LILONGWE-(MaraviPost)-What used to be a haven for thriving businesses, both small, medium, and large scale, now remains a sorry-sight of hopeless traders, who are mostly wallowing in the abyss of retrenchments, massive business closures, huge loans and interest accumulations, let alone business stagnation.
The place is Mponela, described and ranked by many as probably the fastest-growing trading center from Nsanje to Chitipa, Nkhotakota to Mchinji.
Situated about 56 kilometers north of the Capital City, Lilongwe, Mponela is now a refuge of desperate and distraught bunch of businessmen and women who are panting and gasping for the last breath of their respective businesses ventures.
The unsuspecting business men and women are now victims of unpopular government decision to ban lake shore conferences earlier this year.
On June 8, 2022, President Lazarus Chakwera’s Tonse Alliance government through Secretary to President and Cabinet (SPC) Colleen Zamba announced at a meeting with Principal Secretaries from various government ministries and departments that the government has banned lakeshore meetings for all civil servants.
Zamba indicated that all meetings were to be held within duty stations and that board meetings for parastatals must be held in boardrooms.
Zamba said the measures were introduced to tame waste because people in the public sector largely use activities to benefit financially.
She said: “One of the important aspects in the civil service is the optimal use of human and financial resources. So, we have issued circulars on the new measures, explaining them to the PSs and as the President announced, more will be coming.”
However, exactly five months down the line, the business atmosphere at Mponela has turned from bad to worse as most businesses-ranging from restaurants to bars- are facing closure with others already downsizing staff.
Our visit today at the trading center revealed that most businesses have lost between 80 to 90 percent of their generated revenue due to the ban, and the situation has forced most accommodation and hospitality outlets operating at the trading center to lay-off their staff.
Maravi Post found out that even small-scale businesses like restaurants, Kabaza operators, second-hand clothes traders, barber shops, saloons and other small traders have faltered.
But to the contrary, we found out that while government officials continue to elude Mponela in as far as conducting meetings is concerned, on one hand, business is usual and normal in other areas such as Dedza, Liwonde, Mchinji and Kasungu where civil servants are notably seen conducting the barred workshops.
Distraught by discovering that business remains as usual in other parts of the country, Maravi Post has seen a letter co-signed by ten hotel representatives at Mponela, addressed to Ministry of Tourism, and copied to Member of Parliament (MP) for the Area Darlington Harawa.
In the said letter, the operators complain that the ban of meetings in Mponela has led to poor living standards of many as hotels have sent a lot of their employees on unpaid leave, adding that and there is a threat of terminating their services if the situation doesn’t change.
“This situation is negatively affecting our efforts of assisting government in job creation. You may wish to know that the ban has created far much negative impacts apart from hotels alone. It has affected small restaurants, small suppliers (including farmers) who used to supply various materials to hotels and many others,” they bitterly wail.
As a consequence, the operators also argue that they fear that the situation is likely going to indirectly affect loan servicing to National Economic Empowerment Fund Limited (NEEF) “as their reliable markets have almost closed.”
The ten operators that have jointly lodged a complaint to government include Linde Hotels, Cornerstone Motel, Chikho Hotel, Hillside Lodge, Vintage Lodge, Rams Lodge, Holiday Lodge, Kasangadzi Lodge, Discovery Lodge and Ambele Lodge.
Chairperson for Mponela Business Association Kondwani Kuwonga-Nkhoma has told us that business climate in the area has worsened as most businesses are now off-track, especially lodges, motels and other accommodation units.
Kuwonga-Nkhoma explained that ever-since, Mponela has been likened to a fastest growth center in Malawi and that its hotel industry has been a major element for the past development. But he lamented that such a story is now barren due to the ban.
Weighing in, Linde Hotels General Manager Blessings Kakwela said since the austerity measures were introduced, their business has so far lost an estimated revenue of between 80 to 90 percent.
He described the situation at the moment as “terrible.”
According to Kakwela, Linde Hotels, as it stands, is even struggling to pay overhead costs, adding that it is also finding it hard to meet its total wage bill as well as paying for basic utilities such as water and electricity.
“In fact, we are also struggling to meet all our bank obligations and in the next few months, I strongly that this situation, if not reversed, it will reach a crisis portion and would see us retrenching,” he said.
Linde Hotels, according to our information we have gathered, has a total workforce of about 362 people but it is indicated that the company is planning to fire over half of its work-force.
Kakwela added: “Whilst we were somehow recovering from COVID-19 pandemic, boom! Came this punitive ban and things are tough for us and we are even contemplating turning both Thope Lodge and Linde Hotel into academic institutions.”
Speaking separately, Lawrence Nyirongo, who operates Hillside Lodge, said business at Mponela has completely grounded to a complete halt as a result of government decision to institute a ban.
He stressed that local traders have over the past years been depending on the guests who visit Mponela to buy products after their respective meetings.
Nyirongo described government as a biggest employer and customer, adding that since the ban was effected, there has been no major infrastructure developments at Mponela.
On June 8 2022, Zamba announced at a meeting with Principal Secretaries from various government ministries and departments that the government has banned lakeshore meetings for all civil servants.
Tourism is one of the fastest growing sectors in the world and plays a significant role in Malawi’s economy.
According to World Travel and Tourism Council, the sector directly contributes about MK158 billion annually, representing 3.5 percent of the gross domestic product.
The sector supports direct and indirect employment of 524 500 jobs, representing 6.7 percent of employment.
It also contributes about MK25 billion to foreign exchange earnings annually through visitor exports. This represents about two percent of total exports.
Malawi attracts about 800, 000 visitors annually.