In the national budget announced yesterday (16 February 2102), E2.3 billion (US$296 million) was set aside to complete on-going capital projects, including the airport which is being built in the Swazi wilderness on the express instructions of King Mswati, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch.
The money for capital projects is twice the E1.1 billion set aside this coming year for the whole health budget in Swaziland.
The completion of Sikhuphe airport and roads leading to it were announced as priorities for the government in the coming financial year, by Majozi Sithole, the Swazi Finance Minister.
The building of Sikhuphe has been controversial because there is no obvious need for it. Swaziland already has an underused airport at Matsapha and no needs-analysis was ever completed to demonstrate why another airport should be built.
Most of the impetus for the building of the airport has come from King Mswati, who is keen to show that the kingdom he rules is on its way to becoming a ‘first world’ nation.
Estimates for the total cost of Sikhuphe – including the airport itself, roads that need to be built to reach it, and other expenditure associated with it, have reached US$1 billion.
Swaziland is broke and the International Monetary Fund has in the past criticised the building of Sikhuphe as a waste of valuable resources that could be better used on development in the kingdom.
Seven in ten people in Swaziland live in abject poverty, earning less than US$2 per day and the kingdom has the highest AIDS rate in the world. In yesterday’s budget Sithole also announced he would be asking permission to seek a E264 million (US$37.8 million) loan for a food security project to grow more maize. In a typical year as many as one third of the Swazi population receive international food aid.
The airport was supposed to have been completed and opened in 2009, but it is far from ready. So far, no airline has confirmed it will use the airport when it eventually opens.
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