16 December 2017

Lesotho: Architect Defends Palace Cost Increase

Photo: Supplied
Construction work on the Lesotho Royal Palace.

THE South Africa-based Makeka Design Lab Company has defended the escalation of construction costs for the Royal Palace, saying these were justified by inflation, climate control, safety and practical considerations.

Makeka Design Lab were initially engaged as interior designers in 2010 but they have since been roped in by the Ministry of Public Works and Transport to take over an architectural role of the Royal Palace project whose costs have skyrocketed to M450 million up from the initial budget of M170 million.

Another South African company, Palace Architects began designing King Letsie III's palace in 2010 but left the project after a contractual dispute with the Ministry of Public Works and Transport.

Prior to their departure, part of the building they designed had been demolished following concerns over its failure to meet the stipulated standards.

The Ministry of Public Works subsequently engaged Makeka Design Lab to redesign the building while the Lesotho Steel Products company undertook the construction.

In an interview with the Lesotho Times this week, Makeka Design Lab founder, Mokena Makeka, said everything was above board and an independent audit was commissioned into the project to ensure that mistakes of the past were not repeated.

He said the independent audit report was presented to the Ministry of Public Works to ensure that government appreciates the need to implement the project as recommended by the auditors.

"That audit analysed the building in its entirety and recommended the things that were to be fixed," Mr Makeka said, adding, "that audit was acted upon but I don't have the authority to share its contents".

Commenting on the escalation of costs, Mr Makeka said climate control, safety and practical considerations needed to be taken into account when designing and constructing the Royal Palace.

He said the climate control involved ensuring that there would be no excessive air conditioning costs because the building would have been designed for all weather conditions.

On practicality, Mr Makeka said it was important for the building to have multiple fire escapes.

He said the project had always been subject to inflation since it started in 2010 and that every year there was always going to be an inflationary cost.

"It is also important to recognise that Lesotho does not have industrial capacity and if you have to put in an elevator, that elevator must be imported in the currency of the place that we are buying it from.

"Everything is subject to inflation but where we can, we use local products like sand and stones and we are doing the best we can with what we have."

"One of the things that Basotho need to understand is that we are dealing with a project which has to be functional for the royal family, the state and ensure that foreign official guests are as secure in that palace as they are in their countries."

He said the cost escalation was not something that his company wanted or had any control over.

"I have a lot of sympathy for the layman who wonders what is taking so long and why this is too expensive, but the reality is that a project of this nature goes through so many stages before completion.

"A lot of these are basic architectural standards and we are saying we don't want something that is outrageously wasteful because there are projects like that around the world. We don't want to embarrass ourselves, but at the same time, we are saying we want to do a building that we are all proud of after it is finished."

Mr Makeka further said it was important for Basotho to understand that the transfer of the project from the previous architect to his company was very challenging for everyone involved and required cooperation.

"When there is a transition, the problem is that people panic because they don't see a solution. However, I want to commend the government for being very supportive after seeing the audit. Regaining confidence was hard after I got into the project that was already six years old."

He added that the audit was commissioned to ensure that government understood and appreciated that Makeka Design Lab was not making whimsical and unnecessary suggestions "for the fun of it".

"When this building is finished, Basotho need to be proud of it. It is a very complex process but I just want to leave Basotho with the comfort that the building will be something for us all to be proud of," Mr Makeka said, adding that they were working hard to ensure that the building could last for 100 years if not longer.

Mr Makeka charged that it was important for Basotho to understand that cost and value were related and that going for cheap materials would mean renovating the building in less than 10 years.

"I don't want to be called in five years because the building is falling apart. I cannot run away, I am a Mosotho and want what is best," he said.

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