As the Swaziland Government goes cap-in-hand to the international community to seek money to stop people starving as a result of drought, news has emerged that US$12 million is to be spent on decorating the Royal Terminal Building at King Mswati III (KMIII) Airport.
KMIII, formerly known as Sikhuphe, is an airport built in the wilderness in Swaziland. It has been widely criticised outside the kingdom where King Mswati rules as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch as a vanity project for the King.
Despite efforts by the Swaziland Civil Aviation Authority and others to disguise the fact, the airport has not attracted the international flights the airport’s supporters promised. The airport officially opened in March 2014 but flights did not start until the following October. The only route served is with OR Tambo in Johannesburg, South Africa, which is a flying time of less than an hour. Fewer than 100 passengers a day on average fly from the airport.
The cost of building the airport is unknown, but estimates widely reported by the media suggest it could have been as much as US$250 - 300 million. It took at least 10 years to build and was opened at least four years behind schedule.
In October 2013 a report from the International Air Transport Association (IATA) said the airport was widely perceived as a ‘vanity project’ because of its scale and opulence compared with the size and nature of the market it sought to serve.
On 21 March 2016 The Star Africa news site reported that more than US$12 million would be spent on ‘the interior decorations’ at the terminal.
It reported, ‘The money for the project termed VVPI Royal Terminal, according to government estimates, will be sourced locally for the procurement of ground handling equipment.’
It added, ‘Solomon Dube, Director of the Swaziland Civil Aviation Authority (SWACAA) says the airport is a commercial airlines facility and therefore needs to accommodate important guests who require detailed welcoming protocol separately.’
At present 70 percent of King Mswati’s 1.3 million subjects live in abject poverty, with incomes less than US$2 a day. Swaziland also has the highest rate of HIV infection in the world. In 2003, the International Monetary Fund said the airport should not be built because it would divert funds away from much needed projects to fight poverty in Swaziland.
There is no obvious need for the new airport which is being built in the Swazi wilderness 80 kilometres east of the Swazi capital Mbabane.Major airports already exist less than an hour’s flying time away in South Africa with connecting routes to Swaziland.
There has never been a needs analysis undertaken on the airport, and Swaziland’s airport at Matsapha which closed to make way for KMIII only carried about 70,000 passengers a year.
Today, Swaziland is in the grip of a drought crisis. In February 2016, the Swazi Government announced it did not have enough money to give drought relief. It asked for immediate emergency donations amounting to US$16 million. Since then it has been revealed that the Swazi Government intends to spend at least US$9 million on a private jet plane for the King.
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