South African Parliament Building. Picture: GCIS
A statue of Nelson Mandela is shown outside the Parliament building in Cape Town. Picture: GCIS

THE cost of moving Parliament from Cape Town to Pretoria would be astronomical with new buildings and parliamentary villages having to be constructed, said analysts in response to President Jacob Zuma’s suggestion.

In his state of the nation address on Thursday, Mr Zuma said huge savings could be made if Parliament was moved as officials and cabinet ministers travel costs would be slashed as well as hotel costs for officials attending meetings in Parliament.

SA at present has three main capital cities — Pretoria as the administrative capital, and Cape Town as the legislative capital. Bloemfontein acts as the judicial capital of the country.

The debate over moving Parliament has been raised many times since the first democratic election in 1994.

Already on the table is a plan to enlarge the present parliamentary precinct with the addition of a new chamber for the National Assembly and more offices for MPs and researchers. However, this has largely been shelved due to the costs involved.

Lawson Naidoo, executive secretary for the Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution, agreed that there would be "a huge capital cost involved in such a project".

"What we would need to have is a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis of such a move and also a good, hard look at the present system to see where cost savings could be made," he said.

He said more use could be made of technology with, for example, conferencing being used to reduce the frequency with which officials travel between the two capitals and that the size of departmental delegations visiting Parliament could be drastically reduced.

Frequently the delegations attending parliamentary committees vastly outnumber the number of MPs on the committees. Often many of them do not even speak.

"To move Parliament to Pretoria would suit the executive and the officials and not Parliament because MPs would still have to travel to get there and would have to be housed," Mr Naidoo said.

Senior research associate at the Institute for Security Studies Judith February said there would be a large cost involved in moving and "given how slowly the wheels of state turn it is unlikely to happen fast".

"Its an easy target and we have had this conversation many times since 1994. There are also far more tough choices regarding expenditure that could be made and we need to focus on those," Ms February said.

President of the Cape Chamber of Commerce and Industry Janine Myburgh said the proposed move could harm the economy of the Western Cape and it "has been a concern to local business for many years but I hope we have reached a stage where the growth in the local economy and particularly tourism will enable us to take the blow.

"The centre of Cape Town is thriving and I hope we will be able to grow into the vacuum left by Parliament and its supporting services."

Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille was not impressed and blamed Mr Zuma’s bloated cabinet for high costs.

"The issue is not whether Parliament moves to Pretoria to cut government wastage.

"The key issue is that government is too big. National government needs to cut the cabinet‚ streamline and rationalise Parliament in order to save costs to the taxpayer‚ and work more efficiently.

"However‚ regardless of whether Parliament moves to Pretoria or not‚ we will always be happy to welcome the people of Gauteng and the rest of the country to Cape Town."

Democratic Alliance chief whip John Steenhuisen said to again raise the issue of moving of Parliament to Pretoria was a "red herring" and would involve massive costs.

He said the existing Parliamentary precinct and the parliamentary villages in Cape Town were paid for and to duplicate them would involve recurring costs for years to come.

Meanwhile, commenting on some of the issues raised in the state of the nation address, Ms Myburgh said she was encouraged by the undertaking to review immigration legislation to make it easier to bring much needed skills into the country.

"I was also pleased to see a more understanding approach to business, but the chamber is still extremely concerned by continuing plans to restrict land ownership to 12,000 hectares and to stop foreign investors from buying land."

Ms Myburgh said she detected signs of an "orderly retreat" from plans to invest in new nuclear power stations.

"For the first time there were qualifications about merely ‘testing the market’ and proceeding ‘at a pace a scale the country can afford’.

"We may eventually need nuclear power but what is the hurry when the private sector has already invested R195bn in alternative energy with the promise of more to come. It makes sense to stand back and allow the private sector to continue pouring money in solar and wind farms," Ms Myburgh said.

The chamber was "interested to learn" that some state owned enterprises would be "phased out" and this would lead to a reduction of national debt levels.

"Clearly this means sales or privatisation, but which SOEs are on the market? We would like to suggest that the process should start the sale of a power station or two," Ms Myburgh said.