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Malawi Housing Corporation rentals must be dictated by market forces

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I think some people are becoming more Malawian than others. Look at the way tenants of the Malawi Housing Corporation (MHC) are deciding how much to pay their landlord every time the corporation decides to hike rentals.

Last week Friday, MHC announced that it would increase its rentals effective July 1. The corporation’s Chief Executive Officer, Eunice Napolo, argued that rentals that MHC gets from each unit are not enough to maintain the unit. Ironically, the tenants that are complaining against the hike are the very same people who were blaming MHC for not conducting maintenance works on the houses.

The problem I see here is that the tenants have perfected their art of blackmailing the governing party into thinking that if MHC raises its rentals, then the party will lose votes.

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According to Napolo, MHC has got 6,000 houses country wide. I, personally, strongly doubt this figure. One has just to take one residential area where MHC has houses and check how many of the houses are still owned by the MHC.

This apparent political interference will also put immense pressure on the institution in meeting demands of its members of staff. With the economic challenges facing Malawians, every employee needs an increment for them to survive. If MHC is not allowed to conduct its business as demanded by market forces, where is it going to get money to pay its members of staff?

Perhaps MHC should be given a latitude just as like other parastatals such as water boards, Escom and Admarc have when it comes to deciding their rates if the institution is to survive and grow. In any case, the same MHC tenants afford to pay for hiked rates at Escom and water boards which, at times, are more punitive than those fixed by MHC.

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I think we are missing out on the original plan of how MHC should carry out its business. The institution has different categories of houses. It has bedsitters as well as one to three bedroom units. The plan was to allow MHC to get on board fresh college graduates or school leavers into the bedsitters and upgrade them as they get married and establish families. This would have given the tenants time to make enough money to buy or build their houses once they get established in their careers. To argue that someone has lived in an MHC house for 40 years and the rates should still be suppressed to cater for their pocket, is unjust.

Has anyone considered how the tendency of turning MHC houses into retirement homes is affecting graduates from our schools? In Blantyre, it is not uncommon to find graduates commuting from as far as Lunzu or Mpemba yet they are renting in privately owned houses. In Lilongwe young workers are tucked along the road to Bunda or at Chigumbuli because the MHC houses have been turned into family heritage. Young workers in Mzuzu have to meet daily transport costs from Lusangazi or Dunduzu because there are no places for them at Katoto, Katawa or Upper Chasefu!

Admittedly, some pensioners have been unfortunate. They led an honest life, educated their children but the children died leaving the parents without support. Those are exceptional cases and may the good Lord have mercy on such pensioners.

Since the dawn of multiparty democracy, MHC has not been given a breathing space by governing parties. We have seen presidents directing MHC to dole out its houses to tenants just because someone has stayed in that particular house for long. Are we saying that those other Malawians who have had no opportunity to stay in an MHC house should just continue to subsidise the accommodation of the lucky few?

Governing party functionaries have over the years also added to the confusion. If we say that MHC houses are a preserve of the underprivileged, why do cabinet ministers grab houses for their personal assistants and their boyfriends and girlfriends? Perhaps we need to define what vulnerability means when it comes to accessing MHC houses.

Suppose Napolo is right to claim that MHC has 6,000 housing units, is the governing party justified to fear for any votes? Yes each vote counts in politics but how sure is the governing party that the majority of MHC tenants will vote for it?

It seems that the government is not decided about the direction of this country. Just last year, the government allowed MHC on the path of reforms. In the reforms, MHC planned to build 15,000 houses. One wonders how the institution will bankroll construction of the 15,000 houses if it cannot raise its own revenue. Already, MHC is struggling to raise K382 million to renovate the units that tenants do not want to pay for their value, according to Napolo.

In the last 22 years, MHC has failed to construct additional houses. Apart from the “new” houses at Area 18 B popularly known as kwa Kapoloma (former president Bakili Muluzi’s home village) just because they were built during the time of Muluzi and maybe at Katoto in Mzuzu, the institution has not made any meaningful investments. All this boils down to political interference.

To avoid protecting the rights of the privileged few by infringing on the rights of the majority, let MHC rates be dictated by market forces. This will ensure that every Malawian stands an equal chance of accessing an MHC house. If the sitting tenants cannot afford the houses, let those on the long waiting list be considered. That’s how Escom and water boards operate.

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