Let housing scheme be voluntary, flexible

EDITORIAL

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The government has once again published regulations to bring back the controversial National Housing Development Fund.

This time round, the regulations propose that every citizen should pay a minimum of Sh200 a month to the fund, whose objective is to support citizens to acquire affordable housing.

Published by Transport and Housing Cabinet Secretary James Macharia, they are due to be tabled in Parliament any time for debate and approval. But they require thorough interrogation.

Affordable housing is among President Kenyatta’s ‘Big Four Agenda’ plan. The others are universal health coverage, food security and manufacturing.

In principle, provision of affordable and quality housing is a noble objective. Housing is a basic human need and the government is obliged to give citizens decent shelter.

However, the government will have erred by requiring citizens to contribute towards this national fund.

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When the proposal was first floated two years ago, then calculated at 1.5 per cent of a worker’s earnings, it was roundly rejected on grounds that it amounted to double-taxation and was bound to shrink incomes and raise the cost of employment. Those arguments remain valid.

That the government has made adjustments — shifting from a percentage of earnings to an actual and universal minimum figure — does not change the fundamental question of why the citizens should pay for a housing scheme they do not need.

People always organise their housing plan, whether in villages or cities. Many workers trudge under burdensome mortgages to secure decent shelter.

Since individuals have own plans for securing housing, they should not be compelled to pay a levy to cater for the same purpose.

The government ought to make registration and subscription to the scheme voluntary so that one can choose to accept or refuse it, not make it binding to everyone.

Compounding this matter is the government’s history with infrastructure projects and contributory funds.

A national housing fund provides an opportunity for a potential cash cow, where wheeler-dealers in government and their cronies would easily skim the cream.

Many contributory funds — including the National Social Security Fund (NSSF) and the National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF) — are fraught with corrupt deals and hence the citizens cannot be convinced that the proposed housing fund would be an exception.

Parliament should reject the regulations as currently proposed. If the government wants to support the citizens to acquire decent housing, it should propose a voluntary scheme. Not everyone wants government’s support for housing.


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