MPs complain about condition of parliamentary villages

11 March 2020 - 09:38
By Andisiwe Makinana
MPs are not happy with the conditions in which they live in parliamentary villages.
Image: Frédéric Soltan/Corbis via Getty Images MPs are not happy with the conditions in which they live in parliamentary villages.

Security concerns, dysfunctional alarm systems, insufficient space for their children to play and lack of internet fibre.

These are some of the complaints registered by MPs about the conditions in which they live at the three parliamentary villages in Cape Town.

The department of public works, which manages the villages, appeared before the National Assembly's portfolio committee on public works on Tuesday to talk about their state. Also present were senior police officials to talk about MPs' safety, one of the MPs major concerns.

Public works and infrastructure (DPWI) minister Patricia de Lille said she overruled an instruction by senior MPs to halt the refurbishment of some of the MPs' units because they wanted the funds to be used as MPs' housing allowances.

ANC deputy chief whip Doris Dlakude told Sunday Times in December that the chief whips' forum requested De Lille’s department to halt renovations to MPs’ homes while discussions for a housing allowance were ongoing.

“We are in those discussion because these 'deep renovations' of old houses with structural defects is going to be costly given our economic situation. We told them this is not in the interest of our economic situation, or even in the interest of us members, because you cannot spend millions on old houses. It's costly to renovate an old house,” said Dlakude at the time.

De Lille said on Tuesday: “We also interacted with the presiding officers when the DPWI was stopped to continue with the refurbishment and repairs at parliamentary villages, because then there was a feeling at the chief whips' forum that why spend more than R700m on refurbishment when that money could be used as a housing allowance for MPs. So the project was stopped temporarily.

“We explained to the presiding officers that it is the mandate of the DPWI to make sure that all our health and safety standards are maintained, that MPs must live in a safe environment and if MPs want to get an allowance, they need to go to the remuneration commissions to ask for such allowances.”

She said she subsequently gave an instruction that the project should proceed, especially in Acacia Park, where there are a number of asbestos units that are not safe to accommodate people.

These units will be demolished, said De Lille, and new ones built. But demolishing them will be another process that has to meet the required health and safety standards, and may require the relocation of MPs and those living nearby. 

De Lille said they have budgeted between R100,000 to R200,000 a month for maintenance of MPs villages; R2m for facility management, which is day to day maintenance; and R11m to transport MPs, their school-going children and sessional officials. MPs pay R362 a month and sessional officials R187. Domestic workers pay R250 to register as such,  then R8 a month.

Mzwandile Sazona, the chief director of Prestige, the name of the project, said as a standard principle MPs are provided with four-bedroom units, but in some cases they elect to have two a two-bedroom house.

He said of the 493 units in Acacia Park (Goodwood), 270 are occupied by MPs, 224 by sessional officials (officials who support the work of ministers, deputy ministers and the director-general when they are in Cape Town), seven by political office staff, two by support staff of MPs with disabilities, another two by staff of the public works department who do standby duties, while 90 were domestic rooms.

Sazona said 150 of the units are prefab structures, which contain asbestos.

He said besides the demolition of asbestos structures, the department has a planned maintenance project to refurbish the units.

This follows a “condition assessment” of the units which found various problems.  The scope of work will include fixing floors, roofs,ceilings and cupboards, and changing stoves. They will also look at bathrooms.

When it came to question time, MPs had a long list of complaints. 

Alarm systems have never been functional, a few of them said.

The ANC's Elphus Mathebula said: “I hear that you are going to upgrade the system. My concern is that what's going to happen in the meantime. Must we allow our lives to be at stake. You can be attacked there and you can’t even use the panic button to try to alert that your life is at stake?”

He also complained about a lack of police visibility.

The DA's Madeleine Hicklin also complained about a dysfunctional alarm system and lack of patrolling by the police.

“I am too scared to sleep with my windows open at night. I think I am in one of those asbestos houses because I live in toaster. I either live in a toaster in summer and a fridge in winter, but I cannot actually sleep with any confidence with any of my windows open.”

Hicklin also complained about the villages not having fibre and being denied internet access, saying MPs sometimes had to work from home after a late parliamentary sitting.

Lindiwe Mjobo of the ANC was concerned about a building which was meant to be a gym at Acacia Park. She said it had not been used for that purpose, with public works saying it's parliament's responsibility. Parliament says it's the responsibility of public works.

“We can't be going to do oversight elsewhere when we have these problems where we live,” she said, demanding clarity about the structure.

National police commissioner Khehla Sitole said while the villages are secured by the SA Police Service, this is not within the SAPS' funded mandate.

“We are currently utilising funds from VIP protection,” he said.