Saturday, September 26, 2020

BHC Tsholofelo flats: A true reflection of deception & state sponsored debt trap

BY VICTOR BAATWENG

On Friday the minister responsible for housing ÔÇô Vincent Seretse officially launched the Botswana Housing Corporation’s latest housing project dubbed Tsholofelo 372 Housing Development.

From the government’s point of view the Friday occasion is supposed to send the nation into ululations. We are to celebrate the fact that a state owned enterprise has delivered a big housing project like Tsholofelo 372. Sadly the mood on the ground seems to be suggesting otherwise. The youth of this country ÔÇô atleast based on the comments they made on various social media platforms are not entirely excited about the Tsholofelo 372. The feel robbed and deceived ÔÇô indeed they have been robbed of their future and lied to about their prospects to finally own a house for the first time.  This is so because initially when the project was started, the nation was made to believe that it will fall under the affordable housing scheme, precisely under the Instalment Purchase Scheme (IPS). Sadly the government seems to have now put BHC under the bus and forced it to sell the units to credit worthy youth at an open market price close to half a million Pula (440, 000).

Following the Friday occasion, the key question that comes to one’s mind though, is whether this corporation (BHC) is really delivering on its mandate?

Assuming the answer to the question is YES, why then are we being told that credit worth youth should queue up at commercial banks and other financiers to seek for “proof of credit worthiness”. Why is the government through BHC tempting the youth – most of whom earn peanuts, to go into house ownership through the heavy-debt-route? What happened to the idea of offering the youth the flats on rent to buy basis as part of BHC’s affordable housing strategy?

We ask these questions because when the Tsholofelo 372 Housing Development and other similar projects that BHC is still undertaking were initiated we were told that they have been tailor made for low income youth. They were portrayed as part of the affordable housing scheme that the government has come up with. The Chief Executive Officer of BHC Reginald Motswaiso is on record stating that  the project was first conceived in 2009 as the Instalment Purchase Scheme (IPS) specifically targeting the youth (18 to 35 years) and other Batswana in the monthly income bracket of P3 000 to P7 000.

But as of last week, we are now being told a different story. The goal posts have totally been shifted. As it stands only the rich and or the politically connected few will be able to buy houses for their children/businesses and the highly indebted low and middle income earners would either lose out or be forced to extend their life time debt to the point of the second coming of Jesus.

Assuming the answer to our key question is NO, the next question then becomes what plans do we have for those who were to be beneficiaries of ‘affordable housing’? The misplaced high property prices in this country especially houses call for urgent intervention by the government to adequately provide housing units that are affordable to those at the bottom of the income ladder. This is a role that the nation wish BHC could take up seriously. All things being the same, the government through BHC has a duty to protect its citizenry from the sky high property prices by coming up with affordable housing units for the majority of the working class. 

As we write this, low to middle income prospective purchasers of houses have been shut out of the market as evidenced by the exponential increase in house prices. It is fait that one could even conclude that Botswana’s affordable housing market is non-existent and as such it is a shame for government to initiate a project like the Tsholofelo one in the name of affordable housing and then when beneficiaries lines up to claim their share then goal posts are shifted. This is typical example of a state sponsored deception. As things are, and in a country like ours where the average income needed to buy the cheapest newly built house by a formal developer is almost double the average annual urban household income, home ownership in Botswana will continue to remain an idea sought after but gravely unattainable.

On the occasion that marked the announcement of what should by now have radically changed the shape of home ownership in our country, the Government said six years ago that one of the functions of SIHA (Single Housing Authority), mandated to BHC will be the provision of ‘affordable’ and ‘adequate’ housing for all income categories.  As we all might be aware, the establishment of SIHA came as a result of numerous complaints by many Batswana over the past three or so decades of high cost of acquiring houses.

But as we all know, BHC has to date failed to meet the housing needs of Batswana. If anything, the corporation is a competitor in the property market whose houses are priced way beyond the reach of many Batswana. As we always state in this space, we are awake to the fact that the corporation has been lobbying the government through the line ministry to be given more independence. This is a noble request that should have long been adhered to by the powers that be if deception was not part of their bigger plan to enrich themselves and their close circles. Indeed if given autonomy ÔÇô more especially in terms of financing BHC would be better placed to make management decisions that would benefit both the public and the corporation’s line of business.

While we prepare to join the low and middle income youth of this country to watch as those with money scramble for the Tsholofelo units, we also have to remind the government and BHC that there are many benefits that can be derived by the local economy in the provision of cheaper but attractive housing units to the natives. That Batswana aspire to homeownership is clear and not questionable. The #Bottomline is that while some may postpone acting on that desire, as they almost certainly have over the past several years, a change in policy that would make house affordable could readily change that.

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