decoration and catering during the event that is scheduled for early next month [March 2014].'

Sikhuphe has been under construction for at least 10 years. The date for the airport's opening in 2010 was missed and has been put back a number of times since.

In November 2013, THE Swaziland Civil Aviation Authority (SWACAA ) said the airport was now completed and operational, but no flights have been in or out since.

Last month, Prince Hlangusemphi, Minister of Economic Planning and Development, admitted that no taxiway had been built to allow aircraft to move around the airport after landing.

As recently as October 2013 a report from the International Air Transport Association (IATA) said Sikhuphe International Airport was widely perceived as a 'vanity project' because of its scale and opulence compared with the size and nature of the market it seeks to serve.

To date no international airlines have publicly expressed an interest in flying into Sikhuphe.

In June 2013 an engineer's report was published by to the Mail and Guardian newspaper in South Africa saying the structure of the airport was defected and large jet airlines would not be able to land.

In 2003, the International Monetary Fund said Sikhuphe 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 1.3 million subjects live in abject poverty, earning less than US$2 per day.

King Mswati rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarch.

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