MPs question prices of proposed low-cost houses

•   Mr. Mathew Opoku  Prempeh

• Mr. Mathew Opoku Prempeh

The unit cost for the construction of 5,000 affordable hous-ing units by Constra-tora OAS Limited for low and medium income earners in the public sector, generated debate in Parliament yester-day.

Under the project, the indicative cost for a two-bedroom house is US$29,000, while the three-bedroom houses cost US$57,000 each.

The houses are being constructed for low and middle-income public and civil servants, and men and women of the security services in and around Accra.  It also includes workers in the health and education sectors.

Some Members of Parliament raised concerns over the high cost of the houses, wondering how low and medium-income earners in the public sector would be able to raise money to purchase such houses.

The issue came up when the government presented to the law makers for approval a request for the waiver of taxes amounting to US$40.2 million on materials to be imported for the construction of the houses.

The request was for the waiver of Import Duty, Import VAT, Import NHIL, ECOWAS Levy, EDAIF and other project- related imports.

Other members also questioned the government’s decision to request for the waiver of taxes amounting to US$40.2 million, when the actual loan for the project is US$200 million.

Although the waiver was approved, the law makers debated the issues extensively and urged the government to develop a clear policy on tax exemption to guide future transactions.

Mr. Mathew Opoku Prempeh (NPP- Manhyia South) said the cost of the housing units were too expensive to be called affordable houses.

“Averagely, how many Ghanaians can afford this? What is before us is not affordable housing but executive housing. We need to be very careful,” he said.

On the tax waivers, he said the waivers were ridiculous and wondered why the government would contract a loan of US$200 million to construct a project and waive taxes amounting to US$42 million.

He stressed the need for the waivers to be presented to the House for approval after the materials and equipment had been imported into the country for proper assessment.

The Manhyia South law maker expressed displeasure over the government’s decision to include NHIS levy in the list of taxes to be waived.

The Majority Chief Whip, Alhaji Mohammed-Mubarak Muntaka (NDC, Asawase) and the Minority Spokesperson on Finance, Dr. Anthony Akoto Osei (NPP, Old Tafo), stressed an urgent need for the government to develop the tax waiver policy as soon as possible so that items to be waived for such projects would be cleared to the members.

They said the amount to be waived was very expensive and noted that requests for tax waivers were costing the country so much money.

Mr. Ken Ohene Agyapong (NPP, Assin Central), in a brief remark on the waiver, asked the government’s ministers whether low to middle income earners in their respective ministries could purchase Houses at such a cost.

Mr. Papa Owusu Ankomah (NPP, Sekondi), said the cost of the houses targeted senior government and public officials, and not low to middle income public servants.

He also added his voice to calls for the government to develop a tax waiver policy or present such loans together with their corresponding tax waivers to the house for proper assessment.

“If this request for tax waiver had been presented at the time the loan was brought to the house for approval, I am not sure the loan would have been approved,” he said.

The Minority Leader, Osei Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu, urged the ministry to take a second look at the cost of the projects to make it affordable to ordinary Ghanaian workers.

However, the Deputy Minister of Water Resources, Works and Housing, Sampson Ahi, defended the project and said that although the unit cost had been quoted, the actual selling prices of the houses had not been determined.

“We have not started pricing the houses yet. That is why the government has taken this bold step to provide housing units for public servants,” he said.

The Majority Leader, Alban Bagbin, who is also a former minister of water resources, works and housing, said affordable housing did not necessarily mean ordinary citizens could buy it.

He explained that there were differences between social housing and affordable housing and indicated that the project before the law makers were affordable housing units, and not social housing units.

By Yaw Kyei

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