Taxpayers could pay for parliament fire as buildings are not insured: report

Taxpayers could end up footing the bill for a fire that destroyed several parliamentary buildings on 2 January, with the Sunday Times reporting that the property is not insured.

Public works acting director-general Imtiaz Fazel told the newspaper that the cost of insuring a R141 billion state property portfolio of more than 82,000 buildings is unaffordable.

To rebuild parliament, his department will need to make an application through the annual budgeting process, but Fazel said he could not yet estimate the sum required.

Architect Jack van der Lecq, who designed the National Assembly building in the 1980s and supervised its construction said that the repair bill was likely to run into the hundreds of millions and as much as R1 billion, depending on the extent of the damage.

Sources close to discussions about the buildings said the public works department and parliament might have to find the money from their baseline allocations, or finance minister Enoch Godongwana could announce a special allocation in his budget next month.

A report on the fires published this week found several cases of negligence could have contributed to the spreading of the fire, including:

  • The water sprinklers in the old House of Assembly building and the National Assembly wing were closed and should have undergone maintenance in February 2020.
  • The fire detection system appeared to have been faulty, as firefighting services were already on the scene when the alarms sounded.
  • The security cameras in the parliamentary complex were not monitored between 02h00 and 06h00 on the morning of the fire.

President Cyril Ramaphosa described the fire as “a terrible setback” for the nation and said it appeared that the legislature’s sprinkler system didn’t work as it was meant to.

“While they have worked to stop Parliament from being razed to ashes, it is very clear that this fire has devastated the parliamentary precinct and its contents and assets, including Parliament’s historical treasures of heritage,” the president said.

“Parliament and the security agencies of government are looking into the cause of this incident, and we must allow these investigations to continue. While these investigations continue, I believe we are united as a nation in our sadness at this destruction of the home of our democracy.”

According to the city, the fire department dispatched a dozen vehicles and approximately 70 personnel to fight the blaze, the first arriving just six minutes after the alarm was initially raised.

The Old Assembly Chamber, one of the oldest buildings in parliament, and several offices were gutted, while the National Assembly, the main debating chamber, was severely damaged.

Read: Push to move South Africa’s parliament to Pretoria

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