BLANTYRE (Serah Makondetsa) –The Malawian government dropped a bombshell this week when it confirmed that an half-completed K800-million refurbishment of the Kamuzu Stadium in Blantyre is to be ditched, the stadium demolished and a new stadium constructed in Malawi’s commercial capital.
The demolition will involve the destruction of four floodlight towers installed by a South African company, MK Electrical Installations, in 2011 at a cost of about K240-million .
The towers have stood without electrical cabling for the past five years, allegedly because the contractor was not paid for phase two.
Other aspects of the refurbishment, including security fencing and the renovation of a VIP stand, were never undertaken.
Neither the presidency nor the sports ministry would estimate what a new stadium will cost, saying the government will enter partnerships on the project with private investors.
However, the recently completed Bingu National Stadium in Lilongwe, built by with loan finance from the Chinese government, cost close to K30-billion (about $70-million).
Minister of Sports Henry Mussa told amaBhungane that the government plans to demolish the Kamuzu Stadium and construct a new stadium as a way of beautifying Blantyre.
“Kamuzu Stadium has outlived its time. We just have to replace it and construct another one.”
President Peter Mutharika also hinted in February last year that his government would like to beautify the city by, among other things, constructing a five-star hotel, a conference centre and a new stadium.
Mussa added that the floodlights project at Kamuzu had to be discontinued because it had outlived its lifespan and had become unsafe and a threat to the lives of Malawians.
“What the president said is that in Blantyre we have dilapidated buildings. When he made those remarks I engaged the former Blantyre mayor, Noel Chalamanda, to map the way forward.
“Kamuzu Stadium has outlived its time. We just have to replace it and construct another one.” He suggested that floodlights might come later for night events.
Former mayor Chalamanda confirmed the government’s decision to abandon the refurbishment and build a new structure, saying he was asked to look for land for the project.
The director of sports in the sports ministry, Jameson Ndalama, revealed that work on the floodlights stalled when the government failed to pay for the construction of new towers under phase two of the project.
“The contractor was paid for phase one, which was to knock down the old towers. I can’t remember the exact cost.
“He was not paid for phase two and he said he will not continue with the work until he is paid.”
“…contractor then fell silent, amid rumours that its sole director had died…”
The principal secretary for sport, Samuel Madula, confirmed this, saying that MK Electrical was paid K240-million (about R6-million) for phase one of the floodlights project and was owed more than K500-million (about R12-million) for the erection of the new towers.
Ndalama said the contractor then fell silent, amid rumours that its sole director, Maxwell van Os, had died.
A woman associated with the Pretoria-based company, who refused to give her name, confirmed in a telephone interview that Van Os died “three years ago”.
She refused to provide further information.
The director of communications in the Presidency, Bright Molande, blamed the administration of former president Joyce Banda for the failure of the floodlights contract, adding that it made no logical sense to link an old project with the plans to build another stadium.
“Floodlights are not a stadium. You can’t bring the two together,” he said.
In fact, the project was initiated in 2010 during the first administration of the current ruling party, the Democratic Progressive Party [DPP], then headed by the late Bingu wa Mutharika.
“…the private sector will build and operate new stadium…”
Asked about how the government would pay for the new stadium amid an ongoing budget crisis, Mussa said the private sector “will build and operate, while the government provides the land and will give consideration to waiving import duties [on materials]”.
He argued that the use of the facility to host international events “will keep the investment going”.
“It’s not just about beautifying the city; the facility will also be used by the youth, for sporting activities and most importantly, will host various international activities.
“The investor can also bring in a casino. The investor will collect all gate entry proceeds. Don’t you think such an investment will make money?”
Malawi has struggled with a budget crisis since foreign aid donors withdrew direct support for the government in the wake of the Cashgate scandal.
“…Malawi owes foreign lending institutions $1.9-billion…”
In November last year the finance ministry confirmed that Malawi owes foreign lending institutions $1.9-billion (K1.3-trillion), while domestic borrowing stands at a further K700-billion.
Total government debt stands at double the 2016/7 budget.
At the same time, half Malawi’s 18-million people face food insecurity.
University of Malawi economist Ben Kalua expressed doubts about the possibility of private investors funding the construction of a new stadium, given the scale of government debt.
Kalua said the government has not been able to raise money by issuing bonds.
“You can’t begin to plan a new stadium if a much smaller floodlight project has hit the wall,” he said.
“The government does not have credibility with the private sector and it will be difficult to get it to partner on such a huge project.”