EMBATTLED Vice-President Phelekezela Mphoko has reportedly been ordered to temporarily vacate his presidential suite at Rainbow Towers Hotel to pave way for visiting Sierra Leonean President Ernest Bai Koroma.
Koroma arrived in Zimbabwe yesterday to explore areas of bilateral co-operation between the two countries and to consult with President Robert Mugabe on the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) reforms.
During his stay, Koroma will be booked at Rinbow Towers’ presidential suite, where Mphoko has been staying since his appointment as Vice-President in December 2014.
Mphoko’s continued stay at the top hotel has generated heated debate, with critics calling on him to check out and stay in a government house in Harare’s Grange suburb, but the Vice-President has defended his long stay, claiming the hotel was owned by the State.
Information minister Christopher Mushohwe yesterday said he was not privy to the accommodation arrangements for the visiting President, as he was out of the country.
“I don’t know about that (accommodation arrangements). I am out of the country. May you check with (permanent secretary in the ministry, George) Charamba? I don’t know where he (Koroma) is staying,” he said.
Minister of State in Mphoko’s Office, Tabetha Kanengoni-Malinga, said she was in her Mazowe Central constituency and was not aware of the visit by the Sierra Leonean leader.
“I have no information on that. I cannot confirm anything because, right now, I am in my constituency. I don’t have any information on what you are asking,” she said.
The Sierra Leonean leader is the chairperson of the African Union Committee of Ten, which is charged with promoting and advocating for Africa’s position on UNSC reforms.
Africa, which currently has three non-permanent seats in the UNSC, is demanding two permanent ones.
Yesterday afternoon, staff at Rainbow Towers were busy preparing for the arrival of the visiting President, who arrived in the afternoon.
They had also rolled out the red carpet and sealed off the entrance Koroma would use.
This is not the first time Mphoko has been asked to temporarily relocate to create room for State visitors.
Last December, Mphoko vacated his room, located on the 17th floor, to accommodate Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Sources told NewsDay yesterday that Mphoko, who stays with his family, had been moved to a lower floor room at the five-star hotel.
“There is nothing amiss here and I don’t think the Vice-President will have problems with paving way for the visiting President. That arrangement should not surprise anyone. He will reoccupy the presidential suite once the visiting President is gone,” the source said.
Several activists have, at different intervals, demonstrated against Mphoko’s continued stay at the hotel.
On Sunday, a group of activists, led by National Vendors’ Union of Zimbabwe leader, Stern Zvorwadza stormed the hotel, demanding he moves out, before police intervened and arrested the picketers.
Zvorwadza, who is on $200 bail, has since been barred from visiting the hotel until his court case has been finalised.
This also came as Mphoko insisted he had the right to continue staying at the hotel, as it was government-owned, until additional renovations to his State mansion were completed.
However, it has emerged that contrary to his claims, the government is a minority shareholder at Rainbow Towers Group (RTG), owners of the hotel.
Local financial firm, Equity Axis, has disputed Mphoko’s assertions, claiming the National Social Security Authority (NSSA) is the hotel’s major shareholder with a 36,3% stake followed by tycoon, Nicholas van Hoogstraten holding a 32,5% stake.
“The government, through the Tourism ministry, is a minority shareholder coming fourth on the shareholder list, with a holding of 4,46%.
This holding or any of the above does not merit free occupation of any of RTG’s hotels, as it exhibits corporate governance decadence,” Equity Axis said.
“Exclusive occupation comes usually when the hotels are privately owned, such as Donald Trump occupying one of his Las Vegas five-star hotels.
“There is, however, a relationship between government and NSSA, which is often misconstrued and taken advantage of.
“Primarily NSSA, which was created through an Act of Parliament, is controlled by government. Control, not in the sense of shareholders but as stakeholders, of the pension scheme, is through the Public Service ministry.