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I support a new State House, if it pays for itself and generates revenue

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Proposed New State House. Picture from Lusaka Times

One of the more interesting recent debates in Zambia is the question of building a new State House with some suggestions the cost will be around $20 million (under K200m). I have seen various arguments made for and against but was left dissatisfied because I felt that not enough research or analysis was done aside from the issues of costs of annual maintenance and increased space requirements.

In principle, I agree that something needs to be done because the current 8 decades old State House has been overtaken by events and is inadequate to satisfy the needs of a modern growing nation. The structure is also of course slowly decaying over time although I think that statements in the media from some people that seem to paint a picture of a rapidly degenerating structure are exaggerated.State House (2014)

The British have a long history of building structures that last for hundreds of years and it is doubtful that they built a Governor’s Mansion in Lusaka that would last less than 100 years. Number 10 Downing Street has been occupied by the British Prime Minister since 1735 and is actually more than 300 years old. 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington D.C. has housed the American President since 1800.

When I was a student in England, I saw houses built 200 years earlier still going strong. One of them belonged to the family of a British friend I had. The father told me that the house was built by his grandfather in 1832 and it has been passed down the generations and he would leave it with my friend. I also saw a wall built by the Romans in 1066!

I am therefore somewhat skeptical of suggestions that the British did not do a good job in Zambia when they built State House. And spending K2 million per year to maintain it seems to suggest whoever is doing the maintenance is not doing a good job. What exactly consumes that amount of money every year?

Proposals to build a new State House on a new piece of land in Lusaka beginning in 2018 have produced much debate. As others before me have pointed out on social media (most notably Brian Mulenga), why not just utilize the same piece of land where State House is and build extra new structures as big as you need them to be?

The debate gets more interesting when you consider the other proposal we have been told about to move the capital city to Ngabwe in Central Province. If that is a serious intention of government, then why waste time and $20 million building a new State House and then a few years later, another one has to be built in Ngabwe? Why not just wait a few years and put the entire money into the Ngabwe State House?

I opened up Google Maps and discovered that State House (excluding the adjacent workers’ housing) sits on about 60 hectares of land (165 acres). I didn’t know it was THAT big. About 16 hectares (40 acres) of this is a golf course. The current State House buildings visible on Google Maps occupy about 10 hectares (25 acres) in total which is about 17% of the 60 hectares. The remaining 34 hectares (85 acres) making up 57% is bush. So what is the point of building on new land when there is so much unused land available at the current State House? To put this in context, you can fit at least 550 plots each 20mX30m (600m2) into 34 hectares of land. If you add the golf course, that is more than 800 plots.

Zambian State House map

For comparison, the United States White House sits on 8.5 hectares of land by my own measurements on Google Maps (about 21 acres, although officially it is actually 18 acres). Our Zambian President’s plot is SEVEN times larger than the residence of the President of the most powerful nation in the world! However, the Kenyan State House in Nairobi is 300 hectares (750 acres) and I am fairly certain there are plenty of African State Houses that are more grandiose than this.

White House

Kenyan State House

I saw an interesting suggestion by James Chona that the current State House can be relocated and the current land redeveloped. This is one of the most sensible suggestions I have come across because then we do not have to “waste” $20 million from our taxes but newly created money shall cover the cost of a new State House elsewhere as well as creating long lasting revenue.

As has already been suggested by others, the current State House administrative building can be turned into a museum. I suggest that it should be reduced in size to about ten hectares (as shown in the proposed map) which will have plenty of space for parking and shops for memorabilia, crafts, posters, restaurants, business center, T-Shirts, calendars, etc. The museum shall be charging people to visit and I am fairly certain that many of us, including Tourists, would want to go and see where our first six presidents lived and worked.

Proposed State House museum

So we are left with 50 hectares. Google Maps shows there are 4 large residential houses within the State House grounds apart from the administrative building. These cover about 7 hectares (17.5 acres) in total and they can also be part of the museum. We now have 43 hectares left. One proposal is to develop this into a high class gated housing estate like Beverley Hills in the USA. It can fit 40 mansions with each at one hectare (100mX100m) with 3 hectares left over for roads, play parks, police post, swimming pool, games area, etc.

The 40 one hectare plots can be publicly auctioned on the Internet to the highest bidders and knowing how Zambians love to be seen to be rich, I would expect them to outbid each other and if the plots end up fetching around $300,000 each, that would raise $12 million. This is more than enough to construct a brand new State House elsewhere. The former American embassy in Longacres was sold for $5 million to Zambia Information and Communications Technology Authority (ZICTA).

The massive Energy Regulation Board building near Mass Media complex also cost about the same. $20 million for a new State House seems too much, all factors (including security) considered. $10 million is more than enough to build a mansion for the President to live in plus administrative buildings and a banquet hall, car park, etc.

Before I go further, here are a few examples of $5 million mansions in America most of which sit on 5 to 10 acre plots (2 to 4 hectares). Some have ten bedrooms or more.

I think a much better option than mansions for Zambian fat cats is to create a tax free Multi Facility Economic Zone (MFEZ) mini-city with an industrial park having several skyscrapers, some of which can be offices, others hotels and there can also be several medium to high-class twenty storey modern residential buildings (condominiums). They can be 3, 4 and 5 bedroomed with a beautiful view of Lusaka City. We can throw in schools, a university and modern hospital in one of the sky-scrappers plus a multi-storey car park with 20 or 30 floors. This mini-city MFEZ would attract lots of companies to set up their headquarters in there with plenty of accommodation for their employees in the residential sky-scrappers.

All this can be done on a 30 to 40 year lease with property developers and would make much more economic sense than just selling bare residential plots. The property developers can build the new State House at their own cost as part of the whole investment deal so that we the tax payers do not lose a single Ngwee taken from the Treasury. The state can be getting a small cut of the annual profits during the lease period. The project would create lots of employment during construction and also later when all the various businesses and support services are operating fully.

In summary, I support a new State House, but only if it pays for itself and generates continuous revenue as outlined. If it will chew tax payer money on an artificially inflated contract to line the pockets of corrupt politicians, then I say a big fat No!!!

The Author is a Zambian blogger, entrepreneur and ICT Specialist in web and database technologies. He is a University of Manchester graduate in Engineering. Email: michael [at] zambia [dot] co [dot] zm

27 COMMENTS

  1. +18
    -1
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    Point me to a pf member who can implement a self income generating project and I will show you a long sleeved bra

    • +14
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      This is a brilliant idea but a practical disaster. Sell state house plots to the highest bidders? Which planet are you on?
      Those PF Cadres will share the plots immediately!
      Oh and don’t make the mistake of dimolishing the current building in the hope of building a new one remember Dag Stadium!
      This whole new state house nonsense stinks.

    • 0
      -2
      vote

      Michael Chishala, you ask very intelligent questions, you must be opposition UPND. Unfortunately, in this country, it is very hard to be objective with being labelled. How can building State House be a priority when UTH next door is in desolate state?

  2. +1
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    Really laughable …this guy is truly an engineer, he thinks everything is done like a formula forgetting that is govt land not private.

    • +1
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      @Jay Jay, with this kind of thinking I see that it’s easier for you to go to the stone age than looking at things in a different way – a way that you are not accustomed to. I really feel sorry for you!!

  3. +5
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    I am reminded of Professor Clive Chirwa and the wonderful railway development and reconstruction plan and his offer.

    It’s as if we are cursed to stagnation. Our minds get easily fatigued by thoughts of good planning, hard work and consistency that last many generations.

    The author has brought to the debate a well reasoned proposals without disregard to the arguments previously advanced for and against and the non-committal ones.

    Instead of dismissing the contribution, we should offer to cover the seemingly blind spots so that we end up with a nearly flawless proposal that can work for Zambia.

    Active political cadres, this is not about your transient political parties, this is for a much more majestic and lasting entity called Zambia.
    If all you see in the success or…

    • +8
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      Prof Chirwa is a great person but he was doomed even before he started not out of his making and this is why.
      1.If he had managed to revitalise the railways imagine how many transporters would have lost business? Most of whom are PF supporters, ministers, wannabe millionaires and people like King Fred at the time. All theses people with trucks would all of a sudden lose business. GBM for one had just disposed of his buses and bought a large fleet of trucks.
      2. Having turned around Zambia Railways Prof would have challenged zambians and said, Give me the Zambian presidency and l will do more than fixing ZR! Do you think Kabimba at the time would stomach the idea of any other president after sata?
      To to be fair to Prof he walked into a minefield. That is Zambian politics!

    • +2
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      GUNDIXY,great observation & your article makes a lot of sense….only to those few intelligent of us who went to school,NOT THROUGH school like most cadres.

      The problem you have there is too many uneducated & ignorant political cadres who have been given political power to make decisions. It’s a non starter,to them, whatever they don’t comprehend is viewed as an opposition party idea.

      Zambia is doomed,at least with the current driver you have right now, that’s a train bound to nowhere…

  4. +3
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    @GUNDIXY-good response. The best is surely to add and substrate from the suggestion and that’s what planning is all about. Dismissing the idea is totally absurd just because you don’t like it. The truth is that this new state house issue will go ahead. It’s then better we find suggestions like one of the author and modify them or let alone come with something. You are not a better blogger by countering everything. BEING IDEAS ON THE TABLE THAN FIGHTING AN IDEA.

  5. +4
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    This is the only sanely argued suggestion for state house not the mad trash I ve heard from so called president spokesmen. Even the new state house should have a provision for visitors who pay a small fee which should help in maintainance. As for the current spending of K2 million per year to maintain it this reeks of corruption.

  6. +4
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    We need such young thoughtful Zambians to take running our country. If we had leader’s like him, or the President of Ghana, or the current President of Kenya, zambia can move forward.

    • +2
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      Alas you are stuck with kapyango! Lusambo! Davis mwila! Max chungu and Kennedy Kamba!
      Good luck!

  7. vote

    Really,it’s very true that current zambian state house of the first family is not in good shape.Now what will happen to the current one,once a new one has beed built.Or to be precise who will be occupying the old one.

  8. +1
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    Very good idea and good project but you lived in the first world too long Micheal , too many greedy people in Zambia wanting to make quick buck from the tax payer so it will never happen. Also you failed to mention that in the UK/US old buildings have proper maintenance done to them over the years, in Zambia, buildings, dams (Kariba) and roads nothing is done until they are falling apart. Also for the record State House has had 7 Presidents working there. Whether you like it or not Scott was President for 100 days if he was not white he would be counted like the rest but Zambians find it hard to swallow that a White born Zambian was president.

    • +1
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      vote

      @9 Don, everything else you have said is ok except that “Scott was a President for 100 days”! Scott was ACTING President! A substantative PRESIDENT is ELECTED BY A POPULAR VOTE! If every one acting can count as President, then we could have had hundreds by now!

  9. +1
    -1
    vote

    If those toys in the pictures are Usd5million each then a new state house would definitely cost Usd20m minimum… ..kikikikikiki
    By the way how much was Nkandla just round the corner?
    …kikikikikikikikiki

  10. +2
    0
    vote

    Old is Gold. Lets maintain the state house and please controlling officers follow up on quotations and confirm they are genuine. The said cost of repairs every year (average) is blotted in my opinion.

  11. vote

    By the way where is Clive Chirwa? His underground railway project was going to be another failure. Lusake is a floating city and imagine the cost of making tunnels in water when we cannot even raise the independence avenue to fly over the Kafue round about to reduce the congestion during Fridays.

  12. +3
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    The difference between Zambia and the UK is maintenance. Go look at Levy Mwanawasa Stadium and you wonder how it will look like 10 years from now.

  13. +1
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    I very much support Michael’s balanced argument and I wish that we had intellectual thinkers like him in that Zambian government!! I personally think that the building could do with good maintenance every so often , rather than build a new one. As someone who one worked at UTH , I would rather see that hospital rebuilt with that money so that these politicians can be treated there instead of running to London hospitals. I remember treating ha Kaunda in UTH those days !! UTH needs that money and not a new state house which I think some will want to treat as personal possession. Greed !! By the way my house was built in 1910 and with good maintenance it’s still standing xx

  14. vote

    Bro you are a genius…. i totally agree with you because celebrities in the USA can build thier luxury homes at a cost of 10million dollars and below. guys why are we plundering our very own country and continent
    it just makes me puke
    i wish i was born in the west

  15. vote

    We have no English narrative or equivalent of maintenance in our local context. Tell me of any word in our Zambian language or dialect that has even the closest of the meaning of maintenance in its vocabulary. All I know is ‘kulungisa’ and ‘ukulungisha’ and there you have your answer.

  16. vote

    Though i did not vote for PF in 2016, i feel the new state house need to be constructed, i have my reasons for this. In believe those against it and those behind it have individual views, experiences and reasons.
    1. Personnally i see it to be a strange place, full of evil
    2. Chiluba exposed all the secrets behind the building
    3. I mighty become president one day and i will not want to live or work in this evil building
    4. Who knows why Ba Sata did not want to live there when he won the 2011 elections, and who knows what killed him.
    God Bless the Zambia Army, God Bless Sikazwethegreat & God Bless zambia

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