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Top ANC MP wants parliament relocated

CAIPHUS KGOSANA | 2012-05-30 00:24:50.0
Parliament during finance minister Pravin Gordhan's 2012 Budget Speech. File photo.
Image by: POOL / REUTERS

The thorny question of relocating parliament from Cape Town to Pretoria has reared its head again with claims that the move would save the government billions in travel, accommodation and car rental costs.

Senior ANC MP Vincent Smith, who chairs parliament's Correctional Services portfolio committee, yesterday suggested that it was time to rethink the apartheid-era arrangements that necessitated locating parliament in Cape Town and the executive in Pretoria.

"This unusual situation that we find ourselves in is thanks to an apartheid government compromise of sharing the seats of the judiciary, the legislature and the executive to cater for that government's own constituency demands at the time," Smith said.

But the Cape Chamber of Commerce questioned Smith's statement, saying moving parliament, with its thousands of employees, would create a national financial and logistics nightmare.

Smith raised the issue in the National Assembly in November, offering the same reasons for relocating parliament.

The contentious issue first arose in the late 1990s.

The government spokesman in 2009, Themba Maseko, said that moving parliament to Gauteng had been discussed in relation to costs.

"So, in the context of discussing costs, the issue of moving parliament was considered but no decision has been taken," he said.

Speaking in parliament, Smith said ministers and government officials faced a daily barrage of criticism from the public about money spent on flights and accommodation for politicians commuting between Pretoria and Cape Town.

Moving parliament closer to the executive would put much of this criticism to rest, he said.

It could also save the state billions annually. Ministers and their deputies would not need duplicate accommodation and vehicles in both Pretoria and Cape Town.

Major savings would also result from fewer flights and car rentals, less hotel accommodation and less being spent on travel by thousands of government officials and executives of state-owned entities.

Government officials are known to favour luxury hotels when in the Cape Town - preferring five-star accommodation such as The Taj and Table Bay hotels, which charge between R1200 and R4000 a night.

The state could also save on plane tickets for most of the 400 MPs - each of whom is allocated 82 return flight tickets a year for constituency travel - commuting to Cape Town weekly.

Smith said a move away from Cape Town would:

  • Reduce unnecessary costs associated with travel and accommodation;
  • Lead to increased oversight of the executive in the absence of having to waste time commuting between cities; and
  • Increase public participation by moving parliament from the southernmost tip of the country, to where many people cannot afford to travel.

Previous discussions about moving parliament led to fierce resistance in Western Cape because the move would take billions away from Cape Town and fundamentally alter the city's landscape and demographics.

Michael Bagraim, president of the Cape Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said it would cost the government a lot more to set up a new house of parliament in Gauteng.

"It will be an absolute nightmare.

"The capital cost of relocating parliament would cost us billions of dollars, not even rands.

"This is a highly functional and highly resourced parliament," Bagraim said.

He said the c hamber had done a costing exercise five years ago that showed that it would work out cheaper for the government to build or rent a block of flats for travelling officials instead of putting them up at five-star hotels.

Bagraim said parliament would suffer because many of its highly skilled and experienced staff would resist the idea of relocating their families to Gauteng.

He said the ANC had more pressing issues to deal with than worrying about investing billions in moving parliament.

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