Sunday, June 12, 2011

Pimp My Parliament

Jun 12, 2011

R1.4bn price tag for major parliamentary makeover 

Parliament is going ahead with an ambitious project to build a lavish and larger debating chamber, a banqueting hall and VIP lounges for foreign dignitaries.

The project, with a price tag of at least R1.4-billion, is the brainchild of former speaker Baleka Mbete. 

Negotiations began five years ago to acquire land and a number of buildings along Plein Street in Cape Town. New and expanded office space for administrative staff and extra parking space are part of the plan. 

Deputy Speaker Nomaindia Mfeketo told the Sunday Times an initial slice of the budget had been allocated, which would get the ball rolling. 

She said the project had been delayed by negotiations over whether parliament would remain permanently in Cape Town, as well as intensive talks with the owners of buildings earmarked to form part of the project. 

"There is a budget but it will be in phases," she said. "The last report we received was that they are going to start soon." 

A firm of architects and a surveyor appointed by the Department of Public Works in 2007 estimated the following project costs:
  • R487-million for a 1500-seat joint chamber and banqueting facility;
  • R312-million for a 16000m² office tower, restaurant and apartment complex;
  • R68-million for a "pavilion building" and visitors' centre;
  • R275-million for a three-level basement;
  • R174-million for furniture and finishes; and
  • R111-million for external works such as demolition and landscaping.
But Mfeketo said the present budget would cover only the erection of new offices and the renovation of others. If there was money left over, construction of the new chamber could begin. 

She said her grand vision was for MPs - now housed in a number of villages outside central Cape Town - to be relocated to a precinct in the city centre with apartments, restaurants, libraries, gyms and other facilities. 

But she said it was no more than an idea at this stage and no serious discussion had been held about whether it was needed or how much it would cost. 

Mfeketo is critical of existing accommodation for MPs, saying the villages were not ideal for the kind of work legislators do. 

MPs, she said, spend hours commuting between the villages and town and never have enough time for late-night work in their offices. 

"People just go there to sleep," she said. 

She said her vision was to see MPs spending more time in the office and having easy access to restaurants, gyms, libraries and other amenities that would make their lives easier when parliament was in session. 

"Why is it we spend a short time in committee meetings and people cannot stay in their offices until late and walk to the library, and walk to the gym that is nearby, and walk to their houses and flats that are within the parliamentary precinct? This is what was in my mind," she said. 

The precinct, if it becomes reality, would include turning Plein Street into a pedestrian zone with no access for motor vehicles. 

The Department of Public Works has started demolishing a building on the corner of Roeland and Plein streets to create additional parking space. 

But department spokesman Thami Mchunu said this was not related to the expansion of the parliamentary precinct. 

"The demolition of the building is a project currently standing on its own. It is required to create interim parking accessible from Roeland and Commercial streets," he said. 

DA chief whip Ian Davidson, who has for years been critical of the costs of the planned expansion, said an architect gave a presentation several years ago with a sketch of the proposed new chamber and banqueting hall. 

The building would take the form of a bee hive or African hut with a large, round glassed-in structure at the top giving views of Table Mountain. The banqueting hall, he said, would be based below the new chamber and a grand walkway, with orchids on either side, would connect the new chamber with the old one. 

Parliament spokesman Luzuko Jacobs referred queries to public works. 

Mchunu said they had not received instructions to put the project out to tender. 

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