Government says it will spend over K4 billion to rehabilitate Chileka International Airport to make it usable in three months.
The rehabilitations will be done while awaiting full refurbishment of the airport from loan facilities that government obtained in recent years through Parliament.
Ministry of Transport and Public Works Principal Secretary Francis Chinsinga said this when he appeared before the Budget and Finance Committee of Parliament to explain transport and public works issues, including the Chileka International Airport.
The airport, according to Chinsinga, lacks some operational equipment such as fire-fighting equipment, a fully fledged clinic with an ambulance and its runway developed cracks.
The development has forced some airlines to halt operations due to safety and security concerns. The latest is South African Airways (SAA) which announced its decision two weeks ago.
Said Chinsinga: “Currently, as a short and medium-term measure, we are procuring a contractor to rehabilitate the runway using government resources. We are maintaining the firefighting engine and maintaining the perimeter fence to enhance security. We believe the rehabilitation works will be done within three months.
“Treasury has assured the ministry that funds will be made available to fast track the rehabilitation of the airport to ensure it is up and running as expected. We are also in the process of procuring new firefighting engines and two ambulances, among others, using the European Investment Bank and Exim Bank of China loans.”
He said the calling off of SAA flights to Chileka Airport prompted government to work with speed to fix the security concerns and today, the officials will inspect whether the measures taken can lead to resumption of operations.
Chinsinga said the SAA decision was influenced by the South African Aviation Authority which inspected the facility and observed it was lacking some safety standards.
In 2015, government obtained 21 million euro (about K17 billion) loan from the European Investment Bank (EIB) and in 2018, Parliament authorised to borrow $168 million (about K122 billion) from Export and Import (Exim) Bank of China for the rehabilitation of Kamuzu and Chileka international airports.
Budget and Finance Committee of Parliament chairperson Rhino Chiphiko questioned why the EIB loan was not utilisedsince 2015.
But Chinsinga attributed the development to strict conditions of the loan which required the establishment of a Project Implementation Unit to be manned by a foreign consultant and that government needed to follow EIB procurement procedures which remain cumbersome.
He admitted that there has been laxity on the part of government considering serious investments in airport infrastructure, adding that government is in the process of establishing a Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to focus on the enhancement of air transport business.
Chinsinga said the major problem has been that revenue from airports goes to account number one without investing in the development of airports; hence, the aviation authority will help to change the trend.
On the establishment of the CAA, Chiphiko cautioned against political abuse by government as is the case with some parastatals. n