Royal Palace project plunged into fresh crisis

Lesotho Times
8 Min Read

…as architects abandon project citing non-payment and breakdown of trust with govt

 Pascalinah Kabi

THE much-delayed project to construct a new royal palace in Maseru has been plunged into a fresh crisis after the architects overseeing the project resolved to abandon it.

The architects, Makeka Design Lab, cited a “breakdown of their relations with the Public Works ministry” as the reason for abandoning the project.

The architects alleged, among other things, that they had not been paid by the ministry for the work they had done.

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.

The architects’ withdrawal will inevitably cause more delays and further cost escalations to the project.

The principal secretary in the Ministry of Public Works, Mothabathe Hlalele, confirmed to the Lesotho Times that Makeka Design Lab had withdrawn from the project. Mr Hlalele however, said he would engage the architects tomorrow in a meeting to get them to reverse their decision.

Makeka Design Lab founder, Mokena Makeka, last night confirmed his firm’s withdrawal from the project, saying 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 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.

Makeka Design Lab initially communicated its withdrawal from the project in a statement to the Lesotho Times in which they cited several factors that include “financing and questionable decision-making by various stakeholders, which have led to a deterioration of relations between ourselves and our client (the Ministry of Public Works)”.

As of the 12th of July 2018, Makeka Design Lab has terminated the contract with the Ministry of Public Works, specifically the Building Development Services (BDS), after identifying several issues that affect our ability to deliver the highest standard of professionalism and quality for our work on the Royal Palace of Lesotho.

“The host of issues we have encountered throughout our association with the project are too numerous to name here, but include financing and questionable decision-making by various stakeholders, which have led to a deterioration of relations between ourselves and our client.

“It is therefore judicious and proficient at this stage that we withdraw our services for the client to pursue their vision to their fulfilment,” part of the statement reads.

Makeka Design Lab said the decision to end the contract had not been taken lightly but was done to ensure that the “company would not be party to any further damage or risk for activities done by others”.

“The Royal Palace has been at the heart of Makeka Design Lab for more than six years. It has been and will always be our most prestigious commission as a practice. We were initially commissioned to do interior design, then as architects and ultimately as the principal agent of the project.

“We believe that we have played a significant role in the redesign of the palace. As an international award-winning design firm, we have given our best service, implementing skills acquired over more than 20 years, despite the dire conditions that we found the project in,” the firm stated.

On his part, the principal secretary in the Ministry of Public Works, Mothabathe Hlalele, said they would meet with Makeka Design Lab tomorrow “to try and persuade them to change their minds because we don’t want them to terminate”.

Mr Hlalele said the much-delayed project was at the critical stage and that it was important for Makeka Design Lab to see it through.

He said the architects’ withdrawal would derail the ministry’s plans to have completed the project by end of October this year.

“We have made an undertaking that the Royal Palace will be completed by end of October this year and we intend to keep that promise. This is why we are having a meeting tomorrow that we expect the Makeka Design Lab to attend because we don’t want them to terminate the contract.

“We are going to persuade them and we are hopeful everything will be ironed out tomorrow and they will be back on board to see this project to its finality,” Mr Hlalele said.

However, Mr Makeka said he did not think it feasible for the two parties to work together again given the breakdown in their relationship.

“How are we going to work together when the government has not paid us the M5 million that it owes?

“The client (ministry of public works and transport) would also walk out of meetings if I was not there although I would have sent qualified and competent people to the meetings. I am running a company which will continue to operate and be expected to fulfil its contractual obligations even if I am not around.

“There was also the lack of trust between the two parties which has led to an ongoing pattern of us being told officially and unofficially that we were the obstacle and all problems were bestowed upon us. I do not want to be an obstacle and people should not feel compromised because of me. Maybe they were right to say that we were not doing good job,” Mr Makeka said.

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