After spending N$189 million on its construction, a further N$51 million is needed to revive the Zambezi Waterfront Tourism Park, which has not been operational for nearly seven years.
The lodging facility is located on the banks of the Zambezi River in Katima Mulilo.
Back in 2020, tourism minister Pohamba Shifeta admitted that the government gravely erred when it pumped millions into a project it had no capacity to run.
“Building such facilities requires money, but after construction, you remain with an unused facility, and no plans to benefit from it. I must openly
state that anyone can say 'no, it was right [to invest in ZWTP]', [but] we should stop as the central government to build facilities that we know we cannot run,” he said then.
Instead, Shifeta said the government’s role should be capacitating and ensuring that the Namibia Wildlife Resorts (NWR) is run prudently and profitably. NWR is the state-owned enterprise mandated to run tourism facilities within protected areas.
He stressed that the government started on the wrong foot by investing millions in the park, and admitted that it does not have the network [clientele base] to feed a tourism facility; a prerequisite for survival in the tourism industry.
At the time, the park resorted under the auspices of the tourism ministry.
Shifeta’s sentiments remain true now as they were then. While the government is said to have spent N$189 million to establish the tourism facility, N$57 million reportedly vanished into thin air, without a trace.
Back in 2020, Shifeta told Nampa that the government was at an advanced stage to have the land on which the park is built transferred to it, and have the ZWTP dissolved to allow the NWR to take over the facility. The land in question is owned by the Katima Mulilo Town Council, despite the State having paid for its servicing.
At the time, dissolving ZWTP was seen as the best option for the government, as the legal process of transferring one business into another’s name is a cumbersome exercise.
“If we dissolve the company, its whole entire assets will be transferred to NWR. It will become an NWR asset,” Shifeta said that year.
Nothing has happened in this regard.
Last week, the Ministry of Finance and Public Enterprises sang from the same hymn book. “We are at an advanced stage to facilitate the transfer of Zambezi Waterfront to the best fit of a State entity to run it. The media will be kept abreast of the developments.”
“In 2020, the ministry [of tourism] approached NWR with a proposal for taking over the Zambezi Waterfront, and NWR conducted an assessment that estimated a renovation cost of N$51 million,” Wilson Shikoto, the finance and public enterprises ministry’s spokesperson dropped the new bombshell last week.
He blamed Covid-19 as the main stumbling block in a smooth transfer.
“Unfortunately, the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic severely impacted the tourism industry, including NWR and other establishments. The unforeseen financial constraints caused by the pandemic, which impacted the entire tourism sector, made it challenging for NWR to secure the necessary resources to fund the renovation of the infrastructure,” Shikoto said.
He, however, hastened to note that the government and NWR have been actively engaged in addressing the situation, seeking alternative solutions and exploring funding opportunities.
“The goal remains to revitalise the Zambezi Waterfront, and our efforts are geared towards finding a sustainable solution,” he stated emphatically. Shikoto was responding to detailed questions sent to him last week.
Since its completion, the commercial side of the Zambezi Waterfront failed to take off, primarily due to the government’s lack of capacity to run it.
Images seen by New Era depict a lodging facility which is fast turning into a white elephant at an unprecedented pace, with roofs falling off the bungalows, while cracked walls can be detected almost everywhere.
This publicationcould not independently determine the timeliness of the disturbing pictures. Further responding to questions last week, the finance and public enterprises ministry, under whose purview the Zambezi waterfront now resorts, also acknowledged their shortcomings.
“We acknowledge that there have been challenges with the condition of the ZWF infrastructure, and it is true that it has deteriorated over time. We understand the concerns regarding this matter, and have been actively working towards finding a solution,” Shikoto continued.
He said the ministry’s main focus is developing a comprehensive plan to improve and revitalise the waterfront infrastructure “for the benefit of all stakeholders involved”.
Since 2016, no business has taken place at the park.
The operations were brought to a grand halt, following allegations of dishonesty and maladministration.
The park has an administration block, 15 bungalows, a camping site, conference facilities and walkways on land measuring 22 hectares. In 2020, about 17 employees were on the park’s payroll, reduced to only maintaining its infrastructure, with the hope that one day, the government will find a solution on how to run the tourism park.
At the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, the park was used as a quarantine facility.
-Additional reporting by Nampa.