Entrepreneur and philanthropist Napoleon Dzombe says frustrations encountered in the course of putting up a multi-billion kwacha modern bus terminal in Lilongwe inspired him to embark on the Kalipano Hotel project in Dowa District.
In an interview yesterday, the founder of Mtalimanja Holdings said in 2018 his company acquired land and developed concepts for the construction of an international bus terminal in Area 46 in Lilongwe, off the Lilongwe West Bypass Road. The project was estimated to cost $19 million.
But Dzombe said he abandoned the project after public officers kept on demanding more money to process paperwork which never materialised for a good three years.
He said by the time he abandoned the project, he had paid more than K500 million to different government departments, including Ministry of Lands, Lilongwe City Council (LCC) and Department of Environmental Affairs.
Said Dzombe: “The Malawi Government should be able to support people willing to invest in this country. Last week, I was in Uganda and I learnt that land for an investor is given for free and they also give a 10-year tax holiday.
“If this was the arrangement here, I think we would have more investors in Malawi and this country would not be same.”
He said after buying land from another investor, whom government had identified for the project, he was asked to pay K234 million in development fees.
Dzombe said he paid the amount and had designs done in China at a cost of $50 000 and LCC charged him K13 million as scrutiny fee which he duly paid only to be told that the structural drawings and plans needed to be designed locally.
He said he engaged a local consultant who charged K100 million for the designs which he paid and again handed over the plans to the council.
Said Dzombe: “For the same plan, one charged K900 million, another one K200 million and the lowest was K100 million. So, after this we were allowed to start working on the ground [land] and we deployed heavy equipment to clear the ground, but a week after LCC stopped us, saying the scrutiny fee had increased to K25 million so we needed to pay K12 million more before we could proceed with our work. At this point, I was frustrated.”
He said he had also paid K6.5 million for a consultant to help with environmental-related papers “which took forever to get approvals from the Environmental Department”.
Dzombe said he did not understand why government treated him this way for a project that would benefit the whole country.
He said this marked his U-turn on the bus project and opted to build Kalipano Hotel in Dowa which is being managed by Sunbird Tourism plc.
The international bus depot project deal was mooted at the 2016 Malawi Investment Forum where Khato Civils emerged as a prospective investor after signing three memoranda of understanding (MoUs) to construct the Salima–Lilongwe Waterway, to implement toll-gate project and, also construct the intercity and international bus terminal.
But in 2017, controversy arose after Ministry of Lands allocated land earmarked for the terminal to another local investor, David Bonongwe contrary to LCC’s plan to have Khato Civils as an investor.
Ministry of Lands, at the time, told our sister newspaper Nation on Sunday that Bonongwe had a more convincing development plan than Khato Civils.
But in a twist of events, Bonongwe of Moni Bus Services sold the land and his concept to Dzombe in 2018 after failing to pay development fees.
The bus terminal, which from the plan will include banks and a shopping mall, is part of Lilongwe Urban Plan in which the council plans to partner an investor.
LCC’s chief executive officer Macloud Kadammanja and spokesperson Tamara Chafunya were yet to respond to our questionnaire by press time yesterday.
On the other hand, Malawi Investment and Trade Centre CEO Paul Khwengwere asked for more time while Minister of Lands Deus Gumba Banda did not pick up calls yesterday evening.