By ZWELETHU DLAMINI | 2021-05-10
The Sunday Observer understands that the Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) outlet located next to Mbabane Build It store is allegedly operating illegally since it does not have a health certificate from the Mbabane Municipal Council.
According to sources close to the matter, the restaurant, which was opened five months ago, was not supposed to obtain a trading licence and start operating until the health clearance certificate from the council was issued.
Information gathered suggests that the council had been engaging the outlet owners, as well as the owner of the building, calling them to close the eatery until the health certificate has been granted.
One of the concerns is that the outlet is located next to the cement receiving point of the hardware store. Therefore, at the top of the list of requirements for granting the health certificate is that the nearby Build It store should close the receiving point currently used to avoid the contamination of the food sold at the eatery.
The owner of the building accommodating the KFC (who also happens to own Build It hardware) is said to have agreed to relocate the receiving point before the restaurant started operating.
He is said to have requested permission to extend the hardware from the far end in order be able to relocate the receiving point to adhere to the requirements for obtaining a health report for the newly-constructed eatery. He is said to have been granted such permission after receiving an approval from the Eswatini environmental authority.
However, while the municipal council was waiting for Build-It to close the receiving point so that it can send health inspectors to assess the restaurant to determine if it was fit to sell food or not; the outlet began operating much to the surprise of the council and customers who raised food hygiene concerns.
It turned out that the outlet had allegedly mysteriously received the trading licence without a health report from the council, yet it is one of the key requirements for businesses in urban areas to obtain a trading licence as per the Trading Licences Amendment Act No. 9 of 2011.
This reportedly worries the consumers, who constantly raised the food hygiene issue with the restaurant’s workers, to the municipal council and to the Eswatini Consumer Association. This also frustrates KFC’s employees as they have to continually clean the outlet.
Chairman of the Consumer Association Bongani Mdluli was quoted by the media last month having said some complaints had been lodged with them regarding the structure.
“The complaints centre on how the Mbabane City Council approved the permits for the construction of the eatery, because the cement and dust from Build It blow directly into the eatery, exposing consumers to a health risk. It is obvious that the dust and cement particles blow through the eatery, because there are windows right next to the cement,” he said.
In an attempt to address the mounting pressure from the consumers who are worried about their health, as well as other businesses who wanted to know how one business was allowed to operate a food business in an environment contaminated with cement; the council engaged the owners, telling them to close shop until certified fit by their health inspectors.
The talks between the municipal council and the owner of the land, identified as Lidolobha Development Company Limited, are said to have begun sometime in 2019 when the council demanded them to submit a traffic relief proposal.
This is according to a letter dated December 23, 2020.
“The illegal opening of the KFC outlet has resulted in traffic problems, which are to be addressed as per the council letter dated 15 May 2019. You committed to submission of the traffic relief proposal within two weeks,” reads the letter.
In that same letter, the municipal council pointed out that the KFC building was illegally occupied.
“There are outstanding issues on the building housing KFC, as per the council correspondence dated October 2020.
“Furthermore, the same building is being illegally occupied since no occupation certificate was issued. You are instructed to comply with all the conditions within the period not exceeding two months as per clause 15 of the Building Act,” further reads the letter.
However such is said to have fallen on deaf ears despite several communications with the owner of the building, as the outlet continues to operate without being authorised.
We are awaiting municipal’s health certificate – KFC
A visit to the KFC outlet indicated that there was indeed no health certificate nor has the outlet been graded by the Mbabane Municipal Council.
KFC Area Coach Zanele Ferreira said the council’s inspectors had this past week Wednesday visited the recently opened outlet for re-assessment following their earlier visit, where they pointed out outstanding issues for the outlet to be fully compliant and to be graded.
“We have not yet received the health certificate. Mbabane Municipal Council inspectors were here yesterday to conduct inspections and to see to progress on the issues that they raised earlier. They have not graded us yet, we hope when they come back they will issue us the certificate and grade us,” she said.
She said during the recent visit, the inspectors raised the issue of the lack of aprons for the staff preparing the meals.
Another manager who was on duty on the day the inspectors conducted the first inspections said they raised structural issues, as well as issues around the surroundings, including weed which they said should be cleared.
The managers said the plan of the building was approved by the municipal council and were optimistic that they would pass the health test.
Questioned about the concerns regarding the possible contamination of the food and cement dust particles from the nearby hardware store, which is about 10 metres away, the area coach said they had received complaints from customers, who expressed worry about their food hygiene.
She said they were engaging Build It on the matter, requesting them to close the cement receiving point near the outlet.
“We have received concerns from our customers regarding the cement from the hardware. It is also costly to us, as we have to constantly clean the restaurant to ensure that it is clean. We will continue to engage Built It, we hope they will soon relocate the receiving point,” she said.
We are moving the cement from KFC – Build It
“We have received the concern, they are saying the close proximity of the eatery is as good as though we are selling cement in the restaurant. We had no intention of doing that. We were hoping we would have extended the hardware and relocated the receiving point of cement by the time the outlet started operating, however, unforeseen circumstances delayed the construction exercise, otherwise plans for the extension were passed in 2018,” he said.
Build It Director Samud Essa said they were working around the clock to complete the new structure, where the cement, which is currently delivered and stored near the eatery, will be relocated.
“We have been delayed by COVID-19 and the cyclone that hit the country recently. We could not continue with the building; the contractors were interrupted. We have explained this to the municipal council, the problem is that everybody wants to favour the other outlet across the road,” he said.
The businessman said even though he realised that there was an urgent need for him to remove the cement from close proximity of the eatery, it appeared as though some people were against him, as they also question the environmental impact assessment report of the KFC while it was submitted to the municipal council.
"In April 2021, I shared the report from the environmental authority (EEA) to an officer of the town council indicating that the structure was evaluated,” he said, showing the report of the extension of the hardware.
“This letter serves to confirm that the Initial Environmental Evaluation and comprehensive mitigation plan for the proposed extension of Build-It complex Mbabane has completed the process as per the environmental audit assessment and review regulation 2000.
We, therefore authorise you to implement the proposed project subject the conditions attached,” reads the letter that the businessman was referring to.
We never authorised KFC construction – Eea
However, the environmental authority clarified that the report that the businessman referred to was not for the construction of the eatery, rather that of the extension of the hardware.
The Eswatini Environmental Authority’s (EEA) Gcina Dladla when asked if the structure was granted an Environmental Clearance Certificate by Eswatini Environmental Authority, said they did not, rather were engaging them only for the extension on the other side of the hardware.
“Location of food outlets and other shops in the urban space falls within the jurisdiction of the local authority, in this case the Municipal Council of Mbabane.
“However, the EEA is engaging Build It Mbabane regarding issues of environmental compliance regarding all their on-going activities,” he said.
When asked about the letter dated October 2018, Dladla clarified that it was not in relation to the KFC outlet as it was already constructed when the letter was issued.
“This is about the extension of the hardware shop not conversion of the hardware into Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC).
“If you remember the KFC site was already a build lt site where the hardware operates,” he added.
KFC food safe, customers would be dead by now - health inspector
An independent food health inspector, when asked about the safety of the meals served by the outlet, said the food was not contaminated, otherwise deaths would have been reported by now.
The inspector said when she heard about the concerns of the food hygiene at KFC, she asked some municipal council inspectors to go and carry out an assessment on the meals.
“They went there and found that the place is clean, the food is safe from pollution and not contaminated, otherwise they would have closed the outlet at once.
They took the food to a laboratory, where it was checked and they found no evidence of cement particles, which means there is no direct contact of the cement and the place where the food is prepared,” she said.
The inspector said apart from the standards set by the municipal council, KFC also had their own standards which ensured that food hygiene was maintained.
She said had the food been contaminated with cement, a lot of the regular customers would have reported sick or others would be dead.
We raised food safety concerns at KFC – Council
Municipal Council of Mbabane Information and Public Relations Officer (IPRO) Lucky Tsabedze said after the food inspections were conducted, concerns were raised to both the owner of the building and the operator, but they have not been complied with, hence they continue to engage them.
“Food safety inspections were conducted at KFC and identified non-compliances were communicated to KFC. Council continues to engage the owner of the building and the business operator on the concerns raised by council,” he said.
When asked how the outlet got a trading licencen if it did not comply with the food safety standards, Tsabedze said council would have not supported or approved the KFC licence issue to operate if the responsibility still lay with council as it used to be.
“The trading licence was not and is still not supported by council because of the concerns that were noted and registered with the business.
“The layout for the business was approved only because the layout showed that cement would be relocated to the far part of the building, which is far from the KFC building. In essence, council didn't approve of the opening of KFC,” he added.
Ministry to investigate
Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Trade Principal Secretary Siboniso Nkambule, when asked how the eatery was granted the trading licence without the health report as per the provisions of Trading Licences Amendment Act No. 9 of 2011 he said he was in the dark.
“I am not aware of the fact that they did not have the health certificate. I will investigate the matter and get back to you,” he said
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