Minister of Lands, Housing and Urban Development Atupele Muluzi speaks with our reporter Boniface Phiri on issues surrounding the Decent and Affordable Housing Subsidy Programme (DAHSP).
How have you addressed issues surrounding alleged favouritism in DAHSP, especially regarding identification of beneficiaries and the awarding of tenders to suppliers of iron sheets?
There has not been any favouritism in the awards of tenders so far because bids were openly administered in line with the Public Procurement Act and all suppliers who submitted their bids and qualified were picked. Regarding the identification of beneficiaries, DAHSP is designed in a way that local communities themselves run it through their Housing Development Groups (HDGs). These groups practice group dynamics and are responsible for identifying beneficiaries who are also requested to join such groups.
What’s the viability of the programme considering that some people including experts in the construction industry have criticised the idea, saying it is encouraging laziness and the dependency syndrome in the people?
DAHSP is different from other subsidy programmes around. In DAHSP, the subsidised building materials are partly a loan, meaning the beneficiaries have to pay back monthly. That alone makes it ideal and in fact takes care of laziness. It is targeting those interested to share the cost, and join the HDGs. The beneficiaries also do the initial works themselves, like collection of sand and gathering of bricks and other locally-sourced requirements. So, there is no hand-out spirit in DAHSP.
What implementation modalities has your ministry put in place in order to guard against any malpractices that could derail the programme?
When materials are being moved to HDGs, there is a police escort that guards against any malpractices until everything is left in the hands of the HDGs. The HDGs are their own guard, and do intervene whenever they smell a rat. Items can be withdrawn from any beneficiary once any malpractices are reported. It is as transparent as possible at all levels.
There have also been issues surrounding payment of suppliers which sometimes halt or delay the delivery of materials to beneficiaries. Has this been rectified?
The problem of payment is now water under the bridge. It occurred only once when the previous budget had just been passed, remember it delayed. Usually funds do not start flowing immediately after passing the national budget, as it takes two weeks or so for resources to properly start appearing in the system. That was rectified long ago and we no longer experience such cases. My advice to suppliers is that they need to hold their patience as the IFMIS system requires that any payments have to go through several stages before a cheque is released to avoid a repeat of Cashgate. Let me also assure suppliers that resources are available to honour their payments.
So far, how would you describe the success of the programme? Have you rolled out to all districts and, if so, how many people have benefited at present?
The programme has since rolled out to all the districts, with over 1 800 HDGs formed in all the 193 constituencies. Successes, yes. Apart from providing decent and affordable housing, DAHSP is this year creating jobs and boosting local economies. It has employed carpenters, builders, suppliers of poles and also engaging three NGOs in the housing sector who will construct houses for the vulnerable under the grant component. We have also devolved the procurement of poles to local councils, a thing which will create more opportunities for local economies. Over 1 000 houses have so far been completed now, but the figure will treble by end of October as delivery of materials will be at 100 percent. We are expected to have 15 440 houses by the end of this financial year alone.
What is your ministry doing in terms of inviting more players into the cement and iron sheets industries as that would also ensure sustainability of the programme?
The Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development is key on government’s ease of doing business approach through the provision of land, which is an important factor of production. On the other hand, since the implementation of DAHSP, more Malawians have now understood the concept and are indicating huge desire to start businesses that will be producing iron sheets. This subsidy programme has created a ready market for 29 gauge iron sheets, which were scarce in Malawi before. As this programme continues in the next five years, demand for 29 gauge iron sheets will rise, therefore creating more opportunities for producers of such products.