No point building huge structures but having to rely on public funds for maintenance

The RM38.5 million repair bill for Seri Perdana that was disclosed in Parliament this week, raised eyebrows, especially when the country’s economy had been severely impacted by Covid-19.

Repair works for the 22-year-old building was approved in March this year by then-prime minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin. He, however, claimed to not have occupied the residence during his tenure.

In her column in Malay news portal Getaran this week, Twentytwo13’s Pearl Lee said the government had attempted to justify renovation works “to ensure the safety and to uplift the country’s image”. However, she felt it was time to rethink our priorities, especially concerning multi-million ringgit government buildings that were underutilised.

Seri Perdana, which cost RM24.17 million to build, was completed in 1999.

Pearl said comparatively speaking, the White House, which has 132 rooms and 35 bathrooms, had been used as the official residence of the President of the United States, since the 1800s. The yearly maintenance cost is between US$750,000 and US$1.6 million a year (between RM3.1 million and RM6.7 million).

“In the United Kingdom, £30,000 (RM169,000) of public funds is allocated annually to maintain and decorate 10 Downing Street. The building had been in use since 1735,” she said.

Rashtrapati Bhavan, in New Delhi, is the official home for the President of India. In 2007, it was reported that the cost of maintaining the residence, was Rs1 billion (RM56,319,819) a year.

“It is not cheap living in a big home… not forgetting the cost of electricity, workers’ salaries and landscaping fees, which can cost hundreds of thousands, if not millions of ringgit, a year,” said Pearl.

She said from a two-room apartment, a terrace house, and a mansion with hundreds of rooms, maintenance fees would always be there.

“Yet, the mentality is often: Build big. Think about money for maintenance later,” she said.

Pearl said setting aside one per cent a year from the value of a property for maintenance, was a good start.

The maintenance of government buildings in this country is sourced from public funds. While some buildings are well maintained, others were left to deteriorate, due to a lack of funds.

“Why isn’t there a sinking fund for these buildings?”

“Shouldn’t there be an audit of how many government buildings that are actually occupied and fully optimised?”

She added: “Can we not convert unused rooms, auditoriums, halls, or fields into co-working spaces or spaces that can be rented out to the public or corporations for events?”

Constructing buildings, she said, be it for residence or office spaces, was a long-term investment. The pandemic had shown us that it was possible to work from anywhere, without the need to enter big buildings.

“It’s time we rethink our priorities as it is pointless to build big, only to rely on public funds to maintain these buildings.”

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