General News of Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Source: The Public Agenda

Gov't blamed for increasing homelessness among Ghanaians

The Institute for Fiscal Policy (IFP) of the Integrated Social Development Centre (ISODEC) has blamed successive governments for their failure to develop and implement a housing policy that will facilitate citizens' access to affordable housing.

Citing Ghana's first president, the late Dr Kwame Nkrumah, and former head of state, the late Gen. Ignatius Kutu Acheampong as the only visionary leaders of the post-independence era to have consciously pursued housing policies that led to many ordinary Ghanaians owning houses in Tema, Teshie-Nungua, Dansoman, Sunyani, Bolga and several other cities, the policy think tank argued that housing is a fundamental human right under the United Nations Economic, Social and Cultural Rights framework and that governments are under obligation to either provide or facilitate access to decent and affordable housing for their citizens.

The Universal Declaration on Human Rights recognises a number of economic, social and cultural rights, and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) provides the legal framework for the exercise of these rights.

Economic, social and cultural rights cover the right to education, right to housing, right to adequate standard of living, right to health and the right to a cultural identity. United Nations (UN) member states have a legal obligation to respect, protect and fulfill economic, social and cultural rights and are expected to take "progressive action" towards their achievement.

Commenting on the recent demolition exercise carried out by the Tema Development Corporation (TDC) at Adjei-Kojo in an exclusive interview with the Public Agenda, Mrs Philomena Johnson, Coordinator of the Institute noted that, shelter is an essential need of humanity and therefore access to it has to be thought-through and facilitated by way of policy.

The policy, she observed should either provide the houses or create the enabling environment for the citizens to acquire them.

She suggested that the housing deficit that confronts the country is as a result of what she describes as a policy vacuum, and that demolition exercises such as undertaken by the TDC, do not only worsen the housing situation but flies in the face of Ghana's obligations under UN protocols on the right to shelter.

“Because Government has not created the opportunity for the people to access decent and affordable housing, they look out for places to settle out of desperation,” she said, adding that “housing needs have not been fully met and society therefore tends to look at how best they can survive.”

Mrs Johnson advised that the development of a future housing policy must be approached in a participatory manner, and must find a role for local private companies rather than giving sovereign guarantees to multinational foreign companies whose houses can only be afforded by the rich in the society.

The proposed policy, according to the policy think tank, should also revise downward and streamline fees charged by local authorities in respect of building permits, as the high costs associated with the acquisition of these permits have been blamed for the non-compliance of developers with the requirement.

This view confirms the findings of investigations carried out by the Public Agenda which revealed that in the Adenta Municipality, fees charged for building permits range between GHC3,000 and GHC4,500 while those charged by the Tema Metropolitan Assembly range between GHC4,000 and GHC6,000.

According to the Paper's investigations, the high fees constituted a huge disincentive for the acquisition of the necessary permit to build. Developers will rather spend these amounts in procuring cement and building blocks to begin their projects rather than’ lock up’ the monies in a piece of paper that adds little to their quest to provide shelter for themselves and their families.

Mr Ernest Tay Awoosah, also of ISODEC, suggested that the cumbersome processes and the frustration associated with land acquisition to a large extent discouraged people from going through due processes to document their lands.

Commenting on the housing deficit, he said lack of continuity in building projects by successive governments has contributed greatly to the problem.

“There are so many uncompleted houses started by a government, and abandoned by the next government. “Partisan politics in the conceptualisation and execution of projects has contributed to the problems,” he stressed.

He proposed that the Government should consider as part of a national housing policy, a framework for regulating the mortgage sector, with a view to keeping interest rates within reasonable limits. The high interest rates, he said, compel people to mobilise their own resources to put up their own houses.

Meanwhile, President John Dramani Mahama has promised that his government would initiate a pilot scheme to combine social housing with improved sanitation and water supply. This will particularly concentrate on the dense urban slums where the phenomenon of safe sanitation and waste disposal are very weak.

President Mahama made the declaration when he delivered the State of the Nation address in Parliament last year. He said government would be working to consolidate the various strategies being implemented to bridge the huge housing deficit, adding that the strategies which were in themselves opportunities for public-private partnership arrangements, would include the construction of low cost units for lower income groups, rural and social housing for the very poor and mortgage facilities for those who could afford.

These pledges, according to the IFP, ought to form the foundation of a coherent national policy on housing, which depending on how inclusive and participatory its formulation process assumes, will transcend political regimes.