Mass Housing Put On Ice

GOVERNMENT this week decided to put its ambitious N$2,9 billion mass housing project, which was launched last year, on hold.

In the process, the National Housing Enterprise (NHE) was also stripped of its responsibility as custodian of the project.

The Namibian has learnt that government took the drastic steps after it became apparent that the process of awarding the construction contracts by the NHE was flawed. The NHE has also been accused of ignoring government directives and sidestepping procedures.

Sources say that government took action after a breakdown in the relationship between the NHE and the Ministry of Regional and Local Government Housing and Rural Development, which is the parastatal’s line ministry.

According to sources, NHE chief executive officer Vinson Hailulu defied instructions from the ministry and accused local government minister Charles Namoloh and his officials of sabotaging the project.

Hailulu was allegedly instructed by Namoloh last year not to sign or commit NHE to any contracts without getting government’s approval but he went ahead and signed the contracts.

Hailulu was allegedly also told not to award any contract for servicing the land because it would be carried out by local authorities working with government. NHE again allegedly ignored the instruction.

“They were told not to sign but they went ahead,” said a source.

Hailulu allegedly told ministry officials including the ministry’s permanent secretary that he does not report to them.

A technical committee comprising several permanent secretaries recommended that the project should be put on hold because it was not happy with the way NHE had awarded the housing contracts.

The committee accused NHE of awarding contracts to undeserving companies, despite rules stating that local contractors should have a track record of having built a minimum of 250 housing units, technical and financial capacity, quality and extensive experience.

Out of 25 companies, 12 were only established over the past two years, which means they did not have the required experience. Three of the companies were registered last year and one was registered this year and the other eight in 2011 and 2012.

The committee consists of permanent secretaries in the Office of the President, Ministry of Finance, the department of National Planning in the Office of the President and Ministry of Regional and Local Government Housing and Rural Development.

The Namibian understands the committee sought Attorney General Albert Kawana’s opinion after fears emerged that nullifying the initial process could open government to lawsuits.

Kawana declined to comment yesterday saying he is bound by client confidentiality.

Local government minister Namoloh was not available for comment yesterday.

Ministry sources said Hailulu’s behaviour was the reason the ministry sent N$100 million earmarked for the mass housing project back to Treasury as unused funds. The ministry was reportedly not satisfied the money would be used in the best public interest since the entire project was in danger under NHE’s questionable conduct, especially after the parastatal had awarded contracts to untested companies.

The cost of building the houses has also come under scrutiny. Sources said the committee was upset about the fact that NHE was directed that the cost of building should remain below N$5 000 per square metre for the homeless masses to be able to afford. NHE allegedly ignored that instruction and awarded contracts to companies, pushing the cost of building to N$6 000 per square metre.

Both the committee and the local government ministry are refusing to recognise the Windhoek contract, which was awarded to Afrikuumba Construction, a company belonging to Hailulu’s in-law Titus Nakuumba.

Hailulu was allegedly trying to increase Nakuumba’s contract from the initial 1 191 houses in Windhoek’s Otjomuise area, at the cost of N$345 million, by more than double to 2 550 houses at the cost of N$885 million.

Hailulu refused to comment yesterday, referring questions to NHE’s communication department.

Another company whose owner has family ties with NHE chairman, Jason Nandago, was also awarded contracts. The 7 Sirs Group which is in partnership with businessman Collin Venaani, young brother to DTA president McHenry Venaani, was given a contract to build 1 595 houses in Walvis Bay.

Nandago is related to Venaani but said his relationship to Venaani did not influence the decision as he does not sit on the NHE tender committee.

“If Venaani got the tender, it was not through me,” he added.

NHE spokesperson Eric Libongani said as far as NHE is concerned, the mass housing project is well on course and everyone is welcome to visit the construction sites.

Source : The Namibian