MPs’ Sh150m ‘escape’ tunnel and Sh8bn office block to open soon

underground tunnel for Members of Parliament

A section of Harambee Avenue when it was closed to pave the way for the construction of an underground tunnel for Members of Parliament on December 4, 2017. The tunnel, which is now complete, connects the main parliament buildings with the new office block. 

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Beneath the section of Nairobi’s Harambee Avenue that stretches from Parliament Road and Uhuru Highway lies a Sh150 million tunnel that connects the main Parliament buildings with the new ultramodern Sh8.5 billion Bunge Towers, a new office complex for MPs.

The construction of the five-metre-wide, 120-metre-long tunnel was specifically to “protect” the lawmakers from the prying eyes of their constituents and otherwise “bothersome” members of the public.

Members of the public have been known to mill around the parliament gates to beg for handouts from the MPs whenever the lawmakers are accessing or leaving the main parliament buildings.

The imminent launch of the tunnel means that it will be hard for members of the public to catch the sight of their MPs when entering and leaving Parliament.

The tunnel is separated into two – vehicular and pedestrian – and links the main Parliament building to the office block at Basement 2 and other neighbouring parliament buildings.

MPs had on many occasions complained to parliamentary leadership of being “waylaid” by their supporters and strangers at the parliament gate who were seeking financial help and other kinds of assistance, necessitating the construction of the tunnels.
During the design of the office block, a traffic study was undertaken on the roads around Parliament.

It established that it was necessary to separate the entry and exit of vehicles to the basement parking due to the size of the building and the amount of traffic that would be generated.

The study recommended that vehicles enter the main parliament through the main entrance opposite County Hall on Harambee Avenue and then enter the tunnel near the staff canteen and to Basement 2.

It said the vehicles should then exit the basement parking on the southern end of the new building, which is the side that overlooks Haile Selassie Avenue.

Modern facility

An exclusive tour down the tunnel tells a story of a modern facility.

The two sets of tunnels are properly ventilated, have a 24-hour lighting system, have Wi-Fi internet coverage, are cleaned round the clock, have a well-thought-out drainage system, are properly aerated and are manned by security officers on a 24-hour basis.

The tunnels are also fitted with ducts to facilitate power, data and voice transmission to the adjacent buildings.

Bunge Towers was initiated by the Parliamentary Service Commission (PSC) in 2010 to provide sufficient office space for MPs. It also has committee rooms among other facilities but was never going to be complete without the tunnels.

“The vehicular tunnel helps address traffic challenges that would have inconvenienced the lawmakers and members of the public. So, I will say that the idea of the tunnel for both vehicles and pedestrians was well-thought-out,” says National Assembly Speaker Moses Wetang’ula.

Mr Wetang’ula is the chairperson of the PSC by virtue of his position as Speaker of the National Assembly.

The ultra-modern building was originally designed for members of the National Assembly with 320 offices. The coming in of the new constitution in 2010 saw senators included.

Other than the two tunnels, the office block has four basements, a ground floor, 27 floors and an access building in the main parliament buildings.

The complex was originally meant to cost the taxpayer Sh5.89 billion. However, the cost was revised to Sh7.1 billion with financial claims attracting Sh1.1 billion and Sh225.2 million in interest on delayed payments.

Members of Parliament

Bunge Towers was initiated by the Parliamentary Service Commission (PSC) in 2010 to provide sufficient office space for MPs. It also has committee rooms among other facilities but was never going to be complete without the tunnels.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

So far, Sh6.7 billion has been spent on the building. The initial contract period was 42 months but was extended to 72 months. 
By the time the building is completed and handed over to the PSC, it will have cost the taxpayer Sh8.5 billion.

Construction works ended last year and currently, the complex is being fitted with office furniture among other items. By next month, it will be occupied.

During the induction of members of the 13th Parliament in September last year, PSC had “expressed optimism” to have them settled in the new office block by the end of October 2022.

However, Mr Wetang’ula says that this was not possible because contractors required more time to wind up key installations and fittings before handing over the building to the commission.

“I am reliably informed that the contractors have made commendable progress and soon, the building will be ready for occupation,” says Mr Wetang’ula.

Building layout

The building’s four basement floors have parking spaces for up to 350 vehicles. There is also one reception area on the ground floor, 19 floors for the 331 offices for both members of the National Assembly and Senate.

It also has four floors hosting 26 committee rooms, an open garden floor, a state-of-the-art restaurant, a health club and a service floor.
Mr Wetang’ula recently announced that the allocation of offices between the National Assembly and the Senate had been finalised.

Of the 349 members in the National Assembly, only 280 – being the equitable share of offices apportioned to the House in the new building – will be allocated offices.
This leaves out 63 other members to be housed elsewhere.

The rest of the office spaces will be occupied by 51 of the 67 elected and nominated Senators.

The leadership of the two Houses – deputy party whips, members of the Speaker’s panel, chairpersons of committees and vice chairpersons of committees –  will be given priority in the allocation of the offices.

All members serving for the second term or further in parliament and members with disability will also be accommodated in the new complex.

“I hasten to assure members that those who will not be accommodated in the new block that they will be allocated appropriate spaces in other existing parliamentary buildings,” said Mr Wetang’ula.

At Basement 4, the building has fire pumps, water storage tanks, a borehole and rainwater treatment plant, booster and drainage pumps, and parking.

At basements 3, 2 and 1, there are 350 parking slots for members and staff cars, stores and offices.
Vehicles will access the basement parking from the main parliament gate and enter the building at Basement 2.

On the ground floor, there are security reception areas, an MPs’ entrance, a library for members, VIP lifts, a public entrance and lounge areas.

The 26 committee rooms are located on the first, second, third and fifth floors of the building and are served by the six escalators in the building.
The committee rooms are fitted with modern audio-visual and conference management systems.
Four committee rooms will further be fitted with video conference facilities to enable remote presentation of evidence to committees by witnesses.

The fourth floor is an open floor that facilitates ventilation into the building and reduces the necessity of air conditioning in the office floors.

Garden furniture is also on the fourth floor to provide a relaxing environment for the legislators.
The 331 MPs’ offices are found from the 6th to the 22nd floors.

The members’ offices are provided in two configurations — two members sharing one secretarial and personal assistant office; or one member having a single secretarial and personal assistant office.

The 23rd floor hosts two large restaurant spaces for members and staff, three private dining spaces and a modern kitchen.

The 24th floor has an up-to-date health club that includes cardio sections, massage rooms, steam bath and sauna, reflexology, manicure and pedicure facilities.

Part of the 25th floor of the building has the aerobics gym.

The remaining part of the 25th floor houses the security caretakers’ flat and control rooms for the integrated security management system (ISMS) for surveillance.

The inlets and outlets for the mechanical ventilation system, parking for the building maintenance systems, and the atrium and solar water heating systems are found on the 26th floor.