The yet to be completed Five Star Hotel (FISH) is sinking and its foundation crumbling, at least according to experts who have made startling discoveries on the structural defects of the project.

The now controversial hotel is over five years in the making and part of E7 billion of tax payers’ money paid for its construction. There are currently frantic attempts to waterproof the north wing basement where a fountain sprung and recently flooded rising to nearly a metre. 

The hotel was supposed to be completed by December 2020 but 20 months on, the damage to the building —situated opposite MTN Eswatini Headquarters in Zulwini—makes it a condemnable structure. In short, E7 Billion tax payer’s money later and the hotel is inhospitable.

According to highly placed sources that the structure is sinking is evidenced by seepage of water in the basement walls and floors, uneven floor slabs on every floor, cracks to the general structure and tilted elevator shafts. As such, the last few weeks have seen frantic efforts to cover the monumental blunders which were identified during construction but were allegedly overlooked. Attempts by an international investigator to get the true extent of the damage have allegedly been thwarted by uncooperative managers as well as attempts to apportion blame to only one party.

At inception, the construction of the hotel was given to a joint venture comprising Kukhanya (20% stake), Inyatsi (30% stake) as well as Stefanutti Stocks (50% stake) and their acronym was KISS JV whereas the consulting engineers were E.D Simelane and Associates, making Stefanutti Stocks the lead company in the project. Worth remembering is that KISS JV contract was terminated in September 2020 after a dispute arose between Steffanuti on the one hand and Inyatsi and government on the other hand.

The building is 40 000m2, has four separate wings, spanning six floors and a basement with 300 rooms. The rooms are differentiated and categorised according to 50m2 for standard, 100m2 for junior suites, 200m2 for executive suites and 300m2 for presidential suites. There are also plans for a five star restaurant, 2 level gym, multipurpose rooms and board rooms. The hotel also has royal wings which will be exclusively for the King and Queen Mother to use while all the king’s wives also have individual designated rooms.

The construction of the hotel commenced in 2017 and it was envisaged to be completed two years later. Initially tendered along with the International Convention Centre (ICC) for E1.1billion, the costs ballooned over the years with costs currently at E7 billion. More money has been added by government to ensure further internal fittings continue as from Tuesday 20 September 2022, despite the Ministry of Public Works & Transport engineers being aware and having appraised the Ministry of Economic Planning & Development that the structural integrity of the building is not fit for human occupation.

The rapidly sinking hotel faces a royal residence perched on Smokey Mountain in eZulwini and is an engineering nightmare. Evidence that there were attempts to cover up the faults of the sinking building can be found in the inconsistency of the cement plaster. Ordinarily, a structure’s cement plaster ranges from 20 mm to 30 mm. According to impeccable sources the hotel structure has inconsistencies where 70 mm plaster was used in order to straighten the building after it had started showing signs of leaning away from its intended direction. An elevator (lift) supply and fitting company has been unable to install them despite supplying the equipments because of the structural challenges of the building. For several months, the elevators have been stored on site because the elevator shaft is no longer straight.

Prior to the commencement of constructing ethically built structures, it is procedural for the consulting engineer to do a feasibility study of the site by testing various factors such as density and soil test. The feasibility study is what determines how the building will be constructed from piling. In the case of underground water or the area being a wetland, as has now been determined at FISH, drainage means are supposed to be made in order to create diverting channels away from the site, prior to any construction commencement. To determine success of the drainage, the constructors have to wait for a minimum of three months in order to ensure that the water was removed adequately, the ground is firm and dry.

However, in the case of the FISH, there seems to have been some questionable processes and alleged undermining of structural engineering norms. Not only did a steady seepage of water turn into a strong fountain, the damage at its foundation is suspected to also be due to inadequate piling to carry the six floors and basement. There is also inadequate waterproofing of the structure through the roofs and walls caused by the use of low quality materials have been noted by various inspections such that a cursory glance at the building shows some of the water damage swelling from under the paint job as well as cracks which are not restricted to the outermost plaster.

The FISH is part of an elaborate project by government to build a convention centre which could have been used for meetings of African Union stature. Initially, it was tendered at E1.1 billion and it was only but recently that it was announced that the AU meetings will not be held here putting into question the necessity of the project in the first place. An extension of the scope of work subsequently increased its value by E153 million. However, the increases which were not tendered for, reach over E5 billion, amounts which were approved within parliament. For example, when parliamentarians questioned Minister Tambo Gina about the E74 million bathroom pods, he said they were bought during the previous administration.

E100 million vandalism and theft at FISH

The Italian imported bathroom pods fitted in the 300 rooms of the Five Star Hotel (FISH) worth E74 million have been vandalised and components stolen. Most of them are currently without taps and various components of their plumbing removed.

The taxpayers will have to dig deeper into their pockets in order to complete the interior of the FISH as there are avid attempts to also replace some stolen components. Despite serious structural damage caused by negligence and the use of inferior building materials, the interior works are planned to commence on Tuesday, 20 September 2022 after government approved further funding for the already over-funded building.

The contentious bathroom pods were imported from Italy in 2017 and their purchase along with all financials pertaining to the ICC&FISH was questioned by parliamentarians to no avail.

Each bathroom pod cost the taxpayer E275 000. A bathroom pod is a prefabricated bathroom suite which comes complete and is fitted into an empty space. It can be encased in concrete, metal or glass; depending on the specification ordered and comes as a complete unit with tiles, toilets, taps, showers, baths and ceilings. Currently, a lot of these bathrooms have some of their features removed, something which occurred within the last 12 months. Ironically, the vandalism occurred at a time when security was heightened with CCTV cameras and guards who ensure that movement within the building is restricted. The vandalism and blatant thievery include the removal of machinery, fittings such as tiles and ceilings.

Heating, ventilation and air conditioning units have been stripped of parts, wires as well as piping. More tiles and marble fittings than needed were delivered to the site and have allegedly disappeared with worker pointing at some of the politically connected suppliers.

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Warranty of everything expires

The defect liability period (DLP) of the structure and warranty of fittings has expired and any costs associated with this will be on the taxpayer. The DLP is the period within which the contractor is obliged to guarantee the work or defined portions of work against defect. During this period, a contractor is obliged to perform any maintenance procedure that may be specified and shall be calculated.

On the other hand, the warranties of the E74 million bathroom pods have also expired as they were imported from Italy in 2017 and the manufacturer has no liability in the event they malfunction when they start being used.

Whereas some manufacturers offer warranties of up to five years, any breakdown of the lifts, air conditioning units, power back-up generators, water proofing and aluminium windows; these have their warranties expired and some of them voided due to vandalism and theft.

The government spokesperson has not been available on his cell phone when contacted by The Bridge, while the Mozambique based expert dismissed any structural defects in the building.