Ministry breathes fire over royal palace


…architect accused of using “special family ties” to King Letsie III to mask incompetence and failure to deliver on the project.

Pascalinah Kabi

THE Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Public Works, Mothabathe Hlalele, has launched a blistering attack on the architect of the proposed new royal palace building, accusing him of using his “special family ties” to His Majesty King Letsie III to mask his incompetence and failure to deliver on the project.

This follows last week’s decision by the architects, Makeka Design Lab, to abandon the project.

Makeka Design Lab founder, Mokena Makeka, last week told the Lesotho Times that his company resolved to withdraw from the project due to several factors including the government’s failure to pay them M5 million in arrears for some of the work they had done so far.

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 that beset the project.

Makeka Design Lab is 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 designed had been demolished following concerns over its failure to meet the stipulated standards.

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

Last week, Mr Hlalele told this publication that although Makeka Design Lab had withdrawn from the project, he would however, engage them to get them to reverse their decision.

But in a new turn of events, Mr Hlalele this week wrote to Mr Makeka accusing him of unprofessionalism and creating more problems for the much-delayed project through his incompetence.

Mr Hlalele said it was “most disturbing and irregular” that Mr Makeka had not formally notified the government of his withdrawal from the project, adding this was very “unprofessional coming from a person who makes such high claims about his professional ability”.

“We have noticed with great concern your decision to terminate your services on the royal palace project…I recall with great surge how in the meeting of 12 December 2017 where I expressed the dissatisfaction of my ministry about your failure to perform, you patronised us about the special family ties that you and your family has with the client (His Majesty).

“I am bringing all of these (issues) up to show you how you have constantly and blindly denied your inability to manage this project by bringing in all irrelevant issues every time the issue of your non-performance came up.

“You are also requested to formalise your decision to terminate your services by formally notifying my office in writing,” Mr Hlaele states in his letter.

The latest development is likely to cost the taxpayer heavily as the project has already spiralled out of cost from an original budget of M170 million to M450 million.

Mr Hlalele accused the architect of creating more problems than solutions, saying his incompetence would only serve to further escalate the costs of the project.

“Your tenure as the principal architect has brought more problems than solutions. Your potential as an architect was only shown as far as the concept design.

“You failed dismally to provide drawings on time to the contractor. These delays have come at a very huge cost to the client and the completion of the project. Your disregard for financial costs and issuance of unauthorised instructions is reflected in the manner in which you intentionally pushed the project out of budget.

“Your decision to desert the project and subsequently running to the media platforms is regarded by the ministry as a very immature move intended to cover your professional negligence and possible liability. You have paid more lip-service to this project than real delivery on the ground, always engulfed in showmanship and unfounded claims of your success every time you were shown your failures on the project.”

Mr Hlalele further accused the architect of disregarding advice from the ministry to engage a qualified and experienced project manager on site. He said the architect’s actions had exposed the project to unknown characters due to the company’s unpreparedness to remunerate better qualified and experienced personnel that could have added value to the supervision of the project.

He accused the architect of underhand dealings which included engaging an intelligence officer from the National Security Service (NSS) to pose as the company representative and lawyer on occasions which the company chose not to participate in key meetings on the project.

Mr Hlalele ordered Mr Makeka and his staff to stay away from the project site from now onwards.

“Yourself and your staff are requested to stay away from the site and the client’s (Public Works ministry) offices. We have learnt that there have been attempts by some of your staff to engage the office of the client on current matters of this project. We also are aware of your attempts to encourage the contractor to join you in frustrating this project by abandoning it. All of these are unacceptable, unethical and highly unprofessional practices.

“You have also compromised the security and confidentiality of this project by the manner in which you have shared its contents with various media houses. Over and above all concerns raised above, you are hereby notified by the office of the Principal Secretary of the Ministry of Public Works that you remain liable to whatever losses which have occurred due to your professional negligence.

“You are also requested to hand over all documentation of this project which is in the possession of your office including all the copies of correspondences of the project file which were copied to you during your initial engagement as the principal agent,” Mr Hlalele concluded.

Efforts to get a comment from the Makeka Design Lab were unsuccessful as Mr Makeka’s phone rang unanswered. The Lesotho Times will publish Mr Makeka’s response as soon as it is availed to this publication.

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