Ministry hunts Royal Palace cheats

Ministry hunts Royal Palace cheats

MASERU – THE government is scrambling to recover more than M50 million from building and consultant companies that allegedly inflated the cost of their services and materials in the construction of the palace.
thepost can reveal that for the past year officials from the Ministry of Public Works and its architectural department, the Building Design Services (BDS), have been scrutinising their records to claw back millions they allege were fraudulently or unfairly paid to the companies.

The officials believe that between 2015 and 2018 some companies submitted dubious invoices for work that was never done and materials that were not supplied.
The government suspects the companies did this by conniving to submit questionable invoices.
This, the ministry and the BDS allege, contributed to the budget racing from the initial M136 million in 2011 to M476 million now.

At the centre of the alleged sleaze is Makeka Design Lab, a Cape Town-based architectural firm owned by Mokena Makeka.
Makeka, a Mosotho architect originally hired as the interior designer of the palace, became the principal architect when Palace Architect was kicked out in 2013 after quarrelling with the BDS. Palace Architect designed the palace and supervised the construction in the first two years.
Makeka’s appointment in 2015 did not go through an open tender as required by the law.
He appears to have been handpicked on the basis that the project was way behind schedule and following open tender procedures would delay it further.

And indeed the project was already two years behind schedule. His other advantage, according to Public Works sources, was being an architect who was already involved in the project as the interior designer.
Makeka left the project in July 2018, citing a breakdown in his relationship with the Ministry of Public Works and BDS. The firm also complained about delayed payments and what it called questionable decisions by stakeholders.
But BDS officials claim the company was central to the chicanery that saw the cost of the Royal Palace increase by 250 percent.

The project, initially scheduled to finish in 2013, is now seven years behind schedule. Given the work yet to be completed, it is highly unlikely that the royal family will move in this year.
An investigation by thepost has revealed that although Makeka’s changes to the design constituted only one fifth of the building they led to a nearly 200 percent increase in the project’s cost.
Public Works officials say although some of those changes were crucial many were unnecessary and appear to have been part of Makeka’s plot to get more fees.
Makeka’s fees were based on the total cost of the project.

“So whatever wall he knocked down or extended translated into an increase in the cost of the project and translated into more fees into his pocket,” said a ministry official intricately involved in the project.
Questions are being asked why Makeka was paid nearly double what is stipulated in his contract.
The M5.3 million-contract was based on his own audit of the building before his appointment. It included charges for supervision of the remedial work, redesign as well as completion of the project.
It was Makeka who came up with the new work schedule and named his price, according the confidential documents.
Yet when he left three years later Makeka had been paid M9.5 million, a staggering M4.5 million more than the contract value.

Documents show that the budget for the architectural service for the whole project was M10.7 million. When Makeka was appointed the government had already paid M7.7 million to Palace Architect, the company he replaced. This means when he took over there was only M3 million left in the architect’s budget.
The BDS however agreed to push the amount to M5.3 million after Makeka claimed that he had redesigned some of the building and corrected his predecessor’s mistakes.

But Makeka appears to have continued to submit more invoices until he was paid almost double his fees. He left when the project was at only 40 percent but still collected M4.5 million above his contract.
Meanwhile, the project had overrun its architectural service budget by some 70 percent.
This has added to the project’s swelling costs.
To make matters worse Makeka is alleged to have failed to hand over some crucial design documents to the Ministry of Works.

“BDS has been chasing him for those documents,” said a Ministry of Public Works official. “Without those documents we don’t know if he did what he was paid for.
In 2016 LSP, the main contractor, said the project would cost M250 million.
So far LSP has been paid M317 million but has told the government it needs a total M411 million to finish the job.
The ministry and the BDS are said to have hotly contested that figure, insisting that the contractor cannot get more that M30 million for the remaining work.
BDS officials this week told thepost that although the project was already over-budget the situation worsened in 2014 when Makeka took over.

The trouble, said one, is that Makeka seemed to have used his proximity to the Royal Family to push new designs and change specifications.
“He seemed to have operated with a free rein for months as he claimed that some of the changes he was making were at the instructions of the Royal Family,” the official said.
“It was only later that we realised that he was not speaking for the Royal Family but was pushing his own agenda.”
Nothing illustrates this more than the sand bath tub now gathering dust among the building equipment and rubble in the Royal Palace’s yard. The tub was supposed to be in the main bathroom but was removed because it was not fit for purpose.

Senior Ministry of Public Works officials are now debating whether to return it to the supplier for a refund or auction it.
But whatever they decide it’s unlikely that the government will recoup the M350 000 it paid for the tub because it has deteriorated over the years.
How did the government get to buy such an expensive bath tub?

The answer is said to have come out when their Majesties were taken on a tour of the palace. A story told by an official who was part of the entourage is that upon seeing the tub the King asked what it was for. An official from the ministry said it was the bath tub that Makeka said they requested.
“His Majesty looked puzzled and it was obvious that they had not requested such a thing, least of all one that costs so much,” the official said.
“At that moment we realised that Makeka had been playing us all along.”
Makeka’s design also shows that he ripped out the wooden trusses fitted for rheinzink, a special roof imported from Europe at a huge cost.

The rheinzink, which had been ordered when Makeka changed the design, has been replaced with a special glass that sits on flat metal trusses.
Now that glass has started cracking even before the building is finished, with a consultant telling the government that the structure’s design was flawed from the start.
If the design is not changed the structure might curve into the building’s hallway.

Makeka also ordered the demolition of a porte-cochere, a structure protruding in front of the main entrance of the building. As per the request from the BDS and the ministry the arc-shaped porte-cochere was on a terrace. The idea was that Their Majesties would address people from the palace. Makeka ordered the contractor to replace it with an elongated porte-cochere that will have grass on top and can accommodate several cars.

Some terraces were modified by replacing the steel with concrete. Makeka ordered the builder to remove the steel structure on top of the mokorothlo-like structure on the main entrance. That structure was custom-made and is unlikely to find any buyers. Its likely destination might be a scrap metal at the dealer’s yard.
It also appears that some corridors and several bedrooms have been extended.
“Soon we realised we were dealing with an ambitious young architect who saw the palace as his ultimate project.”

Most of the BDS and Ministry officials who spoke to thepost however say it would be unfair to lay all the blame on Makeka.
They say the LSP also botched some aspects of the building, hence the remedial works that dragged on for months and increased the costs.

They also say there are suspicions that the LSP was trying to cut corners to maximise profits.
“Without close supervision it was a free for all. Only now are we getting to grips with the level of losses we incurred as a government,” said another ministry official.
“The plan now is to verify every certificate that was paid. We believe we can recover about M50 million from the companies involved.”

thepost has seen emails that show that the BDS was getting frustrated by the Makeka’s work barely a year after he was hired. The emails show that the NDS was worried that it was not getting information on the cost of the project from Makeka.
This week Makeka said he had “no comment” to thepost’s eight detailed questions about the allegations.
His also copied the email to his lawyer.

Leading the efforts to recover the money is Nyolohelo Mohale, the project’s Clerk of Works. Mohale refused to give specific details but confirms the efforts.
“We have already started recouping some of that money,” Mohale says.
He admits that a “lot of mistakes were made on the project”.
“The government has to learn from those mistakes. There was no strong supervision. A lot of things were not done right. Greed played a part.”

“Corporates were trying to get the most out of a project. The red tape in the government made things worse because payments were delayed. That is all I can say.”
Mohale is coy to make promises on when the project will be completed.
“There is still some work yet to be done but we have made tremendous progress. Relations between the stakeholders have improved a lot and we are working well together.”
He said the interior design and landscaping will start within days but that doesn’t mean Their Majesties will immediately move in soon.

“Once the interior is done Mohale will have to train the team that will maintain the building. That training is intensive and cannot happen when Their Majesties are living there.”
For the Royal Family the wait continues.

Senior Ministry of Public Works officials are now debating whether to return it to the supplier for a refund or auction it.
But whatever they decide it’s unlikely that the government will recoup the M350 000 it paid for the tub because it has deteriorated over the years.
How did the government get to buy such an expensive bath tub?

The answer is said to have come out when their Majesties were taken on a tour of the palace. A story told by an official who was part of the entourage is that upon seeing the tub the King asked what it was for. An official from the ministry said it was the bath tub that Makeka said they requested.
“His Majesty looked puzzled and it was obvious that they had not requested such a thing, least of all one that costs so much,” the official said.

“At that moment we realised that Makeka had been playing us all along.”
Makeka’s design also shows that he ripped out the wooden trusses fitted for rheinzink, a special roof imported from Europe at a huge cost.
The rheinzink, which had been ordered when Makeka changed the design, has been replaced with a special glass that sits on flat metal trusses.

Now that glass has started cracking even before the building is finished, with a consultant telling the government that the structure’s design was flawed from the start.
If the design is not changed the structure might curve into the building’s hallway.
Makeka also ordered the demolition of a porte-cochere, a structure protruding in front of the main entrance of the building. As per the request from the BDS and the ministry the arc-shaped porte-cochere was on a terrace. The idea was that Their Majesties would address people from the palace. Makeka ordered the contractor to replace it with an elongated porte-cochere that will have grass on top and can accommodate several cars.

Some terraces were modified by replacing the steel with concrete. Makeka ordered the builder to remove the steel structure on top of the mokorothlo-shaped structure on the main entrance. That structure was custom-made and is unlikely to find any buyers. Its likely destination might be a scrap metal at the dealer’s yard.
It also appears that some corridors and several bedrooms have been extended.
“Soon we realised we were dealing with an ambitious young architect who saw the palace as his ultimate project.”
Most of the BDS and Ministry officials who spoke to thepost however say it would be unfair to lay all the blame on Makeka.

They say the LSP also botched some aspects of the building, hence the remedial works that dragged on for months and increased the costs.
They also say there are suspicions that the LSP was trying to cut corners to maximise profits.
“Without close supervision it was a free for all. Only now are we getting to grips with the level of losses we incurred as a government,” said another ministry official.
“The plan now is to verify every certificate that was paid. We believe we can recover about M50 million from the companies involved.”

thepost has seen emails that show that the BDS was getting frustrated by Makeka’s work barely a year after he was hired. The emails show that the NDS was worried that it was not getting information on the cost of the project from Makeka.
This week Makeka said he had “no comment” to thepost’s eight detailed questions about the allegations.
His also copied the email to his lawyer.
Leading the efforts to recover the money is Nyolohelo Mohale, the project’s Clerk of Works. Mohale refused to give specific details but confirms the efforts.

“We have already started recouping some of that money,” Mohale says.
He admits that a “lot of mistakes were made on the project”.
“The government has to learn from those mistakes. There was no strong supervision. A lot of things were not done right. Greed played a part.”
“Corporates were trying to get the most out of a project. The red tape in the government made things worse because payments were delayed. That is all I can say.”
Mohale is coy to make promises on when the project will be completed.

“There is still some work yet to be done but we have made tremendous progress. Relations between the stakeholders have improved a lot and we are working well together.”
He said the interior design and landscaping will start within days but that doesn’t mean Their Majesties will immediately move in soon.
“Once the interior is done Mohale will have to train the team that will maintain the building. That training is intensive and cannot happen when Their Majesties are living there.”
For the Royal Family the wait continues.

Shakeman Mugari

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