By Shinovene Immanuel | 15 September 2017
THE renovation of a section at State House that accommodates the offices of President Hage Geingob, his aides and other officials will cost government over N$40 million.
Presidential affairs minister Frans Kapofi declined to comment on the issue two weeks ago, but senior government officials with direct knowledge of the upgrades said the renovations which started two years ago will be completed in the next few months. The officials declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter.
News about the cost of renovating State House comes at the same time that it has surfaced that the first couple have not resided at the presidential palace at State House for almost two years because of “personal reasons”.
State House has refused to publicly reveal the cost of the renovations since they commenced in 2015, after Geingob became Namibia’s third President.
The renovations include, among others, adding new windows, new offices, and new electronic fittings in the President’s office, as well as a balcony for the head of state.
Officials argued that the President’s office was apparently too dark, and needed to be improved by turning empty space and boardrooms into offices to avoid renting space for staff outside State House.
The look of Namibia’s Presidential office remains a top secret to the public, unlike the US president’s Oval Office, at the White House in Washington, DC, which is fairly well-known the world over. Geingob was expected to move into his upgraded office before the end of this year.
People briefed by Geingob said the President instructed his staff to use local companies to manufacture some of the furnishings and decorations for the section under renovation.
Sources added that the Presidency is set to issue furniture-making tenders, and hope to use some local contractors. State House tenders are shrouded in secrecy, and are awarded to hand-picked companies.
The State House renovations were mostly done by North Korean state-owned company, Mansudae Overseas Projects, the same firm that was hit with sanctions by the United Nations following North Korea’s nuclear tests.
Because of the sanctions, Mansudae Overseas Projects was removed from the State House renovation project in March this year after the Namibian government told two North Korean companies that their services would not be needed as long as the UN sanctions were in place.
The tender was taken over by Qingdao Construction, a Chinese company which has won previous state security-related tenders, such as the N$35 million construction of former President Hifikepunye Pohamba’s retirement mansion. Qingdao said it also built Mali’s presidential palace.
Sources have indicated that the initial N$40 million price tag of the renovations could now have ballooned since the Chinese company took over from the North Koreans.
Other senior government officials said they were not going to pay the North Korean company any penalty fees because the decision to break off the contract was imposed on government by the United Nations.
A senior finance ministry official said government had not paid Mansudae Overseas Projects since last year for the project.
The President’s decision to cut ties with North Korea appears to have led to clashes in power circles in government.
People familiar with government discussions said some senior state officials misled, lied to and withheld information from Geingob on North Korea’s business dealings in Namibia.
One person close to the talks described the secrecy and lack of information by some government officials in their dealings with the President as plain “dishonesty”.
Geingob took over State House on 20 March 2015 from former President Pohamba. That was a day before Geingob took charge of government on 21 March 2015. Pohamba handed the keys to Geingob, and reminded him to take care of the house and the grounds around it.
However, the President moved out of the palace around this time in 2015. Geingob and his family moved back to his private villa, Casa Rosalia, which is situated on the eastern edges of Windhoek, along the road linking the capital city to Hosea Kutako International Airport.
Senior government officials continue to give mixed messages about why the President is not staying at State House.
Presidential affairs minister Frans Kapofi told The Namibian in 2015 that the President moved out of the official residence in 2015 to pave the way for renovations to start.
Kapofi repeated this line yesterday. He said the President’s decision to leave the official residence was also prompted by Geingob’s commitment to oversee the renovations at his own house (at own cost), which he apparently needed to personally monitor.
However, people familiar with the President’s decision to vacate State House said it had nothing to do with renovations as suggested by Kapofi.
A source said the proposal to renovate the presidential residence at State House was rejected by the first couple.
The President’s decision to move out of the palace was mainly motivated by personal reasons, a person with direct knowledge of the decision said.
According to officials, Geingob and First Lady Monica Geingos agreed to stay at Casa Rosalia for the sake of their children, who apparently enjoyed staying there.
The Namibian understands that the first couple were also concerned about the leaking of private information to the public at State House. Sources said some family members struggled to cope during their brief stay at the North Korean-built palace, while others feared for their privacy.
It’s not clear when the first family will move back to State House, but sources said there were several personal issues which needed to be addressed before they moved back.
Renovating an office is not new to Geingob. He allegedly spearheaded substantial renovations of the former State House office block around Windhoek’s central business district when he was reappointed Prime Minister in 2013. Those renovations cost more than N$100 million, according to sources in the Office of the Prime Minister.