Voice of America (Washington, DC)

Swaziland: Nation Unveils New International Airport

Swaziland has officially opened the newly constructed King Mswati III International Airport. The new airport estimated to initially cost about $150 million forms part of the country's Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), according to Percy Simelane, spokesman for the Swaziland's government.

The airport is also a component of King Mswati III's $1 billion millennium project investment initiative, aimed at boosting the country's position as a tourist destination, as well as serve as a gateway to Swaziland's game parks.

"The airport that we have just officially opened is one of our MDGs and it took longer than we had expected because of our financial position. It's complete now, and we are happy that finally we have a modern airport," said Simelane. "It comes after another huge water project called the Lower Usuthu Irrigation Project, which is benefiting thousands of people downstream the stream."

But opposition groups dismissed the new airport as the king's "white elephant" pet project, which they contend is unlikely to improve the lives of the poor citizens.

They also said the funds used for the new airport was not a judicious use of scarce public resources, since the government has often said it has no money to increase the salaries of public sector workers because of the country's economic challenges.

Simelane disagreed, saying the airport will help create jobs for Swazis.

"There was a feasibility study, which pointed to the fact that it was going to be a viable project, particularly because we had a very small airport at Matsapha airport near Manzini, which did not have the range to take bigger aircraft," said Simelane. "That meant our cargo from all over the world was dropped in South Africa and we had to fetch it in trucks or the railway."

He says the government is encouraging public-private-partnership to help develop lands around the new airport as part of the administration's effort to create jobs.

"Already people have been given free land to develop projects around the airport," said Simelane.

He says the airport will also help boost the country's tourism potential because tourists' had to travel by bus or by rail to Swaziland after arriving in neighboring South Africa, since the old Matsapha airport only handles regional aircraft.

Detractors also argue that the funds could have been better used to improve hospitals and schools around the country.

But Simelane says the airport will enable Swaziland to fairly compete with neighboring South Africa to attract international business investors.

"We are going to compete with them [South Africa] as we have in sugar. We are competing with them toe-to-toe if not better. We know how to market this airport, and it is going to be beneficial to us," said Simelane. "We are not looking forward to a situation whereby we continue to go to South Africa by road or our tourists have to travel by road to [come] here."

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