29 July 2012

Tanzania: Hiked Prices of Building Materials Impede Progress

WORD from Parliament has it that the Ministry of Lands, Housing and Human Settlements Development is planning to engage its Finance counterpart in a discussion aimed at reducing the prices of building materials.

In his answer to a question from Ms Susan Lyimo from the opposition camp this week, the Deputy Minister for Lands, Mr Goodluck Ole Medeye, admitted that the prices of building materials were exorbitant and a burden to the low income groups. Mr Ole Medeye promised to seek tax reduction on both local and imported building materials in a bid to make them affordable to more people.

Whether the deputy minister's pledge will be treated as a matter of urgency or whether it was just one of those political statements made hastily to save the day, remains to be seen. However, we would wish to see this suggestion put on the list of issues requiring fast-tracking, to help change the status quo. The housing situation in the country is but appalling.

While living in decent houses has been one of the development agenda since independence, what prevails is quite the opposite. Owning a good, presentable house, built with cement bricks or roofed with tiles and iron sheets today, is something many Tanzanians can only dream of.

How can a low income earner afford to build a house when a bag of cement sells at 20,000/- and he or she needs 100 of them? Does building a house only mean buying cement? How about roofing sheets, grilled windows, doors and other accessories? Today, owning a simple, decent house is a luxury which is exclusive to those with financial muscles. Poor housing has become a common phenomenon, one which has however, escalated poverty.

For town and urban folks, renting a good house, which would otherwise enhance their personality and esteem, is reserved to a few who can afford to pay millions of shillings in rentals. The majority of population are forced to live in high density areas, slums and dingy structures, while exposing themselves to the hazards of elements and communicable diseases. In Dar es Salaam for example, and in other cities and towns, families have no choice but to rent a room rather than a house.

While a landlord may demand up to 100,000/- per month, paid for one year in advance, a two- room, self contained house can fetch up to 300,000/- per month, since prices are not harmonised and landlords are free to charge any amount they wish. Granted that building materials are not the only contributing factors to high cost houses, if the government could help reduce their prices, a lot more people would enjoy owning good houses for their families. That aspect must still top on the development agenda.

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