Sunday, September 20, 2020

Government’s new initiatives to improve land allocation and home ownership are welcome

In his state of the nation address to the first session of the tenth parliament on Friday, President Seretse Khama Ian Khama made some very welcome remarks on the commitment of government to ensuring that the issue of land allocation and home ownership is addressed. It is a fact that efficient allocation of land for residential, agricultural, industrial and commercial use is vital to realizing our development goals.

Recently drama unfolded at the Tlokweng Land Board when thousands of Batswana camped at the land board offices to try and beat others in a desperate stampede for what transpired to be only 285 plots. This spectacle, and the incessant complaints that have been raised about lack of land, bear testimony to the fact that there is a problem of land allocation in our country.

Waiting lists at land boards for those who have applied for residential plots date back to the eighties, such that some have even stopped bothering to apply for land. It is unbelievable that our government is failing to accelerate land allocation in a vast country like Botswana, with a small population of less than 2 million. While we appreciate the financial constraints that cause delays in provision of serviced land, we feel that government is not doing enough.

Khama’s announcement that government will facilitate the delivery of serviced land and housing through expanded private sector participation is welcome. But we must caution that stringent checks and balances must be put in place to ensure that this program is not abused.

Land board officials must also pull up their socks. It is evident that all is not well at our land boards. We urge government to investigate and deal with reports of laxity and corruption at our local land boards.

There are some among us who connive with government officials to hoard acres of land for themselves while the rest of Batswana have to scramble for the remaining land. While the president has reassured the nation that government will deal with this scourge, he has not elaborated exactly how he will do that. It is an open secret that those who own swathes of land are high flying influential businessmen who wine and dine with our civic and community leaders. Some of our leaders in government are also culprits. We do not have to hunt for them. We know them. This issue should have been addressed way back. Repossess that land and give it to other landless citizens. This country is not for the chosen few, it is for all of us. We all deserve to be treated equally in allocating land.

Through the Self Help Housing Agency (SHHA) program, low income households have been able to access finance to build their homes. In order to complement the SHHA scheme, government also introduced the Turnkey Development Scheme for beneficiaries to access completed houses. The SHHA loan threshold was increased from P20 000 to P45 000, while the Turnkey was set at P 60,000. The repayment period was also increased from 15 years to 20 years without interest for those who do not default in loan repayments. Since April 2009 over P 15 million was disbursed to 351 beneficiaries under the SHHA loan, and a further P 29 million for 489 Turnkey projects. This is a commendable effort on the part of government. Batswana should also be encouraged to play their part in ensuring that they repay back such loans. Almost all council sessions in Botswana are inundated with reports of millions of Pulas that are owed to government by Batswana who default on their SHHA loan repayments. This is unacceptable. Those who have enjoyed the benefits of the SHHA loans should strive to repay the money so that our future generations may also enjoy such benefits. The entitlement mentality must stop. The citizens of this country should also play their part in making sure that we complement government’s efforts to provide land and housing for those in need. It is a national duty.

Government has initiated additional schemes aimed at improving housing delivery for different target groups based on need. These include provision of high density and multi-residential houses for the youth, as well as bachelor flats for first time home owners and employees. The introduction of the Installment Purchase Scheme is also very welcome as it will make rental and purchase of BHC houses more affordable. The target group for the scheme will be the low-income upper as well as middle-income lower groups, whose incomes range from P3000 ÔÇô P7000 per month. This is a category of home seekers who are above the threshold of the SHHA scheme and below the existing target of the Botswana Housing Corporation; such that they have difficulties securing loans to either build or buy houses. What is of paramount importance is that we must ensure that the scheme remains sustainable.

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Sunday Standard September 20 – 26

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of September 20 - 26, 2020.