UPND president Hakainde Hichilema says the National Pension Scheme Authority’s (NAPSA) move to purchase Chrismar Hotel is an attempt to syphon funds from poor pensioners meant to fundraise for the PF ahead of the 2021 general election.

And Alliance for Democracy and Development (ADD) president Charles Milupi says NAPSA’s decision to consider buying Chrismar Hotel shows how weak the authority is in resisting political influence.

Speaking during a press briefing in Lusaka, Wednesday, Hichilema warned NAPSA that buying the hotel for an estimated maximum evaluation of US $18 million would qualify them to be categorised as “white collar corrupt.”

“If there is board at NAPSA, I am addressing the chairman of that board of trustees, those who provide governance, do not spend public money to buy Chrismar; if you do that, you are qualifying to be categorised as corrupt, white collar corrupt, syphoning public money from suffering citizens into private pockets into election fundraising, that’s what is, PF election fundraising using NAPSA, using innocent pensioners,” Hichilema said.

He further wondered why NAPSA would opt to buy a hotel when the hospitality industry was experiencing low business volumes.

“Can you believe that the PF are allowing NAPSA to buy Chrisma Hotel for millions of dollars? What is in Chrismar Hotel, there? This is a way of syphoning money, a pensioner, who put money in NAPSA, they want to use millions of dollars to buy that Chrismar Hotel. Hotels are empty! I know what I am talking about, I am in that business myself, occupancies are less than 15 per cent…That’s the time you go and buy a hotel? You spend millions when the occupancy in higher quality hotels are 20 per cent, you can’t make money now, even paying salaries, we are having to subsidise from other incomes in order to pay salaries of workers because there is no business. And then you allow NAPSA, using public money, to buy Chrismar from a friend, the ones who are buying are using a government institution and people’s money to buy Chrismar? Do not do it!” Hichilema urged.

He cautioned that the lack of seriousness that the PF were handling the current debt crisis will exacerbate the country’s economy.

“We have a serious debt crisis in this country, the PF are treating the default on loans like it’s a joke, failing to pay creditors. You borrow money from your neighbour and promise to pay next week, when the time comes, you bought beer, and you didn’t put in production. When the neighbour comes, you say, ‘there is no money, do what you want!’ Will the neighbour give you next time you need to borrow? Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s because the implication of the PF ignoring the debt default means that other creditors can call in their nkongoles (debts). Debt default, which PF is not taking seriously, is going to hurt this country like never before, we are already hungry! Debt default means other creditors can invoke payment now! Already, we are spending 40 per cent of our budget on debt, but instead we are spending on buying a jet,” lamented Hichilema.

And in an interview, Milupi observed that NAPSA’s decision to buy Chrismar exposed how institutionally weak they were to resist heavy political interference.

“All those involved in this disgusting deal, which is an attempt to defraud NAPSA pensioners, contributors, hardworking men and women and to enrich people, who have sensed that their business can no longer be run and because of the way they have ruined the economy of this country; all those involved in this have been caught with their hands in the cookie jar, that is called stealing! I have read NAPSA’s comments that they are putting up their hands saying, ‘it is not happening and it did not happen…’ because they recognise that it is a dirty deal! And even before they came out, everyone that spoke expressed disgust at what is going on. Pensioners are already in problems and for someone to come up with a deal like that, for the management and the so-called board of trustees to even consider that, I think shows how weak the authority is to accommodate political influence,” Milupi said.

“Everybody knows that the hotel industry has collapsed, first of all as a result of the economy being run down, but also as a result of COVID-19. A number of hotels have closed. And now this is the time NAPSA thinks to go and buy a hotel at a sarcastic sum? And the fact that they are now saying, ‘it did not happen’ even the paper trail shows, they wanted to hide behind saying, ‘we want to buy buildings and land,’ what are they going to do with the building and land? Because those are designed to operate as a hotel. NAPSA ought to be ashamed of themselves!”

He thanked News Diggers! newspaper for exposing the scandal.

“Their investment management is very poor, that is why political influence takes advantage. They just want to safeguard their positions of the board because they know if they don’t do it they will not be in management or the board of trustees. I would like to thank Diggers! not only are you persistent, but you are so professional, you are bringing out these things. That is why it is difficult for these that want to threaten you, to harass you because the cases don’t go anywhere. This thing has alarmed many people, comments in buses, radios and so on and it has shocked many people,” he added.

Meanwhile, Milupi insisted that NAPSA should be audited.

“NAPSA itself as an institution that holds public money supposed to look after employees, the vulnerable, they have been involved in these deals that we see, including the one where I was taken to court, together with News Diggers! So, these are questionable things. They have a propensity for getting themselves into questionable things to please politically-connected people. There has to be an audit on NAPSA to ensure that those who are carrying out these decisions are held accountable. With specific reference to this particular one, as chairman of the Opposition Alliance that when we form government, it will be totally re-opened,” said Milupi.

NAPSA is winding up a purchase transaction of Chrismar Hotel, a Lusaka based-business that is owned by President Edgar Lungu’s close friend and business associate, Valden Findlay.

In August this year, News Diggers! published a story revealing that NAPSA was facing political pressure to buy the hotel, but the pension’s scheme vehemently denied having made a decision to buy the property and rubbished the story as “fake news.”

But according to correspondence seen by News Diggers!, NAPSA wrote to Chrismar Hotel seeking to renegotiate the deal after the board approved the decision to buy the hotel.

In a letter addressed to Haberton Limited managing director, NAPSA Director General Yollard Kachinda stated that the Authority was inviting the hotel for re-negotiations on the offer price for land and buildings only.

“Dear Sir, Re: Negotiation for the purchase of plot number 6982 in Lusaka. Further to the negotiation meeting of 12th June, 2020, over the purchase of plot number 6982 in Lusaka (refer to copy of minutes herewith attached for the ease of reference), we write to advise that the offer of current hotel business aspect of the transactions by yourselves and the consideration thereof by the NAPSA negotiating team was outside your initial offer and subsequent approval by the NAPSA board of trustees,” the letter read.

“Kindly note that the NAPSA board of trustees’ approval was for the purchase of land and buildings only and was based on your offer, hence did not include the current hotel business, which would have required specialised due diligence if it was part of your initial offer. In this regard, and in order to comply with the NAPSA board of trustees’ approval, we hereby invite you for re-negotiating on your offer price for land and buildings only.”

But in a statement issued, Wednesday, NAPSA head corporate affairs Cephas Sinyangwe announced that the controversial purchase of the hotel would not take place.

“The National Pension Scheme Authority wishes to dispel the story that appeared in yesterday’s edition of the News Diggers! Newspaper headlined: ‘NAPSA goes ahead to buy Chrismar Hotel.’ We would like to inform members of the public that the said purchase has not taken place and will not take place. Harberton Limited, the proprietors of Chrismar Hotel, have been duly informed about this development. The allegations are, therefore, false and must be disregarded,” stated Sinyangwe.