Bravo to Oshakati officials for repossessing the unused plots hoarded by business entities. Better late than never. Make good on this needed act by putting those plots up for sale to citizens or other businesses desperate for serviced plots for houses.
But that is not the story here. Plots held tight for no reason other than ego, fake social standing, and meaningless business plans beg the question of how (not why) businesses were allowed to squat indefinitely on serviced, and un-serviced land with the promise of building houses and they did not deliver.
Our laws and regulations covering what happened in Oshakati –and is likely occurring all over Namibia– have loopholes wide enough to drive a bus through. The new normal offered by COVID and an empty national treasury provides the perfect opportunity to break with the past of winking at wasteful government and municipal inefficiencies and do the right thing for all constituents, not just a few.
Regardless of the reason, the inability to fulfill promises made years ago to deliver houses to a public desperate for affordable homes is a disgrace. That said, there was nothing illegal about this rampant but morally questionable business practice of grabbing land with hollow promises.
Until when will Namibian lawmakers and regulations, crafters learn how to make a deal without holes in it?
Our political leaders on all levels are deficient in crafting airtight legislation; local authorities have no monopoly on that failing. The result has been that business squatters are doing nothing on land that could have been used by private citizens or other businesses with the capacity to build houses. The new normal in this COVID and financial disaster-ridden era should teach that limited resources must be applied with extreme care. We can no longer wait years for promises to be kept. Action on affordable housing is needed now.
Businesses seeking land to build affordable houses must have a viable business plan applicable to the exact project land requested. These documents must be READ cover-to-cover by decision-makers and evaluated professionally. Independent consultants paid by the state or development partners can assist the largely untrained town and village councils in this matter.
Those receiving land grants from the government or municipalities must have legally binding, contractual start and completion dates. These contracts must stipulate quality criteria for each property delivered, negotiated milestones for levels of completion, and punitive action tools available for breach of contract. Verifiable proof of financing for the project must be on the record and renewed throughout the contract period.
There must be an arbitration mechanism and the ability for a business in trouble (for example, due to Covid) to back out without penalty. Allocations of multiple plots of land due to a briefcase business’ unchecked plan or smooth talk from company bigwigs must stop.
Municipalities must consider demanding a percentage of the estimated construction price as a deposit refundable only on satisfactory completion of the contract. There must be financial bonuses for early completion of quality outputs. These kinds of things are typical in most construction contracts, and yet Oshakati did not use them.
Changing this status quo means decision-makers have to do their jobs instead of relying on gentlemen’s agreements and signing things they do not understand.
It helps nothing to worry about which Northern businessman is fingered, involvement of Chinese entrepreneurs, or whose husband owns what business in the Oshakati mess. That is water under the bridge; nothing illegal may have been done by anyone involved. There is a desperate need to move forward and build affordable houses.
We wait for the real leaders to step up fearlessly. Unbreakable and concrete regulations with legal checks and balances –including fines and jail time for defaults– must be implemented.
Decision-makers must learn from past nonsense. They need to grow a firm spine, face off with connected people and refuse direct or implied gifts that may have been offered. Those granting plots to businesses to hoard for years must make new regulations that prioritize people in need of housing.