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Low-cost Housing Project Stagnates Again 

By Divine Ntaryike Jr

The Minister of Urban Development and Housing has ordered contractors erecting some 1200 low-cost houses in Douala to complete the job within three months or face “severe” punishment.  Minister Jean Claude Ngouantchou headed a joint governmental commission tasked with overseeing the construction of the buildings at Mbanga Bakoko on the eastern fringes of the city on Saturday December 24.

The delegation members unanimously voiced discontent over the sluggish evolution of the venture flagged off in December 2009 for a yearlong duration.   Last July, sacked urban development and housing Minister Clobert Tchatat expressed similar disappointment after it emerged the project had been delayed by seven months. 

He also vainly ordered contractors to get the job done by September 2011, or risk several sanctions including the termination of contracts. Observers say only time will tell the influence of the fresh ultimatum issued by the new minister. 

The government is spending 13 billion FCFA on the 15 hectare parcel of land for the construction of 1175 houses.  According to officials, it is a response to acute housing demand in the economic capital.  A similar project is underway at Olembe, on the northern outskirts of the capital Yaounde, and worries over sluggish progress have also been expressed.

Both projects are pilot phases of a broader program the government has brandished for all of the country’s ten regional headquarters.  It previews the construction of 10,000 low-priced houses nationwide, and has been placed under the canopy of President Paul Biya’s great ambitions initiative, the now uncertain scheme is due completion in 2013 with a budget of 360 billion FCFA. 

Explaining the slow-moving nature of the works, the indicted contractors heaped blame at multiplicity of government stakeholders in the project, concluding it contributed significantly to red-tape and needless time-consuming procedures.  Others pinpointed increasingly expensive building materials like cement, while some named the difficult access to finances, and the epileptic provision of water and electricity on the site.

Apart from three government ministries, the real housing corporation SIC, the lands development agency MAETUR, the real estate loaner Credit Foncier, the civil engineering laboratory LABOGENIE, the water development corporation CAMWATER, the electricity producer AES-SONEL as well as the telephone company CAMTEL are all partners.

Minister Ngouantchou, flanked by his colleagues from the ministries of public works, state property, public contracts and the aforementioned stakeholders warned the government will not tolerate another delay.  At a recent Council of Ministers session that lasted barely ten minutes, President Biya instructed members of the December 9 appointed government to serve him their roadmaps within 45 days.  He added that ministers will be evaluated at six-month intervals.

However, pundits note that the stagnation witnessed with the 10,000 low-cost project in its pilot phase depicts the general inertia that has characterized government operations over the years, and do not expect any significant progress when the three months deadline issued by Minister Ngouantchou expires in March next year. 

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