20 January 2013

Tanzania: Sold Government Houses Change Hands 'Illegally'

TANZANIA Building Agency (TBA) is investigating into allegations that some government houses that were sold to eligible buyers with strict conditions, have not only changed hands but have also been demolished and replaced by ultra modern high rise office and commercial blocks contrary to a government directive.

When these 'high-class' houses, occupied by senior government officials, including cabinet ministers, permanent secretaries, directors and CEOs of public firms, were being sold during the 2003/4 season to their occupants, there was a public outcry against the move as many people questioned the rationale of giving such privilege to the leaders.

However, nearly a decade after the sale, members of the public are once again raising their eyebrows as to what may have happened to the houses. At the centre of their concern are the mushrooming structures being erected on such plots stretching from Ocean Road, close to former Prime Minister, John Malecela's residence to Mikocheni kwa Warioba, another retired premier's residence.

In an interview with the 'Sunday News', TBA Chief Executive Officer Elius Mwakalinga said his office was "making a follow up." "I can assure you that we are seriously working on this issue," said Mr Mwakalinga, without elaborating. According to the government directive, houses sold to civil servants (mainly senior government officials), cannot be resold until after a period of 25 years.

However, sources claim that many beneficiaries have already sold the houses, mainly to foreign estate developers who have replaced them with high-rise buildings. A three-month survey by the 'Sunday News' has established that most owners of the old government houses in Dar es Salaam have either entered into joint ventures with private developers, or resold them altogether.

One owner of a government house who preferred anonymity claimed to have been offered a very attractive 'dough' by a foreigner, which he, however, declined. "A foreign company offered to construct a five-storey officecum commercial block on my plot which they would hand over to me after 20 years.

But I rejected the offer," said one of the beneficiaries who still owns the old houses. He said foreign developers are willing to invest up to 10 million US dollars (over 15.8bn/-) which is repaid within 20 years, and that some of them give the landlord part of the building as residence and business premises.

"They even offered to build me or pay for me a five-year rent for a residential house while the project was under construction," the source noted, adding that offers for such premises have shot up to half a million US dollars. Commenting, a legal officer at the Ministry of Lands, Housing and Human Settlements Development who also preferred anonymity warned both foreigners and their local partners who are buying such houses of the dangers ahead.

"In the first place, the law does not allow foreign ownership of land. Also, these houses have strict contracts which do not allow reselling for a specified period of time," said the official. The official warned that people involved in such arrangements risk losing their property, plus possible criminal charges for deliberately violating the law.

TBA Real Estate Director Erasmi Tarimo said people reselling government houses were doing it secretly as his office was yet to come across such incidents. Mr Tarimo said the contract strictly prohibits reselling of the houses but doesn't deny new owners the right to demolish them and build better structures. "It's not easy to find evidence of someone reselling these houses," he emphasized.

A 'Sunday News' survey around up market Masaki, Oyster bay, Msasani and Upanga areas in Dar es Salaam established that many government houses have been demolished, others completely refurbished and are hosting company offices or retail business outlets.

Along Ali Hassan Mwinyi road near Harambee Plaza, a high rise building which will host shopping centres, gyms and cinema halls is under construction. On Haile Selasie road, new businesses have mushroomed on modern expensive houses and car show rooms. TBA records show that over 7,498 government houses which were constructed for civil servants and politicians were sold to 3,016 buyers who are yet to pay over 27.1bn/-.

TBA was established under section 3 (1) of the Executive Agencies Act No 30 of 1997 and became operational on 17th May, 2002. It operates as a semi autonomous executive agency under the Ministry of Works.

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