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Parties slate state for R8m Sona budget, urge it to find semi-permanent venue

Parliament breaks down cost of the event

Nomazima Nkosi Senior reporter
The cost of this year's Sona has drawn sharp criticism from political parties . File photo.
The cost of this year's Sona has drawn sharp criticism from political parties . File photo.
Image: GCIS.

A year after parliament was set alight, there is still no new permanent structure for sittings to be held with parties blasting the R8m budget for the state of the nation address (Sona) this year.

However, parliamentary spokesperson Moloto Mothapo maintained the budget was still the same as last year – R8m.

This is despite the fact that during a media briefing on parliament readiness to host Sona, National Assembly speaker Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula announced the budget for 2022 was R4m. Mothapo said R5.9m was spent in 2022. 

The cost has drawn sharp criticism from political parties who say they warned parliament and government about not finding a permanent solution and the high cost of continuously hiring buildings to hold important parliamentary sittings, especially in light of the ongoing energy crisis, potholes and everyday challenges faced by South Africans.

On Tuesday, secretary to parliament, Xolile George, announced that R8m was budgeted to host Sona which would go to ensuring that President Cyril Ramaphosa was not disrupted by load shedding when delivering his speech.

"We’ve budgeted around R8m for the delivery of Sona which takes into account a number of logistics related to putting together an event of this magnitude and scale. Every attempt and measure is taken to minimise the cost related to this," he said.

Moloto said the key cost drivers around the Sona since parliament was forced by the fire to hold the event at the Cape Town City Hall, was the hire of broadcast and conferencing facilities, which cost between R800k and R900k per day.

"This duration of hire will ordinarily include two or three days before the Sona, the actual date of Sona, the two days of debate on Sona by MPs and another day for the reply to debates by the president. So, on average we hire these facilities for six to seven days. These are unavoidable costs because parliament is obligated under the constitution to ensure the public has access to its sittings.

"While we hope that the actual spent will be lower than the amount budgeted, we're mindful that this year we are having these rented facilities for more days than last year as we also included the special tribute for the late founding speaker, Dr Frene Ginwala," Mothapo said.

Meanwhile, DA chief whip in parliament Siviwe Gwarube said the costs had ballooned due to the venue and equipment hire – adding it was completely avoidable.

"We’ve repeatedly called for parliament to find a semi-permanent venue for members of parliament to meet and conduct their business, a venue that is open and available to the public so we can fulfill our constitutional obligation.

"However, the ANC has been hellbent on keeping the status quo and essentially we’re a year after parliament has burnt down and we’re nowhere near to a place where we can see the rebuilding efforts of parliament or a semi-permanent venue for the meeting of parliamentary sittings," she said.

Meanwhile, the party has also written to Mapisa-Nqakula demanding she find a suitable venue for the National Assembly, in particular, to conduct its business while the rebuilding of the precinct is ongoing.

Freedom Front Plus's Wouter Wessels said no details had been given about how parliament came to R8m.

"The country is in a financial crisis even more so in 2023 with the huge devastation from the energy crisis. We can’t afford to hold such luxurious events while people are suffering. The most important thing is for the president to outline a plan to get us out of this crisis and not a fashion show," he said.

In 2019, Mapisa-Nqakula capped the Sona budget at R2m and in 2021, during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, government spent R100,000 on Sona.

However, Mothapo said the amounts could not be compared as in 2019, were in the burnt down parliament didn't have to hire anything and in 2021, the meeting was held virtually.

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