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New housing project is timely

Mar 5, 2014, 9:37 AM

The SSHFC recently held a press briefing and announced a joint venture with Dubai-based BP Investment Group.

The partners want to build around 400 houses and 110 apartments within two years, at Brusubi, for Gambians living at home and in the Diaspora.

SSHFC has been a housing provider in the past, and provided low cost houses in Bakoteh, as well as loans for people to build houses at the Kanifing East Estate.

The project is deemed timely, as it is clear that there is still a great demand in the country for good affordable houses.

This should be one of the findings of the 2013 population and housing census, which must inform planning in this area.

We hope that housing providers will make good use of the new information now available, from the housing census.

The BPI Investment Group presentation disclosed that it has an African vision and plan in its service delivery agenda, with The Gambia being its first port of call.

We further understand that the joint-venture project entails a huge capital investment, and will bring about more infrastructure development and modernity to The Gambia.

The partners told the press they want to create “the modern city” residential complex, and that the project will employ a workforce of 600, of which 110 would be brought in from abroad to supervise the initial stages of the project.

We must be on our guard, and watch out to ensure that new projects, when they come, were not designed in such a way that they create jobs for outsiders, at a time of serious youth unemployment in this country.

Our readers would also recall the SSHFC’s first public housing scheme, at the Bakoteh housing estate, and experience with the structure and roof of houses – the fact that many of the beneficiaries had, as soon as they were able to do so, restructured their house and replaced the roof.

Thus, seeing the profile of BPI, we hope it is not another scheme to bring prefabricated houses to The Gambia, as the need to use building materials that are appropriate to our environment cannot be understated.

We hope that the project was not designed to create a market in the Gambia for BPI products.

In our view, it is important that the project benefits the local economy, in the sense that building materials used are sourced locally.

In fact, one has always wondered why the use of burnt bricks made from the ubiquitous laterite clay sand is not widespread in this country.

Indeed, the public authorities should adopt a policy to promote the adoption of appropriate technologies for the production of burnt bricks, and for the building of houses using these locally-available materials.

There is no doubt that that such a policy will save this country the millions spent on imported building materials such as cement, and would help speed up the improvement of housing, especially in our rural communities.

Projects bringing in building materials, equipment and labour may ask for duty-free concessions, which have tended to deprive the government of much-needed revenue, as the GRA pointed out in its 2012 activity report to the National Assembly.

The new housing project talks of creating a green oasis; that it will cater for “people’s need for living their life in an affordable and safe place, and having access to facilities”.

The project is planning to build houses with “own personal garage”, a “high-tech alarm system, double-wall fence and various sensors” to ensure the security of the neighbourhood”.

One wonders if such houses will come cheap or how affordable they will be to Gambian workers, especially those in the public sector.

Perhaps this is an opportunity to be seized by the government and public enterprises, as well as private entities, which could get into an arrangement with SSHFC-BPI, for the construction of customized houses for their employees.

You can spend the money on new housing for poor people and the homeless, or you can spend it on a football stadium or a golf course.

Jello Biafra