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.
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.
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.
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.
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