…as MPs fume over office sharing
Some lawmakers are not happy with the secretariat’s decision to repatriate them back to the National Assembly building where they are forced to share offices due to limited office space.
Although the move to bring back the MPs, mainly Swapo backbenchers, will save taxpayers about N$5 million annually, parliament sources have alerted this publication that some of the MPs are not impressed.
The lawmakers and their support staff, who could not be housed at the parliament building, so the Tintenpalast were making use of rented offices in the central business district (CBD).
All backbenchers and members of opposition parties are entitled to a fully furnished office on the premises of parliament to carry out their duties.
“Some of them claim they cannot share offices because it infringes on their privacy while others say the failure of parliament to cater for all MPs should not be used as an excuse to disadvantage lawmakers,” said the source who cannot be named.
The source said the lawmakers who opposed the move wanted parliament to seek alternative rental space “instead of forcing us to share offices like junior officials.”
Katjavivi confirmed that all MPs are accommodated on parliament and that no more office space is being rented.
He also indicated that he has been alerted about claims of lawmakers who did not want to office space.
“It was brought to my attention that there are some MPs who were against the move but we need to think of the financial burden the rental of offices places on taxpayers. This move shows that we are serious about cutting costs and we will continue doing so,” he said.
The speaker did not disclose the names of the MPs who were against the move.
When backbenchers are not sitting in parliament, they are busy with Committee work which normally expects them to travel across the country conducting community meetings about pertinent issues in the regions, which must be brought under the attention of legislators.
“When the economy was in good shape the committee members used to travel a lot and they would hardly use their offices, so I really do not understand why they do not want to share if they are out of the office most of the time,” lamented the source.
The nine parliamentary committees are the Standing Committee on Standing Rules and Orders and Internal Arrangements; Standing Committee on Privileges; Standing Committee on Public Accounts; Standing Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs; Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Security; Standing Committee on Economics, Natural; Resources and Public Administration; Standing Committee on Human Resources, Social and Community Development; Standing Committee on Gender and Family Affairs; Standing Committee on Information Communication and Technology.
Following the bulldozed 2014 constitutional amendments, lawmakers in the National Assembly increased from 78 to 104.
This was done despite the unavailability of office space within the parliamentary venue.
Following the swearing in of the additional MPs, government leased about 40 offices in Windhoek’s central business district at a reported price of over N$12 million on a three-year contract to cater for members of parliament who could not find space at the Parliament building.
The rental agreement is between United Africa Group and the Ministry of Works and Transport.
Katjavivi in the past said office rentals are an inconvenience to the work of parliament, particularly the work of the standing committees, as MPs and staff need to engage on a daily basis.
The speaker also indicated that the rental fees that runs into millions of dollars and it is not economically viable in the long term.
Swapo Party’s chief whip Evelyn Nawases-Tayele this week said she is not aware of lawmakers who refused to share offices.
“As chief whip I do not deal with office accommodation, it is the job of the parliament as an institution. But we understand the situation we are in regarding the economy and availability of office space,” she said briefly.
The Namibian last year reported at the time that lawmakers have decided to move out of a eight-storey Capital Centre building because of safety reasons.
“The unhappiness of lawmakers exposes the lack of coordination between the National Assembly and the ministry of works – which is the custodian of all government buildings.
The government spent around N$10 million on rent for parliamentarians in the past two years.
Documents also show that government pays an additional N$42 000 a month for the provision of parking in the CBD allocated for the unoccupied offices,” stated the report.
Katjavivi speaks on cost
Katjavivi stated it is a costly venture to try to maintain the old building housing the Parliament of Namibia. “As the nation has now evidently seen, certain sections of the building have started crumbling thereby posing a risk to parliamentarians, staff and guests that visit the building and the building needs to be repaired.
However, the concern here is that with time, the cost of maintaining this building vis-à-vis having a totally new building may become restrictive. Costs are likely to escalate over the years. And even more complicated is that fact that it is a building on the Heritage List and therefore it requires special attention when undertaking any maintenance and repair works on it.
Because of the current economic headwinds in the country, we have to do our best to continue to maintain our old building within our means,” he said.
He added “One thing to note is that a National Parliament like in all the other countries, is a National Landmark Building. Combining this element with the fact that there should be enough working and operational space within the precincts of Parliament, it implies that the need for a new Parliament building for Namibia has never been more urgent than it is now. All stakeholders need to tirelessly work to find a lasting solution to this challenge. I believe that Namibia is not alone in this endeavour. Our colleagues in Zimbabwe and Malawi have recently undertaken these projects. There is no debate about the need for a new building for the Namibian Parliament but just a question of when it is feasible,” Katjavivi concluded.