Lesotho: Royal Palace Building Almost Complete - Hlalele

27 November 2019

The new royal palace building in Maseru is almost complete and could be officially handed over to their majesties next July, the principal secretary in the Ministry of Public Works, Mothabathe Hlalele, has said.

Mr Hlalele said all that was left were the interior fittings and decorations before the completion of the much-delayed project. He said they were currently awaiting "furnishings for the interior decor" which would only be delivered to Lesotho in May 2020.

"The Royal Palace building is now at a stage where it is almost complete and we are now just dealing with the inside of the building," Mr Hlalele said in a recent interview with the Lesotho Times.

"We are now dealing with the decorations and we are waiting for some of the furnishings for the interior décor which will only arrive in April or May 2020. But by June 2020 I believe that everything will be perfectly done and finished. I believe that by July 2020 there will be a huge ceremony where we will be handing over the royal palace to their majesties."

The project has experienced several challenges including the withdrawals of two architects since work began in 2010.

Architects, Makeka Design Lab, withdrew in July 2018 citing a "breakdown of their relations with the Public Works ministry" as the main reason for abandoning the project.

Makeka Design Lab founder, Mokena Makeka, said several factors had contributed to the breakdown of trust between the two parties including the government's failure to pay them M5 million in arrears for some of the work they had done.

Mr Makeka said they felt compelled to withdraw from the project to protect their reputation as they were frequently made the scapegoat whenever there were problems besetting the project.

Makeka Design Lab was the second architectural company to withdraw from the project after another South African company, Palace Architects.

Palace Architects began designing His Majesty King Letsie III's palace in 2010 but left the project after a contractual dispute with the Ministry of Public Works.

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

The architects' withdrawals cost taxpayers dearly as the project spiralled out of cost from an original budget of M170 million to M450 million.

Mr Hlalele conceded that the withdrawals of the architects had delayed the completion of the project and caused the costs to escalate.

"I came into this office (in 2017) when the Royal Palace was in a state of comatose. You wouldn't know whether it was alive or it was dead because of so many things that surrounded it. There was a change in the architect which really delayed the whole project for so many years and changed the costs in a way that is substantial.

"We have had some problems of late payments to contractors due to the financial system installed by the government. Sometimes it causes delays in payments and those delays in turn cause more delays in the construction programme of the contractor. It also causes us to incur additional expenses but unfortunately there is nothing we can do about it.

"The second architect (Makeka Design Lab) also unceremoniously ditched that project. I am still going to take him to task for that because he cost us time and money. There is also information that Makeka is still withholding which we, as the government, paid for. That information is needed for the interior decoration of the building.

"The withholding of the information is unethical because that information does not belong to them. It belongs to us because we paid them to deliver that information. It was part of the contract. And even if we have a misunderstanding I don't believe they are can legally withhold information which is not theirs. I will write to the association of architects in South Africa where Mr Makeka is a consultant to say that we are not satisfied with one of their members.

"We are not going to court yet. I believe that they (Makeka Design Lab) are professionals and if they release the information we have no reason to go to court. "But if they persist in withholding the information we are definitely going to court," Mr Hlalele said.

Mr Makeka could not be reached for comment despite many attempts.

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