29. March 2016

Schlettwein concerned over parliament

The Namibian finance minister Calle Schlettwein said he is not only worried about how the estimated cost of the new parliament building skyrocketed from N$640 million in 2014 to the current N$2,2 billion, but also that he has not been briefed on what will happen to the existing one. Repeating what he said during his budget review at an event organised by the Economic Association of Namibia a few week's ago, Schlettwein warned on Sunday against infrastructure prices that triple within a short period.
Schlettwein confirmed that his worry on the project is about the price escalation, that the issue of the new building is debatable and that discussions on the issue should continue. He, however, declined to comment on allegations that he is concerned about lack of an explanation on how the current parliament building will be used once the new one is built.
A finance ministry top official who declined to be named said Schlettwein is not against the new parliament since there is a genuine need for it, but alarmed by the lack of explanation on the use of the old buildings. The official also said Schlettwein suspects that the Chinese might get the tender.
Speaker of the National Assembly Peter Katjavivi admitted that they did not brief the finance ministry about how the old building will be used, but insisted there is a clear plan mapped out. Katjavivi, however. said a 'substantial and overwhelming' majority of lawmakers support the plan to build the new N$2,2 billion parliament. “Those buildings will be allocated for other state institutions,” he said.
Talks are ongoing between the ministry of works, the National Planning Commission and the finance ministry, Katjavivi said. “I can assure you that nothing is going to be underutilised,” Katjavivi said, adding that the cost of the proposed parliament might be lower if the project is implemented within a short period of time.
Katjavivi insisted during a brief interview with The Namibian on Sunday that he has taken note of the concerns raised during the National Assembly budget debate last week, but maintained that the new building has the support of the majority of parliamentarians. “It is very clear that the majority of MPs are in favour of the new parliament. In fact, an overwhelming majority of MPs do not have any objections,”he said.
Last week, deputy land reform minister Bernadus Swartbooi became the first Swapo member to speak against the proposed new parliament when he told the National Assembly that he did not support the proposed project. According to Swartbooi, there are other priorities such as the provision of water and sanitation. “I support the vote to expand, improve and plan ahead consistently. I don't support a new parliament building that will cost either N$700 million or N$2 billion. I don't support it,” he said.
Known for his fearlessness on national issues ever since he was a youth leader and then //Karas governor, Swartbooi has spoken against politicians who unjustly take up economic space to build flats. In his farewell speech last year, Swartbooi said: “Some politicians have shamefully and unjustly taken up the economic space and built flats (to rent out). They can call it business, I don't care.” DTA president McHenry Venaani suggested during the budget debate last week that a parliamentary committee should be set up to engage engineers, quantity surveyors and architects on whether to expand the current building, or build a new one. This, he said, should be done before deciding the price.
Katjavivi said the proposal to set up a parliamentary committee on the issue might be decided tomorrow. The Speaker and his deputy Loide Kasingo have been the main proponents of the new building, even though Katjavivi plays down that tag, saying he found the idea on his table when he took over as Speaker last year.

Katjavivi said the plans for a new lawmaking House will continue, but they acknowledged the concerns raised. “I will take into account the views of everybody, but at the end of the day we will find a way forward,” he noted. The 2016-17 development budget tabled in the National Assembly in March this year shows that the budget for the new parliamentary building had increased from N$640 million in 2014 to N$2,2 billion now. Katjavivi defended the price escalation, saying the N$2,2 billion will be for a new building which will accommodate both the National Assembly and the National Council.
Parliament is made up of the National Assembly (104 members) and the National Council (42 members) - the majority of whom are from the ruling Swapo Party. (The Namibian, Windhoek)

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