Nearly 20 years on, while the dream of International airport for Garowe city is ever becoming closer to reality, Puntland Mirror has received the dismal news that the improvement works have been stalled due to lack of funds in the last six months. As this article is being published, no construction work is taking place in the airport.
This gloomy news followed on the heels of jubilant announcement of the construction of a new airport in Galkayo town by Puntland President Abdiweli Mohamed Ali Gas.
The questions our readers might ask could vary from why this vital work was stopped, what happened to the airport project funds ($6 million) to how much work has been accomplished. More worryingly is the growing fear and misgiving that the project may not be realized in the near future. Our readers might also be sceptical about the logic behind seeking funds for a new airport while the two already initiated airport projects – Bosaso and Garowe – are incomplete owing to funding constraints.
But we can draw comfort from the fact that Garowe airport construction has been a long but hopeful journey, a vision borne out of the infrastructure needs of Puntland and the status of Garowe as the capital city of Puntland, a hope kindled by the generous donation of the Government of the State of Kuwait.
A glimpse of the history of Garowe International Airport
Soon after Garowe town was voted to become the administrative capital city of Puntland State of Somalia in 1998, it was envisaged that the town was poised to increase its built area gradually. By 2002, the growth and expansion of the city began to gather pace and spread out beyond its old perimeters to the land in the western and eastern sides of the city and across Majo-maqarshe dry stream in the north and north-west. However, the city’s expansion to the south and south east was stifled by the old Garowe airstrip. Due to its small size, rugged terrain and close proximity to homes in the outskirts of Hantiwadaag quarter of the city, this airstrip was no longer safe for aircrafts to use it nor was it suitable for development and improvement as the city’s future international airport.
At the end of 2002, Garowe community made the decision to sell the land in the old Garowe airstrip to raise funds to construct a new international airport outside of the city. A committee comprising of different segments of the society such as intellectuals, community leaders, religious leaders and business people (chaired by Hon. Haji Abdi Haji Yusuf also known as (Shuluco) was established to oversee the development and implementation of the project. Shuluco’s committee commissioned the designation, surveying, planning and demarcation of future Garowe International Airport runway some 15km east of the city. It has launched painstaking and successful fundraising campaign within and outside of Puntland. The consulting and construction of the airport was awarded to Eng. Abdulqadir Isse Haji and his company “Mubarak Construction Company” based in Garowe.
The project had become a rallying call for Nugal community and business people in and outside of the country who responded with generous contributions and support. The project was later endorsed by Puntland government and in 2005 late Puntland President Mohamoud Muse Hirsi (Adde) administration and the Australian Mining Company, Range Resource, made donations to the project. But it was very obvious that the funds were not sufficient to build asphalt or concrete quality runway but could only deliver a reinforced gravel surface runway.
When former Puntland President Abdirahman Sh. Mohamed Faroole came to power in January 2009, the bulk of the work was already accomplished by Mr. Shuluco’s committee and the construction was in its final stage of gravel surface runway. Few months later, former President Faroole officially opened the new Garowe airport.
President Faroole’s administration also built a small terminal for the airport which was officially opened in his last days in office.
Timeline for the present Kuwaiti supported Garowe Airport Improvement Project
Two highly respected individuals, Diplomat Omar Haji Ali and Mr Faisal Yusuf Hawaar,had tirelessly worked to seek funding for the construction of Garowe Airport in Garowe and Makhir University in Baran from Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development (KFAED) and in December 2010 Government of the State of Kuwait has generously made financial pledge amounting to $10 million for the two projects. Puntland government officials namely, former Puntland President Abdirahman Sheikh Mohamed Faroole and former Puntland Minister Gen Abdullahi Ahmed Jama (Ilkajiir), have given time and energy to help secure the grant.
In October 2013, Puntland Finance Minister Farah Ali Jama signed the $10 million Airport and University Agreement with Hamad Al-Omar, the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development Deputy Director-General subsequently singed another agreement with Nabeel Abdul-Raheem Consulting Firm (NARCO) in Kuwait to provide consultancy services in the design and development of the two projects.
Part of the grant amounting to $6 million was allocated for Garowe Airport Improvement project while the remaining $4 million was earmarked for the construction of Makhir University.
In his first month in office (2014), Puntland President Abdiweli Mohamed Ali Gas promised fairness, transparency and accountability in the tendering processes of development projects in Puntland. He made good on his promise as a very open and transparent bidding process was conducted and the winner was Turkish construction company (SMK-Metag) was awarded with Garowe Airport Improvement Project contract. Puntland President Abdiweli Mohamed Ali Gas officially laid the foundation stone for the project on 26 December 2015.
What has gone wrong in project completion?
The construction works have been stopped in the past six months. A great deal of work has been done but the top reinforced concrete layer of the runway has not been laid yet.
Puntland Mirror has learned that there is a shroud of secrecy over the project funds. Engineering experts have estimated that around $4 million of the grant has been used for the construction works. Government sources could not confirm that information but if it was true, it is not clear how and where the rest of the allocation (about $2 million) was utilised. It has been suggested that some of the $2 million was spent on consultancy and other preparatory works (surveying, ground soil analysis, etc).
Our sources confirm that the Ministry of Aviation and Airport don’t have any information or documents about the project and could not answer questions about the progress of the project. Does this complacency amount to negligence of his duty? Does it suggest a lack of competence on the part of the Minister or something more sinister such as a cover-up of missing funds?
Similarly, the the Ministry of Public Works and Transport is not engaged in the implementation of this very important project.
Puntland Mirror has also learned that, back in 2015, President Abdiweli has appointed then Minister of Finance (now the Minister of Planning and International Cooperation) Mr Shire Haji Farah to represent the government in this project and directly with the consultancy firm, the intermediaries as well as with the donor.
Our sources confirm that Mr Shire has given conflicting accounts about the interruption of the construction work. At one point he explained that funds will be released very soon by Kuwait Fund while in another government meeting he attributed the delays to changes in the position of Foreign Minister in Kuwaiti government and could not comment when funds might be received. Strangely, our sources couldn’t confirm whether he was referring to the remaining $2 million of the allocation or extra funds from Kuwait Fund.
It is equally worrying to learn that the construction project owes considerable amount of money to business people in Garowe. It is not clear who, the Turkish company or Puntland government, is liable for this debt.
Our sources paint a very bleak picture about the completion of the project. In the last three years, President Abdiweli Ali Gas has repeatedly gloated over his desire, determination and commitment to improve the infrastructure of Puntland. The President promised in a number of occasions that “Puntland will possess not one, not two, but three international airports before the end of his term.” Puntland Mirror has learned that he is unhappy with the situation and is waiting for up-to-date briefing from Mr. Shire.
Mr. Ali Jama, a development analyst based in Garowe, minced no words for these unfinished projects, which are increasing becoming the norm in Puntland, when he described them as “half-baked projects with a possibility of becoming white elephants unless completed.” He added, “It is sometimes frustrating to see people’s hopes and expectations raised with window-dressing and far-fetched promises.”
It is no secret that there are still some vital works that need to be done in Bosaso airport as well, such as the construction of the airport terminal. IGAD’s promise to assist in the construction of the terminal has not materialised yet.
While we are all optimistic about the future of the project, many people in Garowe believe that the only hope for the completion of Garowe Airport Improvement Project is the direct involvement of President Gas in seeking funds for it while others would encourage Garowe community to once again rise to the challenge and raise the required funds to complete the project. It is also likely that Garowe community might turn to the Somali Federal Government and President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo for support.
Puntland Mirror will continue the investigation into this crucial project and will keep its readers updated on any development and how the story unfolds.