EDITORIAL COMMENT: Who is fooling who?

HAVING created chaos in the allocation of land for housing development across the country, government has suddenly made a volte-face, telling all who care to listen that it will, with immediate effect, no longer allocate land to developers and co-operatives. That responsibility has been passed onto the Urban Development Corporation (UDCORP) which, until the announcement last week, was hardly visible.
The sudden policy shift was announced by Christopher Chingosho, the Deputy Minister of Local Government, Public Works and National Housing.
It is still not clear if all concerned stakeholders were consulted beforehand. For a government that has gained notoriety for imposing its will without considering what other stakeholders think about issues that affect them, very few people would be surprised if history is to repeat itself.
By surrendering this enormous responsibility to UDCORP, it is hoped that the parastatal would be able to restore normalcy in the allocation of land for housing development, which is a flight of fancy.
Zimbabwe has a huge housing backlog estimated at 1,25 million. Harare and Bulawayo alone are sitting on a backlog of 500 000 and 110 000 respectively.
Government has been caught at its wits-end, with neither the resources nor the expertise to deal with the huge demand for housing. To get around its inadequacies and boost its appeal among the electorate, the governing ZANU-PF party exerted its influence, leading to the opening of floodgates to more than 2 000 housing cooperatives and several private developers who are now giving urban planners a torrid time.
As with all government-driven programmes, the allocation of land was hijacked by politicians and criminals, who viewed the initiative as an opportunity to enrich themselves. Thousands of desperate home seekers have fallen prey to these heartless politicians disguised as land barons, with government doing nothing at all to bring these culprits to book.
Until such time these culprits are made to pay for their sins, the current initiative needs to be treated with a pinch of salt. To a lot of people, the Ministry of Local Government is simply trying to calm President Robert Mugabe who recently expressed his unhappiness over an illegal settlement that had been allowed to take shape on the fringes of Airport Road, in Harare.
After President Mugabe took umbrage at the illegal settlement built on land meant for the expansion of the Harare International Airport, his officials have been busy demolishing the settlement and relocating the affected families to some hidden land. Had it not been for that, it could have been business as usual for the mandarins in the Ministry of Local Government who find it easy to turn a blind eye to the madness unfolding in urban settlements than antagonise their political godfathers, who are making a killing out of the chaos.
We refuse to be fooled that UDCORP has all of a sudden developed the capacity required to deal with the mayhem in and around the country’s towns and cities.
To all intents and purposes, UDCORP is no different from the other hopeless State enterprises that are struggling to discharge their mandates due to years of underfunding, political interference and mismanagement.
Until UDCORP is fully capacitated and there is political will to restore order in the delivery of housing, government’s corky behaviour is not any different from that of an ostrich which hides its head in the sand in the false hope that it can simply wish away its problems.

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