Taxpayers could be repaying the damages caused by South African parliament fire

South Africa taxpayers could end up footing the bill for the recent fire that destroyed several parliamentary buildings after it was revealed the properties might not be insured.

The recent fire at the South African parliament chamber happened on the 2nd January and collapsed the roof of the New Wing which housed the lower chamber National Assembly, and partially collapsed the roof of the Old Wing.

Now a recent report from the Sunday Times, has revealed the buildings may not be insured meaning restoration work would come at a hefty cost to taxpayers. Public works acting director-general Imtiaz Fazel revealed to the news outlet that the cost of insuring a R141 billion state property portfolio of more than 82,000 buildings is unaffordable.

He also revealed his department would need to make an application through the annual budgeting process to begin repair work, but said the cost of such work is not yet known.

However, the architect behind the National Assembly building has estimated the repair work will run into the hundreds of millions. Architect Jack van der Lecq designed the National Assembly building in the 1980s and oversaw its construction said that the repair bill was likely to be as high as R1 billion, depending on the extent of the damage which has not been fully investigated yet.

A report on the fires has begun to reveal some of the damage caused, as well as the potential cumulative cases of negligence that meant the fire spread rapidly. The report identified faults including the water sprinkler system in both the old House of Assembly building and the National Assembly wing being closed and missed maintenance work that should have occurred in February 2020. Additionally, the fire detection system has been classed as faulty and was reported to only sound the alarm once firefighting services were already at the scene. Failures in the parliamentary security system have also been noted, with the cameras failing to monitor the properties between 2am and 6am on the morning of the fire.

President Cyril Ramaphosa has spoken out since the blaze, stating it as a “terrible setback” for the nation. He 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.”

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