Businessman Sudhir, Govt to build new Shs140bn Convention Centre at Munyonyo

The multibillion convention center that is set to cost $40m (Shs140b) is set to host over 3000 delegates with its first conference being the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) summit happening later next year.

Prime Minister Robinah Nabbanja, businessman Sudhir Ruparelia, and Finance minister Matia Kasaija at the Munyonyo Commonwealth Resort, on Kampala February 19, 2022. Photos/courtesy

KAMPALA, UGANDA: Government of Uganda and Businessman Sudhir Ruparelia are finalizing plans to build a modern Convention Centre at the Commonwealth Speke Resort Munyonyo.

The multibillion convention center is set to cost $40m (Shs140b) is set to host over 3000 delegates with its first conference being the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) summit happening later next year.

The signing of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between Sudhir and the government took place on Saturday, February 19, with Prime Minister Rt. Hon Robinah Nabbanja, Finance Minister Hon. Matia Kasaija, Permanent Secretary Finance Mr. Ramathan Ggoobi all in attendance.

It is unclear how much each side will invest, considering that Mr Sudhir owns the land, with Finance Minister Matia Kasaija saying the government lacked enough money to build its own convention centre on its land hence opting to venture into a joint partnership with businessman Sudhir who has previously worked with the ruling government on the similar projects such as the 2007 CHOGM conference.

“It is an urgent project, and a lot of money is needed which will be difficult for government [to muster at short notice]. [The] government does not have all the money. There are many things we have to do; so, if we find a partner, it is easier,” he said.

He added: “We are undertaking the project in partnership with Sudhir.  [The government puts in] and Sudhir puts in money. The architects are still calculating, and then we will know how much government, and Sudhir are going to pay. If we go together in business, when it starts to make money, we share the profits.” 

Sources close to the meeting revealed that the Saturday meeting at the commonwealth resort centered on how much each party to the proposed joint venture will invest in the project, assets management and as well as profits/loss sharing.

The new proposed joint venture mirrors the 2006 arrangements preceding Chogm.
In 2006, the government advanced about Shs8.8b to Meera Investment, the property development arm of Sudhir’s business conglomerate, to build 59 presidential suites at present-day Commonwealth Speke Resort Munyonyo in Kampala to accommodate Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (Chogm) delegates in November 2007.

Cautious to avoid a repeat of venue debacle during the CHOGM that Uganda hosted in 2007, Prime Minister Nabbanja expedited a process for Uganda to have its own national convention Centre.

Businessman Sudhir tours PM Nabbanja and Minister Kaisaija around Munyonyo Commonwealth Resort on Saturday

According to highly-placed sources, Ms Nabbanja convened an executive meeting early this month, attended by Sudhir and technocrats from the ministries of Finance and Works led by their respective permanent secretaries.

As a follow-up of the early February meeting, Sudhir on Saturday hosted Prime Minister Nabbanja alongside minister Kasaija at his resort where a cross-section of government technocrats and Sudhir’s employees thrashed out details of the project, including previewing the architectural designs.
In one tweet on Saturday, the resort noted the arrival of Ms Nabbanja and Mr Kasaija at the venue and in another, accompanied with photographs, added that “site plan for the new Speke Resort Convention Centre happening now in Albert Hotel”.

Sources familiar with the discussions from the meeting on Saturday, said the project is to compromise a 3,500 seat ultra-modern auditorium, a suspended restaurant overlooking Lake Victoria, while additional presidential suites will be created with smaller conference rooms for sideline meetings during the NAM summit.

During the meeting on Saturday, a cross-section of government technocrats and Sudhir employees thrashed out details of the project, including pre-viewing the architectural designs.

However, according to three officials with knowledge of the meeting, Mr Sudhir told the government side that it would take him 18 months to build the Convention Centre, and it was up to the bureaucrats to expedite the process if they wanted the works completed ahead of the November 2023 NAM summit.

Officials from he Finance Ministry embroidered in a meeting at Munyonyo Commonwealth Resort on Saturday

The NAM summit movement comprises 120 countries that are not aligned to any of the rival eastern and western power blocs and it was founded during the Asian-Africa meeting in Bandung, Indonesia in 1955.
It is leaders of these countries in Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas, with observer China and Russia who are expected to convene in Kampala in November 2023 for the movement’s summit.

 Minister Kasaija said after the Saturday event that “mistakes” were made during preparations for Chogm, and that they are this time taking proactive action to ensure a facility befitting 100-plus heads of states and governments is in place ahead of NAM summit. 

“We are expecting 126 heads of state for the NAM conference. We have to set up a befitting conference centre where they can deliberate. We are planning, and we will be successful,” he said. 
In the run-up to, and after the November 2007 Chogm, big corruption scandals broke out, leading to prosecutions and imprisonments.  

The Commonwealth Speke Resort Munyonyo is a private, five-star resort owned by Sudhir’s Ruparelia Group, and often hosts major government and international events. Sitting on a 90-acre expansive land overlooking Lake Victoria, the resort, according to information on its website, currently has 19 conference halls and five outdoor spaces for conferences.

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