Billionaire South Africa-based Malawian businessperson Ashanti Simbi Phiri is the man-of-the-moment and continues to dominate the news agenda in Malawi.
Simbi has been featured in national newspapers, radios, online and television.
The smooth-talking billionaire with a very good flare of English has been explaining on Zodiak TV, Times TV, Nyasa Times and Times Radio on the project his construction and engineering firm Khato Holdings Limited is taking on behalf of Lilongwe Water Board (LWB) to pump water from Lake Malawi to Lilongwe City through a pipe line stretching over 130 kilometres from the lakeshore district of Salima.
The government guaranteed a $500 million loan to LWB to tap water from Lake Malawi.
Two major newspaper houses, Times Group and Nation Publications Limited have used their titles to carry exclusive interviews with Simbi.
The Lake Malawi water project has been criticised by Kenneth Wiyo, an associate professor at Bunda College of the Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (Luanar), who faulted the absence of a hydrographic study and of the environmental impact assessment (EIA).
The Malawi Law Society (MLS) has also asked the Department of Environmental Affairs to furnish it with a report of the EIA.
Critics have also queried on how Khato Civils Ltd and Zambezi Pty Ltd was contracted to carry the project, raising questions on the capacity of the company.
But in an interview aired on Times Radio which Nyasa Times monitored on Saturday through live internet streaming, the successful construction magnet in South Africa said bidding documents of the project can be inspected, saying his company was successful bidders in the tender process for the project.
On the capacity, Simbi said: “We have the technical knowhow. We have the best equipment. “
He said Lilongwe Water Board wanted to find competence on price, methodology and in terms of their scope layout.
“They laid out a scope indicating what they wanted us to do and we responded according to that,” he explained.
The project entails a steel pipeline that stretches over 130 km and will have three big pump stations to ensure that there are no bottlenecks in the flow of water to the capital. It also features a water treatment plant and three reservoirs in Lilongwe.
Khato Civils has invested in two cutting-edge Tesmec Trenchers able to dig 2km per day of trenches for laying pipes. Each of the Tesmec Trenchers is worth about $2-million (R26-million) each.
He told Nyasa Times: “We are excited about the project and will deliver the best value to the people of Malawi. We continue to make sure as a company that we invest in the best equipment, latest technology and innovation to deliver the best quality projects in an environmentally sustainable manner.”
Simbi explained that the project would improve the lives of millions of people, not only in Malawi but the whole region. He said such a massive infrastructural project would open up investment opportunities.
“This ground-breaking project will be catalyst for growth as it not only will improve drinking water sanitation, hygiene and waste water management. It will see the growth of industries and the manufacturing sector leading in the growth of new towns.
“This will also drive growth in foreign direct investment since many companies consider water resources when making decisions about where to invest or locate their facilities,” Simbi said.
And in interviews quoted by Malawi News of March 25 and The Nation newspaper of March 18, 2017, Simbi talked of his political connections but dismissed any possible ambition to vie for the Presidency in Malawi citing his strong business interests and South African citizenship which he acquired from naturalisation.
The Khato boss said he has directly been funding the main opposition Malawi Congress Party as well as the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).
“I have helped the Malawi Congress Party and the DPP when they came to ask. I don’t take money on my shoulders. I always help [out] when I am asked to,” he boasts in quotes reported by Malawi News.
“What is being wealthy, really? We have some little money we have realised through hard work over the years. It is that money that we manage,” he adds.
He confirmed reports that he bought a vehicle for MCP president Lazarus Chakwera but rejected reports that je was intending to buy a jet for President Peter Mutharika.
“ I am satisfied with the position that I have and I am happy that I am able to interact with the opposition and even the ruling party. I wouldn’t even want my children to join politics because there are so many other things to do besides politics,” he said in quotes reported by The Nation.
Apparently the interviews were conducted when a group of Malawian journalists were taken by Khato ‘s Public Relations Manager Taonga Botolo to Johannesburg, South Africa, on tour of some of Khato’s projects.
“MCP knew me first and they came to me and I knew DPP later and I would do that for anybody for that matter because this is the spirit that I have introduced in this life. I have a South African citizenship and there is no way I can contest in an election in Malawi. But still, Malawi is my home and I love it that way,” said Phiri.
In Malawi News, the paper reported about Phiri’s fact file that he went to Nkhoma Primary School in Lilongwe before proceeding to St John Bosco Secondary School.
He told the paper that he studied “some few engineering courses” in Botswana.
In South Africa years later he joined LET Construction Company, one of South Africa’s then biggest engineering and construction and became one of the directors and shareholders.
He worked with the firm for about 15 years as he harboured the ambition of going solo, which led to the establishment of Khato Civils and South Zambezi consortium.
“The two firms have this far concentrated heavily in water and sanitation projects where I have won big government tenders within the continent,” he boasts.
According to the billionaire Simbi, the tenders his firms have been winning have ranged from R2 billion to R6 billion and Khato Civils construction equipment alone is valued at over R3 billion.
The journey continue for Simbi, saying: “We are also vying for a water project in Botswana worth about 6.5 billion pula and [we are] also penetrating the Ghanaian market [specialising in] water and sanitation projects.”
The billionaire Simbi is 54 years old and a married father of three, all male.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :