The recent improvement of facilities at Mwalimu Julius Nyerere International Airport (JNIA) in Dar es Salaam is worthy of appreciation. It is a welcome break from what was for long clearly an embarrassment to our country.
As acknowledged by travel experts, an airport is the visitor’s first point of contact with a country and the first opportunity to develop an opinion about that country.
Airports everywhere are display windows through which countries portray themselves as good enough to attract and indeed deserve a foreigner’s visit be it for leisure or for business.
In the early 1970s Founding President Mwalimu JK Nyerere, ordered a comprehensive expansion of Nyerere Road (then known as Pugu Road) that leads to the nation’s major airport.
Trees and flowers were planted along the road, Mwalimu’s intention being to portray Tanzanians as disciplined and hardworking people who cared for the environment and aesthetics.
Efforts to renovate and reconstruct the airport are therefore an integral part of positive advertisement of the country’s endowments and aspirations.
The only trouble is whether these modest efforts by the Transport ministry will be sustained. We sincerely wish they were!
For some years, the state of JNIA was but a reflection of a poor nation whose economy was fast crumbling. Most facilities at the airport, including air conditioners, toilets and the water supply system were in poor shape.
True, the renovation and reconstruction funded and supervised by the government may be limited in scope, but the work represents a laudable display of responsibility by a public agency as the airport now looks far more presentable than only months ago.
The airport reconstruction programme has been carried out with little obstruction to the movement of travellers and generally minimum inconvenience, a credit to the ministry.
There is still a lot to be done to improve this airport, though. For instance, the car park calls for further expansion and care as it has become choked and is also poorly maintained. The airport authorities need to be stricter in enforcing traffic regulations.
In developing and operating our airports, we should settle on a policy of Public Private Partnerships (PPP) as the policy is a time-tested means by which to develop the country’s aviation infrastructure.
The current trend in aviation is to have airports developed and managed by private investors while governments focus on regulation and safety. What’s of greatest importance is to ensure due diligence in choosing the partners.
The private sector is better placed to implement the ministry’s proposed plan to incorporate revenue-generating facilities such as shopping malls at airports in the country as a means of enhancing their financial viability.
The financial risk involved in these schemes would be better left to private providers, including their banks or financiers, rather than allowing the squandering of public funds with no one taking responsibility.
The government should enhance the procurement process under which private developers are chosen and should not abandon PPP as a policy option. We need to have policy coordination and coherence in the government if we are to save public funds from being expended on projects that can be more efficiently undertaken through PPPs.