Thursday, June 13, 2024

Is the taxpayer getting returns on P. G Matante International Airport?

Airports are generally crucial and strategic in any given country. This is because apart from facilitating the movement of people it also doubles as point of entry for new foreigner investors as well as those returning from doing business abroad.

With the aviation sector having turned the world into a global village, the role of airports cannot be understated or undermined.  In Botswana, the country’s international airports are playing a similar role, connecting the minerals rich nation with the rest of the African continent and overseas countries.

In  Francistown city, there lies the P. G Matante International Airport.  The international airport opened its skies in 2011 becoming one of the four biggest airports in the country.

Like other international airports, P.G Matante was built to allow air travellers to travel in and out of Francistown and nearby localities for either business or domestic reasons. The Airport was built at a cost of over P400 million. However recently the airport caught the attention of Business Botswana (BB) President Gobusamang Keebine during the Official opening of the Northern Trade Fair in Francistown. He complained that as part of the major infrastructure in the second city, it seemed not to be getting its value for money and was slowly becoming a white elephant.

Sunday Standard conducted an interview with the Head of Public Relations and Communication at the Civil Aviation Authority of Botswana (CAAB) Modipe Nkwe to find out if taxpayers who were billed for its construction are getting any returns.  CAAB is a government parastatal under which the custody of P.G Matante International Airport and others fall.

 Modipe began by quickly confirming that operations at P. G Matante International Airport were affected by the closure of mines in Francistown as it was the backbone of the economy in the second city.

“The mining activity in Francistown has gone down. Some of the mining companies generated a lot of revenue for the airport. Nonetheless, the airport has a number of services such as health emergency services and other aviation services which are continuing to benefit Francistown, the entire region and the country,” he said.

While he could not confirm or deny that they are making a loss of investment, he said as the custodian of the airport their main duty is to provide the required infrastructure for the airlines to use.

“The fact of the matter is we do not operate airlines and our main role was to put the infrastructure which we did. It is unfortunate that due to a slump in commodity prices, mines had to close businesses and they were some of our major clients,” he explained.

Nkwe explained that the airport began operating an apron at a cost of P223 million. (An apron is an area of an airport where aircrafts are parked, unloaded or loaded, refilled or boarded).  An airfield ground lighting and automated observation systems costing P40 million was also put in place. He said a passenger terminal was built at a cost of P211 million.

“At the time when all this infrastructure was put in place, the economy of Francistown dictated that to happen. There was a mining boom and we had to facilitate that activity. No one anticipated a slump in commodity prices leading to the closure of mines in Francistown. For now I can just confirm that yes were affected ,” he said.

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