The presidential villas in Lilongwe, which government constructed to provide top of the range accommodation to visiting heads of state and other VVIP dignitaries, will be let out, Weekend Nation can reveal.
The ultra-modern purpose-built villas— part of what is called the Umodzi Park also comprising the country’s first five star Presidential Hotel and the state-of-the-art Bingu International Conference Centre (BICC) —will be let out to partly meet maintenance cost.
Tourism Minister Kondwani Nankhumwa, whose ministry is the overseer of the Park, told the Weekend Nation on Tuesday that individuals or institutions will have the option of leasing the facilities for short or long term accommodation while in Malawi’s administrative capital city.
The park, along the Presidential Highway in Lilongwe, was developed with a loan from the government of the People’s Republic of China following the diplomatic switch seven years ago from Taiwan under former president the late Bingu wa Mutharika.
The same loan package covered the construction of the Chitipa-Karonga Road, the face-changing Malawi Parliament building in Lilongwe, the Malawi University of Science and Technology at Ndata in Thyolo and the National Sports Stadium also in Lilongwe which is in completion stages.
“It is true that a decision has been made that the presidential villas be let out. They will be available for short term accommodation or to those that would want to lease them as houses or lodges. They can’t just be left to be idle until when specialised people visit Malawi,” said Nankhumwa in a telephone interview.
The minister gave the interview in response to a question probing the progress that government has made on identifying a manager for the Park which has been nearly work-shy for the last two years after its completion.
“The administration of the leases will be purely in the hands of the manager,” he explained. “They are the ones who will also determine the rates.”
Since being completed, the villas have been used only twice—to accommodate visiting heads of state and government during the 2013 Southern Africa Development Community (Sadc) Heads of State and Government Summit and foreign Catholic Church leaders during the Amecea conference mid this year.
“It must be appreciated that foreign heads of State and government or other VVIP international dignitaries will not be visiting Malawi every day. Therefore, to keep them in a state of not being used would not be cost effective,” he explained. “The facilities have to be maintained and other running costs be met.”
According to Nankhumwa, government recently identified Peermont Hotels, Casinos and Resorts—an award-winning hospitality and gaming company that operates in South Africa and Botswana—to run the park with an initial capital injection of $580 million (K290 billion).
“Peermont has an excellent track record in the design, development, management, ownership and operation of multi-faceted integrated resorts, including hotels, casinos, convention centres, retail centres, health spas, restaurants, bars and other sport and entertainment facilities,” claimed Nankhumwa.
The minister explained that the Presidential Hotel could not be officially opened although it started operating on November 14, 2014 as agreed because the operator discovered problems that are currently been rectified.
“For instance, they discovered that the pipes that were installed were small and when they try to run the water, the pipes could burst,” he explained, adding that a few upgrades and modifications are also being made to the facility to suit its status.
He said the face-lifts and make-overs are scheduled to be completed by January 31, 2015 ahead of a “soft opening”— the period when the entire facility and its services will be tested by hosting a few guests.
“The tests [during the soft opening] are expected to run for about a month. Thereafter, the official opening by the President will follow in March, 2015,” said Nankhumwa.
He disclosed that Peermont is already recruiting staff and are undergoing induction in readiness for the hotel’s opening.
Of the three facilities that make the Umodzi Park, it is only the BICC that is being fully used.
Founded in April 1995 under the name Global Resorts, Peermont’s first project was the re-launch of the Sheraton Hotel as The Grand Palm Hotel and Casino Resort in Botswana.
This was followed by the official opening of the first official licensed casino in South Africa, Graceland Hotel, Casino and Country Club and the awarding of the Caesars Gauteng (now Emperors Palace) casino licence, both in 1998.
In 2003, the company rebranded as Peermont Global and listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE) in South Africa and two years later, a new hotel at The Grand Palm was built and the hotel at San Lameer and two additional hotels in Botswana were purchased. n