Fire at Parliament: Restoration & Upgrading

Joint Standing Committee on Financial Management of Parliament

08 March 2024
Chairperson: Ms B Mabe (ANC); Ms D Mahlangu (ANC, Mpumalanga)
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Meeting Summary


Members were excited by the concept of using natural resources, for an “Afrocentric Parliament” and the inclusion of a day care centre after “years of fighting”. They were also pleased to hear that historical books and other artefacts were restored. They said the new Parliament should reflect its global standing.

The matter of the revised budget was sharply raised. Members were concerned that not enough was spent but it was anticipated more funding would be required and they worried about where the limit would be. Ongoing engagements with the Auditor-General was stressed.

Concerns were also raised about delays such as the removal of rubble. There was concern that all the delays affected the completion date, especially now that it was moved from 2025 to February 2026.

Members also critiqued the additional costing for ICT which they felt should have been factored in earlier for better planning. Members asked about mitigating loadshedding as part of the project and whether the contractors reflected the demographics of the country. 

Members agreed to organise a tour of the precinct to see the progress for themselves. It was acknowledged that this project was a work in progress and would be continued by the Seventh Parliament.

Meeting report


Opening comments:
Chairperson Mabe greeted everyone. She welcomed the Secretary to Parliament (STP). She noted the absentees with apology, and those Members currently in Angola who would log into the meeting late. She outlined the agenda for the meeting, which was adopted.

She noted that the Speaker of the National Assembly (NA) was still not present at the meeting so she handed over to the STP to give the presentation.

Update On Parliament’s Infrastructure Delivery Programme
Mr Xolile George, Secretary to Parliament, took the Committee through a presentation on the progress made on the restoration of buildings destroyed by the 2022 fire.

Members were taken through the enabling work packages concerning safe access routes, assets verification and 3D scanning.

Members were given an update on the reconfiguration of the fourth and fifth floors - 155 offices are complete and fully furnished including:
• two meeting rooms
• three pause areas with kitchenettes
•2 Reception areas
• three storerooms
•20 interpretation booths & 2 sign language studios

Members were updated on the rubble removal and recovery of assets:
•750 m3 of Rubble & debris were removed
• Furniture was moved to offsite storage facility
• Some items were disposed of as per Asset Management guidance.
• Another category needs disposal committee processes.
• Temporary roof at Old Assembly (OA – 100%)
• 220 Pallets of mould-infested books with heritage value were carefully removed and stored offsite.
• Areas with a risk of collapse will be part of demolishing during construction.
• Document collection rate at Hope Street parking was low and these had to be moved to the Naval Base
•The marble busts at the NA lower basement were removed. They required special handling and transportation.

The presentation covered the repairs and upgrades to the Old Assembly and National Assembly including the stakeholders engaged, heritage application, demolishing and design concept – see attached illustrations.

The STP also detailed the ICT replacement and modernisation scope.

The presentation also outlined a proposed daycare centre.

Cost estimates
• R2 billion was appropriated based on high level estimates
• It was understood that the costing would be iterative based on the design concepts right up to final account
• A scope rationalisation exercise and the contracting strategy allowed for a least cost approach
• The revised estimate after value engineerings for the main works and compliance electronics sits at at R2.1 billion
• The specialised electronics in respect of Audio & Visual and Broadcasting form part of a subproject requested by the ICT Department. This work is necessary to modernise the operations of Parliament and to gain efficiencies
• The estimate cost for the ICT Major Replacement and Modernisation is R943 million
• The major cost drivers are the NA Chamber conferencing & voting system, the data center and the broadcasting system

Master plan for the precinct
•The master plan will give optimal spatial utilisation for the Parliament Precinct and improve the security arrangements
•A team of multi-disciplinary professionals was appointed and commenced work on 11/12/2023
•The conducted a critical review of the 2008 spatial report, the 2014 St Nubians report and the 2016 Spatial Planning Report
•They assessed records from the SG to determine the land use scheme within the zone (nearby buildings) of the precinct
•The team presented a preliminary report to reflect their understanding of the brief, scope inclusions, assumptions and approach
•They will assess current spatial utilisation including the planned upgrades on the OA and the NA
• Asses the potential for consolidation of buildings (to include other government departments) to optimise space utilisation and address precinct security risk.
•Benchmark and model the precinct on commercial establishments like Century City.
•Prepare a concept layout and 3-D rendering of the master plan by end of March 202

Projections for 2024/25 – 2026/27
•Expenditure will increase from commencement of demolishing work
•Construction work will start peaking in the 3rd quarter of 2024/2025
•The growth in expenditure will be sustained in 2025/2026
•While construction expenditure will taper in the last quarter of 2025/2026, the ICT final fix will account for a large portion of expenditure in 2026/2027

It is recommended that the JSCFMP:
•Notes progress and challenges on the Infrastructure Delivery Programme
•Notes progress and challenges with leaner uptake on the WIL Programme
•Notes plans for method two and method four skills development for TVET Colleges and Professional Registration
•Supports the hoarding and laydown plan which will have minimal disruption to the operation of Parliament
•Supports the inclusion of the Gardeners Cottage in the scope of work for establishment of a daycare centre
•Supports the decanting of the Presidency from the Gardeners Cottage to the Conservation Centre (renovation to make it fit for purpose as an office block)
•Mandates the STP to implement a budget adjustment to incorporate the ICT replacement, upgrade and Modernisation programme (Treasury process)

See attached for full presentation

Chairperson Mabe acknowledged the progress made and the effort put into retaining the heritage site of the building. She recalled how beautiful the national yellowwood tree looked.

She was pleased that after ten years of fighting, they would finally have a daycare centre, and this would benefit young mothers who cared for their children.

She referred to the request for budget revisions. She recalled a revision of R2 100 000 000, but asked about the other figure. This should form part of the recommendations.

She recalled speaking about the books that could be saved but asked about the historical pictures that were affected. The presentation did not mention this.

She requested that they restore the same flags which survived the fire of 2022. Those flags gave everyone hope.

She reiterated that the revised budget and amounts be added to the recommendations. This would provide clarity on the recommendations, and make it easier to adopt. She asked that the Committee reflect on the eight recommendations and called for the STP to make amendments to these recommendations as the Committee deliberated today.

Ms S Gwarube (DA) found that the recommendations were mainly technical in nature, which would make them easier to support and adopt.

She understood the revision of the R2 100 000 000. How much of the money which had been set aside for this had been spent thus far? She asked the STP to provide an explanation because previously, the Committee was told that the rubble removal was completed last year, but now she has noted that it was said to be complete by July 2024. How did all these delays affect the completion date, especially now that it was moved from 2025 to February 2026? Where did they stand on the timeline and in terms of expenditure? It was not helpful that Parliament requested R2 100 000 000 but had not yet spent any of the money.

Regarding Information and Communication Technologies (ICT), she noted that the addition of R2 100 000 000 resulted from factoring in the ICT. A lot of money was spent hiring and renting out ICT. She received many questions about the reasons for the doubling of costs for the State of the Nation Address (SONA) from last year to this year. Was this related to ICT?

Mr T Brauteseth (DA, KZN) said he was mainly covered by Ms Gwarube’s comments. He welcomed the presentation. He asked if the Old Assembly chamber would be affected by the demolitions. He asked this because he recently inspected the chamber and there was a lot of history there. He loved the idea of using natural lighting, but it appeared that the dome of the New Assembly chamber would be made of glass. Have the engineers and builders taken into consideration the possible issue of temperature when using glass? He would hate to see these beautiful buildings built only to feel like a sauna during sittings.

His understanding was that the R2 100 000 000 was already allocated with an additional R943 000 000 which brought this to a total spend of R3 billion. When the planning was outlined, why was ICT not considered at that point in time? Why were they ignored until now? Oftentimes, ICT was an additional expenditure. This problem of additional expenditure has been seen many times – what is the limit? He was worried that the project could extend to R5b. There needed to be proper project management. The completion of the project was already five months overdue - what further delays were to be expected? Were there contingency plans in place? Better planning was required. He was concerned that with each meeting, there were further delays. He suggested that the Committee schedule another one-hour tour of the building so that they see the progress for themselves.

Mr X Qayiso (ANC) welcomed the positive presentation. The public needed to have confidence about the progress made and indeed, things were moving forward. To what extent had COVID-19 impacted this process? How did the loadshedding crisis impact the process? He acknowledged that he may have missed this in the presentation. These could be factors in slowing down progress.
He felt that the reduction of costs should not compromise the quality of the work produced. The budget should reinforce the project plans. He was in agreement with the recommendations. The situation would have to allow for slight adjustments and a thorough analysis should be conducted to meet the deadlines. He was reluctant to bring up the issue of the workers demanding their own facility in Parliament. He wanted to discuss gender transformation and said it was good that there was a daycare centre.

Mr B Radebe (ANC) appreciated the work done so far. He warned against extending the deadline too much as time was already against them. The value of the currency depreciated each day. The more delays there were, the more the R2 100 000 000 would lose its value. The project team should try to stick to the timeframes.

He noted that they were working towards a design of an Afrocentric Parliament, which was proving fruitful. Using the Yellowwood tree was a good idea. The new Parliament should reflect its global standing. Looking at the structure in Century City, it showed a cutting-edge type of infrastructure. The use of natural light worked very well. Loadshedding continued to be an issue - as much as this would soon end, it was wise for Parliament to have a backup plan in this regard. Reducing the carbon footprint must be central to the design of the new buildings.

He supported modernising ICT, and asked for teleconference facilities to make it more convenient for those Members who were not able to be physically present in Parliament.

He recalled that when National Treasury allocated the R2 100 000 000, they were under pressure. The finer details were not yet in place. With the demolition of the building, Parliament should hold a ceremony in this regard. Everyone should be present including all the parties and the stakeholders, so that the design would have been complete by then.

Many staff members in Parliament cared for children and should also be included in the daycare centres. The staff should be consulted on the new daycare centre.

He supported the new budget adjustment and said there should be continuous engagement with the office of the Auditor-General of South Africa (AGSA) on any deviations discovered. There should be predictions on the budget and figures should not be far apart.

Chairperson Mabe asked that the service providers be representative of the demographics of the country. She asked for a report on this, covering any challenges encountered.
Mr George responded that indeed, they had encountered delays regarding the rubble removal, and part of the delay was multiple consultations with various stakeholders because of the heritage of the building. They had to endure those projects.

For projects above R400 000 000, National Treasury requirements stated that there must be a gateway review, and this was undertaken. They also factored in the time of removing the rubble. According to their initial assessment, they were supposed to have completed rubble removal by end of May 2023 but this was not possible. The first contractor they hired terminated their contract shortly after hire which lead them to source a new contractor, hence the deadline being extended to July. This was all part of the first phase of rubble removal. The second phase was to assess and store heritage salvable items. Thirdly, the removal of the rubble required the careful management of methane gases which scientists warned about. All these factors were beyond their control and were found within detailed assessment. The removal of rubble assessment was completed and so too was the hoarding of the Old Assembly. At the end of April, the demolition would begin to take place for the collapsed areas. Consequently, there would rubble as they had entered phase 2.

At the start of the project, it was informed that funds should be allocated for the project based on representations made by the Executive. And funds to the amount of R2 100 000 000 were indeed allocated. Additionally, R118 000 000 was allocated to handle the emergency issues caused by the disruption of offices of Members, hence the total of roughly R2 100 000 000, and the figure for the appropriation of the building for Parliament to begin with their work. This was not the total figure to rebuild Parliament. The detailed design stood at 41%, after which there would be engineering scoping and assessment engineering economics which would outline maintenance of heritage and modernisation. The detailed design would confirm the amount required for the brick and mortar, and once signed off by Parliament, it would reveal quantity surveyor assessment. The figures would have been disclosed to Parliament and National Treasury, and signed off by an independent panel (gateway review panel). The amount may increase - they were not sure by how much but would only know after the detailed design stage.

Regarding ICT, he asked Members to refer to the slides. The assessments had been completed and the ICT would now only require replacement. There would also have to be upgrades to ensure the security system of Parliament was structured according to modern standards. The R943 000 000 formed part of provisions for these aspects. There would be a detailed assessment of costs to dress the Old Assembly and the inter-operability of Parliament buildings. They would ensure that the ICT capability spoke to the desired optimum functioning of the institution. The assessment done spoke of the allocation which was R1 600 000 000 and R1 800 000 000. At the time, it was estimated around R600 000 000, but this was now re-estimated at around R943 000 000. These were issues carefully managed so that they were clear on what the R2 100 000 000 was for.

He did not have the exact figure for the SONA budget but they did make provisions for SONA and the subsequent debates. These events took place offsite which forced hiring of broadcasting equipment. The contrast of the budget between 2022 and 2023 was a correct reflection of the process. In 2023/2024, they spent R6 m and they were still analysing the invoices, considering that both SONA and the budget speech took place a month ago. One of the reasons for the increases was the Department of Public Works which incurred costs from the previous year. Mr George said he would be happy to provide a financial breakdown of the various costs for the Committee. In June 2024, there would be SONA and another one in 2025. These issues would remain until the new building was operational. They had reduced costs of dressing up the building.

The final completion date was set for November 2025. The start of the project would depend on the increase of expenditure. They had cited R123 000 000 out of the R400 000 000 anticipated, with the knowledge that some of the rubble removal and the demolition would have taken place by now. The increase in expenditure would commence once the laydown commenced. The criticisms received about not spending the funds were justifiable. Expenditure for the sake of expenditure was futile unless it was intended for a signed-out plan. It was unlikely that high expenditure would have been achieved by now as the appropriation was only finalised on 08 June 2023. The deadline for November 2025 was still a plan in place, without undermining the progress of the work in Parliament. Severe weather conditions in Cape Town could paralyse the project (such as heavy rains). This was usually factored into the construction phase. They were committed to finalising the project.

An official in the office of the STP added that the R2 100 000 000 was on the main works and the additional R943 000 000 was for the replacement of ICT assets. This was the approval sought for the adjustment.

He noted the recommendation of restoring the flags which survived the fire.

The historical photographs were recovered by the curator, and they were stored away for safekeeping.

The Old Assembly chamber would not be demolished but kept in its original form. What was demolished was the offices on top of the chamber. This had health and safety implications. Removing them would allow natural light to flood into the chamber. The architects were trained to conduct calculations on light penetration. The optimisation element guarded against heat in the building, which would turn the chamber into a sauna. This was taken care of. This was part of the training of the architects. There was some shading in parts of the building, which was part of the design. The architect had allowed for natural ventilation through penetrations in the structure. The air circulation would address the concerns of unintended consequences.

ICT was ignored because of the appropriation which did not have a scope of work. In engaging with internal stakeholders, they consulted with the audio and visual department and the ICT department, where it was brought up that the operations would assist with the smooth running of Parliament. The Coega report did not reflect this nor did they consult with the stakeholders; they did not reach stage 2.

Adv Modibedi Phindela, Secretary to the NCOP, added that the ICT department engaged with the ICT modernisation over a period of four years. They resolved to incorporate this project alongside the restoration project. The benefits they would receive from reducing costs would affect this process.
He confirmed they had planned for delays and factored this into the timeline. There may be unknowns which would greatly affect the timeline. They would host a workshop with the three qualified contractors to assess the various scenarios which would affect the timeline.

The gateway review committee brought up the effects of COVID-19. They had learnt their lessons from the pandemic which necessitated the hybrid model.

On loadshedding, the STP engaged with the Mayor of Cape Town to exempt Parliament from loadshedding. This arrangement was unreliable. There was thinking of a hybrid solar plant placed in a tall building which would catch as much sunlight as possible. It would also have batteries which ensured its maximum use. An Uninterrupted Power Supply (UPS) had been provided for, and this would assist with load shedding. And as a last resort, there were generators.

The daycare centre was a policy issue, and they would be directed accordingly. They would use a cottage because of its large size, and there would be facilities for the mothers to breastfeed.

They were open to engaging with the AGSA, as they were already subject to scrutiny.

The service provider consultants were Black-owned companies, but he said more would be done in this regard. They engaged with the companies, who brought in seasoned professionals to enrich the perspective.

He echoed the sentiments of the STP about the futility of worrying about low expenditure at this stage. The team would go through the planning phase to ensure adequate stakeholder engagement. In stage 3, they informed the architects to provide as much detail as possible. They had looked into all the scenarios to try to find a balance and to make up for lost time.

Further discussion

Mr Brauteseth recalled a statement made during the course of the presentation; that the New Assembly building would be constructed and the ICT set up in a way that encouraged saving of costs where Members did not physically have to be in Parliament. He was extremely concerned about this. As a Member of Parliament who worked for ten years, he observed that effective oversight was when Members engaged directly with the officials. This would ensure a smooth response process without network issues. Physical meetings helped the Members interact personally with the officials and obtain their contact details to assist the residents of the country. He was worried about the new journey they were to embark on where departments no longer had to face Committees in person. This was a slippery slope which would decrease oversight. He was very concerned about this. They needed to consider going back to the efficient methods of Parliament, which held the Executive accountable.

He commended the use of solar energy rather than using diesel and coal.

Mr George wanted to reassure Mr Brauteseth that the suggestion for virtual meetings was a matter of provision which would assist officials who had commitments elsewhere, not to say that they were officially moving to a virtual meeting method. This was to equip the House to handle matters onsite and offsite too.

Chairperson Mabe acknowledged this project was a work in progress to be continued by the Seventh Parliament. She recalled a proposal made to conduct oversight visits, and she called on the STP to comment on this.
Mr George said his colleague could give a clear date for this visit. He recalled a suggestion that during the demolition phase, there be a public execution of this phase. Perhaps the Committee would want to align this with the oversight visit? They could select the right date to suit everyone.

Chairperson Mabe agreed with this.

Mr Radebe suggested they align this with the demolition ceremony and bring in the stakeholders.

Chairperson Mabe asked for confirmation of a date.

The response was the end of April 2024 but the office of the STP would communicate with the Committee Secretariat.

Mr Brauteseth interjected to say that he was aware that the National Assembly was rising soon; he suggested that before this happened, the Committee take an hour on a Friday morning to conduct an oversight visit.

Chairperson Mabe said this would be left with the planning team. The demolition was the best time to do this as everyone would be present. They would continue engaging on this.

Closing comment
Chairperson Mabe suggested that the STP continue on their project and that they adopt the recommendations.

The meeting was adjourned.


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