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Wednesday 1 August 2012

Mosi oa Tunya’s dreams go up in smoke

Many residents hoped for jobs and that the infrastructure that would be constructed and left behind for life after UNWTO would change the face of their town.

However, with reports that a major project — the proposed convention centre that was supposed to house two hotels, a conference centre to accommodate more than 5 000 delegates and a shopping mall, would no longer be constructed — the zeal in some residents over the assembly has markedly gone down.

There were great expectations that hundreds of unemployed youths and those with qualifications like Class One builders would be employed.

There were great expectations that individuals’ status in society would improve for those who would have secure employment.

Residents were dreaming big, hoping and praying that the proposed developments would really change their lives as they anticipated that as locals, they would be the ones to provide all the much needed labour for the projects.

But the unemployed are losing patience. Only a few builders will be engaged for the expansion project of the Victoria Falls District Hospital.

To stakeholders, to the general residents, there is a feeling that dreams of a new Victoria Falls are slowly coming to an end.

Soon after Zimbabwe and Zambia won the bid, Victoria Falls was said to be poised for a major uplift ahead of the general assembly.

There were reports that the Government had raised more than $200 million for different projects earmarked for the resort town.

At the same time, there were revelations that some regional financial institutions had availed tailor-made loan facilities for refurbishment of infrastructure.

According to stakeholders giving presentations during a meeting early this year, resources had been put in place for the expansion and refurbishment of Victoria Falls District Hospital into a state-of-the-art institution, upgrading Victoria Falls International Airport, relocation of the dumpsite, provision of dust bins for every household, television and radio access and the rehabilitation of the sewer and water reticulation systems, among other major projects.

And for a hospitality sector that has over the past six to seven years failed to refurbish because of the challenges ranging from unavailability of credit lines and unavailability of attractive loans from banks, this was a great opportunity to ride the wave and get the assistance to upgrade.

Reports were that the Government had released $70 million under the Zimbabwe Economic and Trade Revival facility to benefit players in the tourism industry.

The Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe was said to have been given a $150 million lifeline for the expansion of the Victoria Falls International Airport runway, a new terminal and tower.

The Government was said to have also released $2,5 million for the rehabilitation of trunk roads, $822 000 for the rehabilitation of council roads, $6,9 million for the upgrading of Victoria Falls Hospital and other health facilities.

For upgrading of Victoria Falls water supply, Zinwa and Victoria Falls Municipality were allocated about $15 million.

Works included upgrading of the water sewer plant, construction of a 1 000-cubic metre reservoir for Mkhosana and the rehabilitation and expansion of sewer ponds.

The International Development Bank of South Africa was also said to have come up with a $30 million facility to be accessed through the International Development Bank of Zimbabwe.

It is now almost a year since the country won the bid in South Korea to co-host the mega event which according to the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Tourism and Hospitality Industry, Dr Sylvester Maunganidze, was the only chance this generation had of hosting the conference as the next time was likely to be after 300 years.

“So we have to make the best out of it. UN is a member-state organisation and over 100 plus sovereign countries, all members of the UN visiting us, it therefore becomes a diplomatic engagement and therefore the need for diplomatic expectations. We are therefore ambassadors of the country and everything we do should be in the best interest of the country,” he said recently.
Dr Maunganidze added that Zimbabwe had it all in terms of attractions, the people and the infrastructure.

“What therefore is remaining are the little details, the finishing touches like clean rooms without mosquitoes or lice, clean cutlery and availability of needles, buttons, toothbrushes in the rooms for the guests. They are the little things that count,” he said.

Unfortunately while that might be true, there is really nothing on the ground to show that the country is ready to host the event.

Week in, week out government officials report that there is progress taking place and that things are shaping up but in reality, nothing is happening.

While no one is disputing the fact that what won the bid was not new structures but the existing infrastructure, and that Rooney’s went and showcased its state-of-the-art tents which they said accommodate over 3 000 people, with air-condition, perfect lighting and all, residents, stakeholders especially of Victoria Falls had the idea that after the UNWTO, there would be left a legacy, there would be left infrastructure, borne out of the general assembly.

But now, the only tangible thing is part of the pre-cast wall that is being constructed at the Victoria Falls District Hospital.

Yet others are contending that construction of a beautiful wall before the wards are extended, before a new theatre is put in place, any machinery is bought is like putting the cart before the horse.
Residents say that an audit currently taking place should end sooner rather than later so that the construction continues.

At is stands; work towards the refurbishment of the hospital has been brought to a halt after the hospital staff allegedly refused to pay suppliers of services.

The hospital authorities are said to be querying the tender processes that saw a lot of Victoria Falls-based companies getting tenders to supply the institution with various services for the first time in a number of years.

The Mayor of Victoria Falls who is also the UNWTO Local Organising Committee chairperson, Councilor Nkosilathi Jiyane said work at the hospital shall remain stalled until an audit is carried out on how tenders were awarded.

“We hope that work shall resume soon. At the moment nothing is happening there because some staff queried the tender process and as a result, many people who had supplied building material and other goods to the hospital were not paid and they had to stop work.

“Work is supposed to include refurbishment of wards, construction of a new block, putting up of a pre-cast wall and medical supplies,” he said.

On the convention centre, Clr Jiyane said that was no longer going to be done within time for the UNWTO conference next year but shall, instead be a long term project.

“The Government had wanted to construct a convention centre for the UNWTO conference but now we are instead going to come up with a semi-permanent conference facility near the CHOGM Park and it is going to be constructed by a South African company that was involved in the construction of World Cup stadiums in that country.

“The temporary structure can last up to about 25 years and it takes six months to put up. We are therefore within time for the UNWTO conference,” he added.

Residents said when the country hosted (Commonwealth Heads Of Government Meeting) CHOGM in the late 1990’s, the raw water pumping system was revamped and to this day they attribute its existence to the Commonwealth event. They also said ablution blocks for school children were constructed at Chamabondo Primary School which was hosting some delegates.

They reckon that the UNWTO is most likely to benefit hotels and tour companies and leave no lasting memory for them.

“We thought there would be so much development ahead of the general assembly but with less than a year to go, there is really nothing for us. We thought we would be employed even for menial work but zero.

“Most of the employees doing the wall at Victoria Falls District Hospital are employed by that Bulawayo company that won the tender. So really, there isn’t anything for us,” said Mr Bhekimpilo Siziba from Chinotimba Township.

A tourism operator who spoke on condition of anonymity said operators had failed to access funds from any local and regional banks which promised to assist them so that they could recapitalise.
“If there are facilities, tell me. We had hoped for facilities that have low interest rates but there is nothing like that out there.

“That’s why even if you go around Victoria Falls no one really is refurbishing or has beefed up tour vehicles.

“On top of that, Statutory Instrument (SI) 124 and 125 put in place for us to recapitalise is not there. Zimra at the border says it expired while on the other hand, government officials say that it is there. So there is no facility for the tourism sector players to recapitalise,” said a tour operator.

Zimbabwe Tourism Authority, chief operating officer, Mr Givemore Chidzidzi said the SI had run its course and was no longer relevant.

“Preparations for the general assembly are taking place in Victoria Falls and other areas. Operators are equipping themselves but they have a major challenge on incentives to re-equip, refurbish and retool.

“The SI to do with the buying of vehicles duty-free expired. There was SI 43 and 60 of 2009 which were replaced by SI 124 and 125 of 2011 but that facility has been reduced and therefore there is an outcry from the sector.

“We would have wished for the SI to be extended towards the UNWTO. We need investment in Victoria Falls; we need right types of vehicles, coaches, bedding and all that to make our product the best,” he said.