Millions lost in King’s botched palace 



Lekhetho Ntsukunyane

THE government has lost millions of maloti after construction of King Letsie III’s new palace was stopped because its design did not meet the required standards.  Part of the new palace has since been demolished to pave way for a new design.

Construction of the royal residence, which is a stone’s throw away from the King’s current palace in Maseru, began in 2010 and the project had initially been expected to cost M160million.

But due to a “contractual dispute” between South Africa’s Palace Architects, who designed the original palace, and the Ministry of Public Works, construction was halted in 2012 while part of the building was recently demolished to pave way for a new model.

While it was not clear at the time what the “contractual dispute” was all about, the Lesotho Times can now reveal that it had to do with the design of the building which Public Works and Transport Minister Tšoeu Mokeretla described yesterday as “unsuitable”.

Minister Mokeretla told the Lesotho Times that a new firm of architects, Cape Town-based Makeka Design Lab, had since been contracted to design a completely new palace.

“Makeka Design Lab has been contracted to take over and replace the former architect. Makeka is expected to come up with new drawings for the building in April after we discovered that the initial design by the former architect was unsuitable and not up to the required standard,” Mr Mokeretla said.

“Part of the new building was recently demolished because of that non-compliance with the required standards for a building of such significance to the nation. Once Makeka Design Lab complete their drawings next month, construction will begin. We are going to hit the ground running. Construction of this building has been delayed and that is not good at all.”

Asked how much the botched design had cost the ministry, Mr Mokeretla said: “I will not reveal figures but what I can only tell you is the new developments have terribly affected our budget.”

The minister could also not say what action, if any, the government was going to take against Palace Architects for their bungled project.

Repeated attempts to get a comment from Palace Architects and Makeka Design Lab were unsuccessful.

But according to Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on the Economic and Development Cluster, the issue of the palace’s construction had become an embarrassment to the government.

The Committee noted in its ‘Consolidated Report on the Annual Budget and Estimates of Revenues and Expenditure for the Financial Year 2016/17’ tabled in the National Assembly on Monday this week: “The issue of the construction of the new palace has to be taken into serious consideration and dealt with immediately to avoid the embarrassment that is already there.”

The Committee further observed that the total budget for construction of the new palace in the 2015/16 financial year was M72 million, “but M50 million of this money was returned due to delays and lack of progress on this project”.

The Lesotho Times established further that in 2014, the Ministry of Finance approved M131 million for the construction of the palace. It was also not immediately clear if the previous M161million had all been used on the project.

The then acting Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Finance, Khosi Letsie, told the Lesotho Times in November 2014: “We have approved a financial waiver worth over M131million for the completion of the new Royal Palace. As the Ministry of Finance, ours was just to receive justification from the Ministry of Public Works and Transport on how the money was going to be used.”

The Lesotho Times has further discovered that Makeka Design Lab is not new to the project, as the ministry appointed the same company to provide interior design services to the palace in 2012.

Mr Mokeretla confirmed the company “was initially engaged to provide interior design of the palace, but was not the primary architect then. The primary architect was Palace (Architects).”

Makeka Design Lab’s website lists the palace among its projects and notes: “The Royal Chapel for the Kingdom of Lesotho, situated on the grounds of the Royal Palace in Maseru, explores concepts associated with earth, water, fire and sky. The building is conceived as a portal frame structure of steel, Rheinzink and timber. The building is surrounded by the landscaped garden of the Royal Grounds on the one side and reflecting pool on the other. A private sacred courtyard allows for reflection and meditation.”

Even though the exact figure of the amount lost in efforts to erect King Letsie III’s new official home could not be ascertained, it is understood that several millions have been lost in paying for the original designs now deemed unsuitable as well as  the costs of demolishing part of the structures that had already been built under those original designs.

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