Ministry Steadily Sorting Out Illegal Occupants

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By Mbatjiua Ngavirue WINDHOEK The Ministry of Works, Transport and Communication is making steady progress in sorting out problems of illegal occupation and vandalising of government houses. Spokesman for the ministry, Julius Ngweda, last week said cases involving the illegal occupation of an additional six houses and eight flats were referred to the Government Attorney for legal action. Letters of eviction were already sent to the illegal occupants of two other properties. In July last year, Minister of Works, Transport and Communication, Joel Kaapanda, announced a campaign to evict all illegal tenants and to put an end to irregularities surrounding the allocation of government houses. Part of the problem the ministry faced was that its own asset registers were in a poor state. The problem was so serious that in many cases the works ministry could not identify government property, or the occupants of the properties. Ngweda said the ministry was currently busy with a census of government immovable property, which it expects to complete at the end of this month. The problem of illegal tenants of government houses often arises because people who are allocated the houses move out without notifying the ministry that employs them. Sometimes, they allow friends and relatives to come and live in the houses, but in other cases squatters simply move in after the government employee has abandoned the house. Ngweda said the ministry could still not say with certainty how many government houses were being occupied illegally because they relied on members of the public to inform them about such cases. “I am appealing to members of the public to call my office. This is the only way we can win this battle of people occupying government houses without any authority,” he pleaded. The good news is that as far as the ministry knows, there are no longer government houses standing empty and abandoned. The works ministry is however concerned about tenants who do not look after the properties they are housed in, and sometimes vandalise them. Measures are being taken to combat this problem, including appointing caretakers at single quarters and blocks of flats. The “key deposit” system where occupants of government houses will have to pay a cash deposit before being given keys to a house or flat is another planned measure. Progress on the “key deposit” system seems to have been slow with details of the new system still being ironed out by a joint committee of the Ministry of Finance and the Office of the Prime Minister. The same committee is still deliberating on what should be done about the massive rent, electricity and water arrears owed to the government by delinquent public servants. “Minister Kaapanda is working hard to see to it that the new system is put in place, and that occupants are really looking after the properties,” Ngweda assured the public. Many of the problems the works ministry faces can be traced to the low rents paid by public servants, which are not even enough to cover maintenance of the properties. The government is presently calculating new rental rates, but again it is not clear when these might be implemented. What is clear is that it is going to become increasingly difficult for public servants to benefit from cheap government housing in the future. The number of public servants has increased significantly since independence, while the supply of government houses has fallen. There is a long list of public servants waiting to be allocated houses, meaning it will always be a long process to get a government house. “We will only be able to provide someone with a house if someone has resigned, retired, died or bought their own home,” Ngweda said. The government also seems to have belatedly come to the realisation that the system of providing large numbers of public servants with cheap housing is unsustainable. Ngweda said it was too costly for government to maintain houses, which is why it had already sold many government houses. The government will not sell all its houses, but only a pre-determined number that have already been identified. The remaining pool of houses will be assigned to the various ministries and maintenance will become the responsibility of the respective ministries. The government houses that will be sold are mainly in the larger towns and cities such as Windhoek, Otjiwarongo, Oshakati, Ondangwa, Swakopmund, Walvis Bay and Keetmanshoop. In the smaller towns, the number of government houses is relatively low, and vital officials occupy most of the available houses.