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Sunbird hires new Chief Executive Officer

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Malawi Stock Exchange (MSE) listed hospitality unit, Sunbird Hotels and Resorts have hired Kenyan, Yusuf Olele Omanya as its new Chief Executive Officer (CEO).

A leading economic think tank, Economic Empowerment for Action Group (EEAG) has since bashed the move, saying it will create doubt as to whether Malawians cannot manage such positions.

Lewis Chiwalo, Chairperson of the Group said that the country needs to grow and avoid such tendencies of recruiting foreigners to save on forex.

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“Why should the country continue hiring foreigners in such positions at a time when Sunbird Tourism is still wholly owned by government?” questioned Chiwalo.

He added that as a local economic think tank, they will engage government on the matter so that it does not happen again.

This is also contrary to what business commentators, investors and some think tanks have said all along that the company, being wholly owned by the government needs to hire locals for such a position.

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But our research shows that Sunbird Tourism has since 1980 been run by foreign management companies, including Tourism International of UK (1989-1993), Protea Hotels (1994-1999), Le Meridien (2000-2007).

When the company was run by management companies, the contracts provided for the management company to recruit its own executive management including the CEO.

In 2008 after the contract of Le Meridien expired, the board resolved to promote the local Sunbird Tourism brand and use local management.

Government is the majority shareholder in the listed unit with 71 percent stakes, followed by a United Kingdom (UK) based-investor Noel Hayes with 16.44 percent.

The remaining 12.56 percent shares are held by the public.

Recently, the listed hotel chain advised government to reduce its 71 percent stake to around 25 percent as part of its recapitalisation drive.

Other local and international investors have since suggested that government needs to let go Sunbird to invite private investors to pump new capital which will reduce Capital Hill controlling interest to avoid interference in the strategic direction of the hotel group.

“I do not understand why Government should have two hotel companies, Sunbird and The President Hotel competing against each other when both are owned by the same government.

He said government needs to move out of Sunbird as the Company has ready investors to take over.

“When this is done appointment of CEO will be on merit without interference of Ministry of Tourism,” the source said.

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