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It Is With A Heavy Tongue...

Feature Article It Is With A Heavy Tongue...
OCT 14, 2021 LISTEN

Heaven on Earth
Our Jehovah Witness brothers and sisters, kindly permit us this analogy: some of us are on a searching spree, spotting houses, mansions, apartment complexes we had no hands in erecting, yet have wholeheartedly fallen in love with, and are placing our marks upon them. For when the time comes that Jehovah Lord comes for His people, and earth transforms into heaven, those buildings bearing our marks will be handed over to us. As limited as our earthly budgets have been, my brothers and sisters reading, the whole of Villaggio, from ground floor to the nineteenth floor will be yours—so far as you quicken your steps and get your marks placed upon them. There is a perfect explanation for this.

What ‘developing’ means
The basic nature and rationale behind terming a country a ‘developing’ one is that there are, more often than not, in such countries, more poor people than there are rich citizens. Hence, when making provisions for the people in these countries, in all things, most specifically in the provision of their most basic of needs, the best approach is arguably the bottom-up approach.

Like the need for food and water, right there in this indispensable mix, you have there, housing. So, let’s talk about housing. In the housing economy, as much as demand is higher at the bottom, purchasing prowess is, sadly, at its lowest at the bottom. But what are governments for? What is this incessant need for taxation to maintain a government, if not so that it can ultimately offer a helping hand to the vast majority of its populace burdened with inaccessibility? When undertaking a public housing initiative, won’t governments of developing countries (I am so tempted to say poor countries, but I hate that term) be remiss if they choose to tackle this problem at the flowers first—the rich in society, those who need little help from the government in acquiring their homes, rather than the root—the low to middle income earners, those who need all the help they can get in providing for themselves and their families, a human need so basic as the need for shelter?

Frankly speaking, a look back at our housing history as a nation shows a clear recognition by governments of this need for a bottom-up approach in addressing the nation’s housing issues. Policies governments have come up with all have at their core, an urge to address the national housing issue by addressing first, the low-income and middle-income earning populace. Yet why do we, a nation older and richer than Singapore, still find ourselves at this point—a point of raving housing deficits. We are still at a point where these segments of the populace (low to middle income earners) although largely provided for in legislative documents, in policies, etc., by past governments, are yet to see words put to action.

Let’s pick up from where we left things last week—the PP government, by delving straight into the era of the PNP.

The People’s National Party
From 1979 to 1981, with just two years in power, the Limann government, the People’s National Party, was not only rife with a global economic recession, but had on its hand a nation still in the heat of political instability—coups. Two years is all that government had, so maybe little can be expected of it. Yet within that two years, it cannot be said that the housing issue was never touched on. Like governments before it, both post and pre-independence, the Limann government made attempts at solving the nation’s ever-increasing housing deficit. It did not help matters that a global economic recession was experienced in the late 70s to early 80s. With the recession came, quite unsurprisingly, a decline in the construction industry, resulting from, among others, an increase in prices of imported building materials. This government, finding ways to be effective in the housing sector still, sought to champion the utilisation of local materials in construction so as to cut down construction cost. It followed up on this plan by setting up the nation’s Tile and Brick factory. The government, through the SHC, built a total of 1,990 housing units, and 228 through the TDC.

PNDC all the way to NDC
Two years after handing over power to the people’s elected Limann, the Rawlings regime changed its mind about this elected leader and toppled his rule. Hence began the era of the PNDC. This government, aiming itself at being of the people, set out at restoration. It sought to tackle the housing issues head on with the establishment of the NSS—the National Shelter Strategy. The government also instituted what it dubbed the ‘Ghana Vision 2020.’ (‘Vision 2020’, looking at the unpredictable 2020 we have had, how ironic this name sounds). It also signed on to the notorious Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) and the Economic Recovery Programme (SAP/ERP).

Realising the need for intense fore-planning in the housing sector in the bid to provide decent housing for the populace, this government formed the National Housing Policy Committee under its Ministry of Works and Housing, and this Committee came up with the National Shelter Strategy. The NSS proposed a focus on the provision of a working climate, one that encouraged private participation in the housing sector, more so than it did direct state involvement in erecting housing units—very much like governments preceding it. Again, very much like governments preceding it, it sought to promote the utilisation of local materials in construction; it also focused on providing housing for urban Ghana without neglecting rural areas. It also undertook to remove those hurdles that impede land acquisition (strenuous land litigations, land guard systems, etc.), increase the citizen’s access to financing, etc.

The Ghana Vision 2020 had the plan to provide affordable housing targeted at the low-income populace. And access to financing being one major hurdle impeding this group’s bid at acquiring homes, the government, with this Vision 2020 policy, sought to rectify this by giving such persons access to part of their SSNIT contributions as financing sources. But how is this to be entirely so when majority of the populace were employed in the informal sector—the informal sector with its endemic low patronage of SSNIT? And for how long should a person have worked, for their SSNIT contributions to afford them this purchasing power?

Unsurprisingly, the populace proved too poor to adequately benefit from this scheme; the government proved itself quite incapable of following up on its own plan. Ghana’s Vision for 2020 died long before 2020. So, for once, in its short but eventful existence on this earth, it cannot be said that Covid-19 was to blame.

In the 1980s, when the economic crises was at its very height, and majority of the developing world were on the hunt for scraps, Ghana’s hands were forced into signing onto the notorious SAP—an international agreement that sapped the country of the little life it had left. The World Bank and IMF’s Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAP), a trade liberalisation undertaken, very typical of such multinational treaties, promised developing nations, poor countries, a fair plane on the international space. Unimpeded international trade was to be a developing country like Ghana’s saving grace, a means to prove itself competitive on the global plane. Ghana was to, however, experience the direct opposite. Trade liberalisation for a nation ill-equipped at industrialisation, then the world’s major economic tool, meant local industries (in this case, local construction industries) had to face unfair competitions from foreign manufacturers. So then trade liberalisation, promising an equal playing field, ended up having the scales further tipped against us.

And there—right there is when the government, seeking to keep grasp of the housing market by regulating it with policies that served the public good, lost its grip. If this PNDC-turned-NDC government wanted to control housing prices, it should build its own houses. The private sector plagued by increasing costs of construction could not be controlled. Pricing was begrudgingly left in the claws of the market—demand and supply was to do its own bidding. The government, with its public regulations, was like a useless spouse, a useless parent who did not contribute to the upbringing of their wards. What use is such a parent’s advice to their wards?

Hence this young nation, experiencing increasing urbanisation characteristic of any developing nation worldwide, found itself experiencing the springing up of slums—here and there.

Kufuor’s 20,000 for the 2000s
Enter, the era of Kufuor. This government sought to build some 20,000 affordable housing units. Six years later only about 4,500 units had been built—spread across the country, from Accra to Kumasi, Koforidua to Tamale. These building were targeted at civil and public servants. But none of these projects, already massively falling short of the projected number, were actually completed.

The NDC government comes into power and leaves the project as they were, abandoned, rife with squatters. The nation’s resources put to waste.

Mill’s 200,000
Having come to power in 2009, and having abandoned its predecessor’s housing projects, the Mill’s government leapfrogged straight into making promises of its own. The government preceding it promised 20,000, this government promised a whopping 200,000. Its target group was to aptly be the low to middle-income earners. It very aptly sought to do this through public-private partnerships. The housing sector having changed hands in the past, from almost entirely public hands, to almost being dumped on the private sector, the Mill’s government sought to strike a balance—a feat attempted by some of its predecessors. One prone to being swayed by literature could easily fall in love with this plan. The plan set out to cut across all the 10 regions (their capitals). The STX Housing Project, it was dubbed—an agreement between the government and a largely-held Korean and partly-held Ghanaian construction company. But the project was snuffed out by the government even before it could commence, owing to some internal squabbles between the partners to the deal.

Other projects followed and followed suit in their failures—from the Guma Group Housing Project to the Shelter Afrique project. None were to see the successes envisaged.

A Bipartisan Housing Sector—we can only dream...

This is the point where all political parties—past and present governments clap for themselves. Because a look back at our housing history, one cannot point to even one past government and say they did nothing—not policy-wise at least. All came to power with plans. This, perhaps, is what makes the situation more disheartening—the fact that efforts were in fact placed, resources channeled into the sector, yet little positives reaped.

The Ministry of Works and Housing unlike many of the other ministries has had its name pretty much unchanged—its level of success has faced the same constancy.

Some international literatures on this matter, have suggested that Ghana focus its efforts more on provision of the right regulatory framework and environment to drive a private-sector driven housing sector. As if we don’t already know to do this. Ghana has already tried its hands on this—on numerous occasions and is doing so even now. Infamously under the Rawlings regime, we saw how this initiative was met with a global economic recession, a poor citizenry, government choosing to meet the people half of the way as was being done by say, the developed West, when in fact in our particular climate what they ought to have done was to meet them three-quarter of the way. At this point one does not know whether to blame our housing crises on bad management or bad luck. But bad luck cannot consistently target a particular group of people for this long—for six decades straight, can it? Why?! Even Job got a break.

A Soliloquy
One may argue that perhaps we have taken a page out of our past colonial government’s book—their inefficiency. ‘We learnt from the best’ they say; ‘We learnt from the worst’, we’ll have to say. Our conception of what government is, maybe has been flawed from inception. But I honestly do not believe that there exists in this nation called Ghana a peculiar greed that directs persons to take on the role of governance and ensue to cause destruction with inefficiency, ensue to take advantage of the people—promise one thing, and deliver on nothing.

But, on the other hand, we cannot ignore the fact that in solving the housing problem, what we have ensuing in the country is the filling of the tiny gap existing for the rich segment of the society when the plentiful low-income earners are left to fend for themselves—so kiosks, uncompleted building, the streets, etc., it is. So, what do we attribute the nation’s endemic housing deficit to? Mismanagement? Bad Leadership? Or is it corruption?

Or perhaps, Ghana has had a plan all along. Although seeming to be erroneously serving high income earners in excess, the country in fact has an intentional plan to create luxury apartments in excess—supply far exceeding demand. And when rich complexes are left untaken by the few rich what happens? Enter, the middle to low-income earners to rent and buy these apartments, depreciated in value for their sheer excess in numbers. This might just be the classic case of when two elephants fight, it is the ground that suffers. No. In this particular case it is the ant that gets the right of way. Maybe after running around in circles Ghana might just end up like Singapore, with the poor housed in rich complexes. Maybe Ghana is a woman with a plan after all!

That is why, I tell you, all ye brethren, to wait, heaven is right on the verge of coming down to earth. So, whip out your markers, everyone! That fancy building could be yours very soon. So far as you ‘make quick’ and place your mark upon it. Please let’s be civil about this. You see the Iris Apartment Complex right at Airport Residential, the 1st to 3rd floor, go there, look closely at those walls, you will see my mark upon them. Please let’s be civil about this, when you see those apartments, pass them over! Go look for yours!

I have other building spread across the country; I will be releasing the list soon.

Or we may just be adopting the top-down approach (we would be lying to ourselves if we believe this to be so). Our governments do not score an ‘A’ for having some sort of ‘trickle-down’ plan, one that seeks to efficiently solve the problem, by tackling first, the top—the rich segment.

When the facts are laid before us, we cannot help but chalk it all up, no matter how demeaning it is in the end to us all, to bad leadership and mismanagement. When you place your clean against another’s clean and yours looks dirty, it may just be time for you to do some re-washing—some re-thinking. When we weigh the Ghanaian housing journey against our case-study nation, Singapore’s, this is just how it feels. So no, the Ghanaian citizenry cannot give her governments (past and present) an ‘A’ for effort we can only give them an ‘E’.

Perhaps the time has come for Ghanaians to open their eyes (not half-closed by political sentiments) more keenly to the housing situation. The era where governments come into power and childishly turn a nose up at successive government’s housing initiatives ought to stop. Because the truth is, most of these promises these governments make almost always seem way to realistic for a 4-year time slot—8-year time slot even. But in the long-term when united efforts are placed on them, they are achievable. In our 64 years of existence, if such strategies had been placed and religiously adhered to, the base of the Kwame Nkrumah Interchange would perhaps have been left alone.

[Published in Business & Financial Times (B&FT) - 14th October, 2021]

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