It came as a shock to employees at Hotel Mille Colline in Kigali who went to work last month and found notices from the Kigali City Council inspection office stating that all activities carried out in the hotel had been suspended because of poor sewage system management.
The inspection office gave no notice before essentially shutting down the hotel, causing some bitterness with hotel authorities who said it created a bad image among their clients and an immeasurable loss.
One employee, who spoke to The New Times on condition of anonymity, said they were shocked to see the notice in the morning, pinned on the main entrance. “KCC must have sneaked in at night and pinned it. This was a big embarrassment to the hotel because all our clients could read it.”
For the past six months, KCC and Hotel Mille Colline have been at odds over the hotel’s sewage system, which KCC said causes a public nuisance—disgusting odour to the surroundings.
The matter has been going on since at least January this year, as outlined in letters between the two, obtained by The New Times.
“Protecting the environment is our first priority and you cannot be allowed to go on discharging your waste in the open as is currently the case,” wrote Kigali mayor Aisha Kirabo, in a letter to Hotel Mille Colline on Jan. 23.
She outlined in her letter that the hotel had seven days to present a timeframe for reconstructing the sewage treatment plant or else it would “lead to your business closure automatically.”
Mille Colline responded five days later, showing the plan, with timelines, to construct a new Waste Water Treatment Plan (WWTP). It did not mention anything about repairing the existing one, however.
The hotel prides itself on a 21-year-old WWTP that it says was constructed “even when there was no legal obligation.”
KCC accepted Mille Colline’s proposed sewage treatment plant in a letter written by the mayor on April 1, which the hotel believes was a delayed response.
In order for construction to begin, the hotel needed to acquire written authorization from Nyarugenge District.
Emmanuel Ingabire, district director in charge of land affairs, authorized the hotel to start construction on May 22.
Mayor Kirabo also okayed the five-month WWTP installation period the hotel requested in the Jan. 28 letter which meant that the hotel would have until Oct. 22 to finish the construction.
A week after the Nyarugenge’s authorization to begin construction, Reuben Ahimbisibwe, director in charge of inspection at KCC, together with scores of armed police, stormed the hotel on May 31 ordering the hotel to close operations and business within and around the hotel immediately.
The hotel MD Patrick Knipping said, “such a decision is unfair and illegal,” considering the preceding understandings between the hotel and KCC.
The hotel wrote to the mayor in early June asking her to reconsider this “harsh decision,” and restated that the hotel would “embark on the rehabilitation of the hotel including replacing the current WWTP.
We had to be in conformity with regulations related to construction….and the building permit has just been delivered by Nyarugenge, quite late indeed.”
This was followed by a crisis management meeting on June 4, at which the hotel was allowed only until mid-July this year to have fully installed the “an appropriate plant for sewage treatment before disposal.” Jeanne d’Arc Gakuba, vice-mayor in charge of social affairs, confirmed this in a letter two days later.
Gakuba asked the hotel in the meantime to “devise and apply actionable measures to protect the public from odour nuisance before the system is finally in place.”
The letter, signed by the vice mayor on the Mayor’s behalf, was addressed as “a final warning… of hotel liquid waste discharge in the open.”
A few weeks ago, KCC, without prior notice, again put up another notice ordering the hotel to close all operations and business carried out within and around the hotel.
In a telephone interview, Ahimbisibwe said the move to order the hotel to close was after serious complaints concerning the public nuisance of stench spreading around a 300 metre radius, causing inconvenience to the community around the hotel.
He said the hotel has adamantly refused to abide by what was agreed upon.
Of late, Mille Colline has resorted to the Private Sector Federation (PSF) advocacy department to try and convince the mayor to change her decision.
John Bosco Kanyangoga, PSF advocacy director, said he has been following this and a few other cases related to lack of sewage treatment plants in their premises, such as the closure of Kigali Business Center (KBC) complex, Alpha Palace Hotel last year, and the recent closure of Union Trade Center (UTC), the new shopping complex in the city center.
Kanyangoga said although all private investors must respect environment laws, KCC and other authorities concerned should not harass some businesses while leaving others free to do what they want.
“The entire Kigali city lacks a modern sewage system, meaning…the disgusting odor is coming from all corners of the city, not Mille Colline alone,” Kanyangoga said. “
It is quite unfortunate that the old city plan did not take into account that Kigali will, today, be one of the fastest growing cities.”
Cabinet, meanwhile, recently approved the Kigali Master Plan. Among the key investment opportunities around the city is a modern Kigali City Waste Water Treatment Plant.
Until, an investor is found, the PSF advocacy director says KCC should be more flexible. For public hygiene purposes, avoiding the spread of diseases and protecting the environment, the issue of sewage management shouldn’t be a private affair, Kanyangoga said.
“The government should invest in public utilities like sewage management in the short-run; privatize the venture in the long-run,” he said. “Private investors are often profit-minded.
What if they don’t see it as profitable today and they do not take up this opportunity is the city just going to continue like this?”
Kigali city has no central sewage system. Individual establishments have decentralized small WWTPs on their premises which are difficult to control.
KCC believes a central sewage system is an investment opportunity in which the government can partner with a private company through the Private Public Partnership framework.