GOVERNMENT is failing to meet a self-imposed deadline of year-end to complete 200 000 housing units under Operatin Garikai/ Hlalani Kuhle, a tour of the construction sites his week revealed.
The mammoth housing project, largely seen as cosmetic, was launched following the demolition of hundreds of urban dwellings under Operation Murambatsvina in May, which left 700 000 people homeless and robbed many of their source of livelihood.
United Nations secretary-general Kofi Annan’s envoy, Anna Kajumulo Tibaijuka, who was in the country five months ago to assess the humanitarian cost of the operation, doubted government’s ability to meet a target of 1 003 houses by end of August. The government then shifted the deadline for the rest of the reconstruction programme to the end of the year.
But reality has caught up with President Robert Mugabe’s defiant government which maintained that the reconstruction exercise would be completed before the turn of the New Year.
Operation Garikai, which has reportedly stalled after government failed to pay building material suppliers and workers, has been dealt another blow following reports that some of the houses had collapsed in Chinhoyi due to heavy rains.
In an effort to keep Operation Garikai on the rails, Finance minister Herbert Murerwa last week presenting the 2006 national budget before parliament in which he made an allocation of $800 billion towards the reconstruction project.
He said $972 billion would be allocated to national housing construction projects with a lion’s share of that amount going towards Operation Garikai: “Of this amount,” Murerwa said, “$800 billion is earmarked for the Garikai/Hlalani Kuhle programme. This brings government’s contribution to the programme to more than $1 trillion.”
The $800 billion appropriation is widely seen as miniscule considering the effect of hyperinflation on the cost of building materials.
Mugabe in a state of the nation address to parliament on Tuesday said his government’s efforts to provide decent accommodation to the people had “received a major impetus following the implementation of Operation Garikai/Hlalani Kuhle programme”.
He added that a $1 trillion commitment under phase 1 of the programme in July had been made, while the reconstruction programme “is expected to continue until the national housing backlog is significantly reduced”. Last year the capital Harare alone had a housing backlog of more than 500 000.
This could have trebled following the retributive eviction blitz, thus making government’s claims a pipedream.
Mugabe also met UN under-secretary for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief co-coordinator, Jan Egeland, who was in the country to make a follow up assessment of the humanitarian situation. Government wants the UN to provide permanent housing structures as opposed to temporary tents.
Egeland described Murambatsvina “as the worst thing ever to happen, when the country was already facing enough homelessness”. He pledged UN support in averting looming food shortages. Egeland’s visit is a follow up to Tibaijuka’s visit in July during which she came out with her guns blazing against the operation. Egeland becomes UN’s third high profile delegate to visit Zimbabwe in a space of six months, after Tibaijuka and World Food Programme representative Tony Hall.
There are unconfirmed reports that Kofi Annan might visit the country early in the new year.