Paralysis at Palace

Paralysis at Palace

… years of bungling and delays stall Royal Palace project

MASERU – IT was supposed to be finished in three years at a cost of M160 million. Yet eight years later it is far from complete and has gobbled M450 million in taxpayer’s funds. That is the depressing story of the new Royal Palace, a building that was supposed to be a source of national pride but has become an embarrassment.

As the project has staggered, other buildings nearly the same size and started much later have been completed.
The new Central Bank of Lesotho building which was started years later is a few months from completion. The national museum that stands across the road from the Royal Palace is racing to the finishing line despite experiencing delays of its own.

In the eight years it taken to complete the palace the government has built roads, schools, clinics and factory shells in Ha Tikoe.
Yet the Royal Palace remains work-in-progress. The King is still shuttling from Matsieng, his rural home some 30 km from the capital, every morning.
Just who is to blame for the delay depends on who you ask. The Ministry of Public Works says it was Palace Architect, the initial designer and construction supervisor, which bungled the project.

An insider at Lesotho Steel Products (LSP), the contractor, says the company could not proceed with work after Palace Architect abandoned ship.
An official at Makeka Design Lab, which took over from the bumbling Palace Architect, told a local newspaper last year that the handover took long and there was much to be corrected. Naturally missing in the blame dispersing game is the voice of the royal family, the people affected by the delay.

And apart from a few comments on radio and intermittent coverage of the story, the public too has been kept in the dark about what is happening to the palace.  But now a parliamentary committee has had enough and has waded into the debacle.
What the committee has been told is pretty much the same thing in the public domain. The only difference this time is that someone who represents the royal family was saying it.

But thanks to what King Letsie III’s Senior Private Secretary, Monehela Posholi, told the committee last week, we now have some nuggets of new information. We now know that it will now cost M475 million to complete the project. We also know that when the construction started in 2011, the plan was that the palace would be handed to the King on his 50th birthday in 2013.

Posholi told the committee he believes the misunderstanding between Palace Architect and the Ministry of Public Works caused the delay.
“Palace Architect decided to leave when the differences could not be solved,” Posholi said.
“It took almost two years to find another company that would come up with new ways of constructing the Palace and redesign it the way the Ministry of Public Works would be satisfied.”

“This also consumed our time.”
Posholi said his office was unable to push the project because it is not in charge. He said when they tried to get answers the Ministry of Public office told his office to back off because “we are just clients and we should leave everything to them”.
“Public Works is the one responsible and so it is not easy to push this work to be done quickly,” he said.

Before Posholi’s explanation Tsoinyane Rapapa, the Mosalemane MP, had complained about the amount of time and money it had taken to complete the project.
“This is uncalled for,” Rapapa said. “It is worrying that a big office such as this one can handle things in this way.”
Matsieng MP ’Matšepo Ramakoae pointed to the new State House that was finished within a short time while the palace is still far from complete.
The committee’s chairman Lekhetho Mosito came hard on the Ministry of Public Works.

“The Ministry of Public Works is not doing its duty very well and this has led to a lot of money being used unreasonably,” Mosito said.
Relations between Palace Architect and the Public Works Ministry soured in 2012, barely a year after the building started.
After months of negotiations the ministry then hired Makeka Design Lab, a company initially involved in the project as an interior designer.

The committee said “the issue of the palace’s construction has become an embarrassment to the government”.
In its last year’ budget report the committee said the issue of the construction of the new palace has to be taken into serious consideration and dealt with immediately to avoid further embarrassment.

The committee found that in the 2015/16 financial year M50 million of the M72 million allocated for the project was returned to the fiscus due to delays. According to the Royal Archives the existing Royal Palace was built in 1975 and its completion was intended to coincide with the celebration of the 10th anniversary of Lesotho’s independence. After some years the building started deteriorating.

At the time, the funding for full scale maintenance had not been availed except for cosmetic attention to the areas that were public where the King performed functions of the Head of State.

The government organised an International Architectural Competition between 2008 and 2010 where the Palace Architects were awarded the contract. Palace Architects’ website shows that the project includes four buildings that are the New Palace, Chapel, Guest House and Tennis House.
Minor interventions should be carried out around these four buildings in terms of access to the site and landscaping.
The proposal makes provision for both the official and private aspects of the project.

The various buildings are to reflect their official status, Lesotho, its culture, its people and show its desire for modernity.
Traditional elements and symbols are to be integrated in structures that make use of the latest trends, materials and technologies.

Thooe Ramolibeli

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