ANTI CORRUPTION PROBES SIKHUPHE
MBABANE – Officers from the Anti Corruption Commission (ACC) and Auditor General (AG) offices want to know how money allocated for construction of the Sikhuphe International Airport was used.
However, Bertram Stewart, Principal Secretary (PS) in the Ministry of Economic Planning and Development, says there was no corruption in the construction of the airport.
Stewart said save for the delays in completion, the airport project was a huge success.
The PS said this at a time when officers from the Auditor General and Anti Corruption Commission had spent a considerable amount of time at the airport.
They are conducting an investigation on how funds were utilised in the project.
The costs of the yet to be fully completed infrastructure have not been publicly disclosed but they are reported to amount to over E3 billion from an initial budget of E500 million.
Stewart said he did not know how much government had spent on the project.
“The airport is incomplete and, therefore, we are yet to compute all the money spent on the construction of the facility,” he said.
Meanwhile, the ACC and the office of the AG are reported to have launched parallel investigations into the project.
Primary to the investigations is the money spent on the project over a period of 10 years, from 2003, the year the project was launched to date.
“I have not been informed that there is any investigation on the project. Besides, it has not been completed yet,” said Stewart when asked about the ACC and AGs offices’ activities at the airport.
He said he was not aware that the airport construction project was being audited.
Stewart said there were still contractors on site who were working on the construction of a parallel taxiway.
The PS said officers of the ACC and Auditor General had not visited his office yet.
He was interviewed about three weeks ago.
“I only met them once. We had invited them to apprise and familiarise them with the facility,” he said.
The project was set to be completed in 2010, in time for the Fifa World Cup which was hosted in South Africa.
Phestecia Nxumalo, the Auditor General confirmed that her officers were conducting an audit of the airport project.
The audit has been ongoing for about two months.
The AG, speaking through Percy Simelane, the Government Spokesperson, said auditing the project had not been completed yet.
“The audit will be completed in the first quarter of next year (this year). Officers are still busy at the airport,” he said. Simelane said the AG could not pre-empt the findings.
“They are yet to speak to the controlling officer for the portfolio ministry, the Ministry of Economic Planning, under which the airport falls under,” he said.
He said among other things, the audit will investigate whether procurement procedures were followed and whether expenditure was justified and could be collaborated with proof, in the form of invoices.
The report will then be handed over to government and then appropriate steps that are normally followed after such reports will be followed.
A similar conceptualised and sized airport infrastructure built in South Africa’s Kruger National Park, started operating in 2006 after having been constructed over a period of two years at a cost amounting to less than E1 billion.
For Sikhuphe International Airport, the costs have spiralled over a construction period of 10 years.
There were some glitches though that stalled progress. Such happened in instances where government did not have money to pay contractors.
There was also another delay caused by the non-payment of construction certificates for work done by contractors.
These were reported to have cost E200 000 per day.
The airport is part of government’s Millennium Projects, which also include factory shells being constructed in various areas around the country, an amusement park to be built in Manzini and a state-of-the-art Convention Centre.
The Mavuso Trade Centre is also part of the Millennium Projects.
When these projects were initiated, there was a public outcry on their viability.
It was felt, in some quarters, that the kingdom did not, for instance, need another airport because the Matsapha International Airport was underutilised.
It was designed with a runway to accommodate the world’s largest plane, an Airbus A380. Sikhuphe forecasts an annual passenger turnover of 250 000 to 300 000, an almost fivefold increase in the numbers passing through the existing airport at Matsapha, near Manzini.
There are only a handful of flights a day out of Matsapha, all to one destination, OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg.
All are operated by Swaziland Airlink, a joint venture between South African Airways Airlink and the Swaziland Government.
Regular travellers say the aeroplanes, usually a 40-seater Embraer 135; are rarely even half-full because most people shun the plane, preferring to drive.
Government says the new airport, which is in a remote location, more than 80 kilometres east of the capital Mbabane, is necessary because it will offer more landing space for bigger planes that cannot be accommodated at Matsapha and will drive foreign investment, exports and tourism.