Space constraints in the National Assembly have compelled parliament to fork out over N$1 million on conference facilities for the official joint opening of parliament that will be held in the parliament gardens today.
As a result of the constitutional amendments of 2014, the number of seats in the National Assembly increased from 104 to 146, but the current National Assembly building cannot accommodate all 146 lawmakers that are expected to converge for the joint session this afternoon.
It is the first time that the opening of parliament is held outside the chambers.
National Assembly Speaker Professor Peter Katjavivi confirmed the costs yesterday and said: “This [lack of space] is a sign that there is need for a new parliament building.”
“We do not have adequate space in the chamber of the National Assembly. It has been totally overtaken by the events that led to the constitutional changes,” Katjavivi said.
New Era understands that proposals were made to hold the ceremony at other venues, such as Ramatex, but due to the distance involved the plan was shelved. Katjavivi said plans to host the ceremony at a local hotel were also abandoned because it proved too costly. “The figure [N$1 million] could have been more, but we opted to have the opening ceremony in the parliament garden,” the Speaker explained.
President Hage Geingob’s State of the Nation Address later this year is also expected to take place in parliament gardens, as opposed to the traditional setting of the National Assembly.
The space shortage comes months after the National Assembly was compelled to rent office space around town, because there is not sufficient office space for the additional 26 members of the National Assembly.
This brings to the fore the question whether government should invest the planned N$700 million in a new state-of-the-art parliament building.
Katjavivi feels the ongoing space limitations provide sufficient justification to invest in a new building. “We simply have to do what we are doing now or support and make an effort for a new parliament,” he said.
The public has strongly opposed the planned project though, but there is little voters can do to stop government from going ahead because it is already budgeted for in the current medium term expenditure budget framework.
Prior to the amendments, opposition parties cautioned that the cost implications of salaries, office space and additional parliamentary staff should be looked at holistically and warned that the current parliament building – built more than a century ago – will not be able to accommodate joint sessions. Parliament normally holds two joint sessions a year where both the National Assembly and National Council, converge. It is only during such sessions that the President addresses the legislature in person.
During the third session of parliament, 40 bills are in line for possible tabling. Some of the most notable bills include the Appropriation Bill, Arms and Ammunition Amendments Bill, Child Justice Bill, Land Bill, Whistle-blowers Protection Bill, Marriages Bill, Divorce Bill and the Presidential Remuneration and Other Benefits Bill.