In a matter of four weeks, I have had cause to comment on the critical role of the provision of affordable houses in the socio-economic development of every country.
A few weeks ago, ‘housing’ dominated the headlines following the unveilling of a government policy to undertake a US$100 million military housing project. Government has also promised to construct 250,000 affordable housing units across the country.
Housing delivery compared with the rapid population growth is widening each year. Recently, the Minister of Works and Housing, Mr. Atta Akyea, confirmed that Ghana is facing a housing deficit of two million units and will need to construct 190,000 to 200,000 units of houses each year for the next 10 years, if the country is to bridge the housing gap. President Nana Akufo-Addo recently stated that the huge housing deficit in Ghana is of grave concern, adding that a country like Ghana with a housing deficit of over one million is unacceptable – and any initiative seeking to reduce the deficit is welcome.
This is why the decision by the United Nations Office of Project Services (UNOPS) and Sustainable Housing Solutions (SHS) to help the government of Ghana to construct 100,000 affordable houses across the country is a timely development intervention. Kenya is the other country benefitting from the UNOPS intervention. Details indicate that the UN is committing US$5billion to the project, in line with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to help the government of Ghana open access to sustainable, affordable and environmentally-sound housing for its citizens.
In other words, the funding is not a loan and comes at no cost to the people and government of Ghana – except that government is under obligation to provide litigation-free lands across the country for the construction. Government is also to help create an enabling environment for foreign direct investment. Foreign direct investment is crucial for the success of this project, because the UNOPS says it will be mobilising resources from its funding partners, including the private sector, to support the US$$5billion project.
Undoubtedly, for the project to become a reality our housing experts need to move away from the traditional way of building – to incorporating some new technologies into the housing industry. The 100,000 houses are to be constructed using energy-efficient solar rooftops, while the implementation work will include local materials, equipment and expertise – which will in turn bear returns for local people.
“There is great potential here to improve access to high-quality, sustainable and resilient housing for thousands of people,” said UNOPS Executive Director Grete Faremo. “At the same time, this project will work to boost livelihoods and the local economy,” she added. In my opinion, the only hindrance to this lofty development intervention is access and affordability.
One expert estimated that a unit cost of houses could be around US$50,000. Due to the low levels incomes in Ghana, coupled with the low GDP per capita, the very poor will not be able to afford the houses. In that case, the very rich in society, those who already own several houses, could end up snatching them from the target group.
Safe human settlement
SDG Goal 11 enjoins governments and all stakeholders to “Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable”. Making cities and settlements free is critical for every country, including Ghana. According to UNOPS, the future we want includes cities with opportunities for all; with access to basic services, energy, housing, transportation, and protected green spaces for all to enjoy.
Key Goal 11 targets specific to housing and settlements include:
11.1: By 2030, ensure access for all to adequate, safe and affordable housing and basic services, and upgrade slums
11.2: By 2030, provide access to safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable transport systems for all, improving road safety; notably by expanding public transport, with special attention to the needs of those in vulnerable situations – women, children, persons with disabilities and older persons
11.3: By 2030, enhance inclusive and sustainable urbanisation and capacity for participatory, integrated and sustainable human settlement planning and management in all countries.
11.7: By 2030, provide universal access to safe, inclusive and accessible, green and public spaces, in particular for women and children, older persons and persons with disabilities
11.a: Support positive economic, social and environmental links between urban, per-urban and rural areas by strengthening national and regional development planning
11.b: By 2020, substantially increase the number of cities and human settlements adopting and implementing integrated policies and plans toward inclusion, resource efficiency, mitigation and adaptation to climate change, resilience to disasters; and develop and implement, in line with the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030, holistic disaster risk management at all levels
Ghana, like other African countries, is urbanising rapidly with over 50% of its population living in urban areas. As a result, cities and major towns face many challenges to improve resource-use and reduce pollution and poverty.
Ghana’s national urban and housing policies aspire to address a variety of urban and housing problems, while respecting the human rights of all urban residents. They also place increasing importance on building resilience to extreme weather conditions in the implementation of transportation infrastructure, sanitation and health schemes, private sector growth, housing, and environmental protection plans.
When the sod-cutting for the project made headlines last week, one question I asked was why did Ghana attract such attention from the UN? The answer to this question depends on who is responding; but from an objective perspective, I think Ghanaians are reaping the dividends for being a shining example of democracy and democratisation. Ghana has gained international acclaim for running a credible and transparent electoral system over the years.
According to the UN, over the years Ghana strengthened its record in democratic governance with the conduct of its 7th successful Presidential elections in December 2016 and 3rd peaceful transition of power from the incumbent to the opposition, on 7 January 2017, since 1992. Ghana’s continued success in managing five electoral processes has enhanced its reputation as a beacon of democracy and rule of law across Africa; which in turn strengthens the enabling conditions, and raises expectations for the recognition and protection of human rights for all Ghanaians.
The UN notes that the overall infrastructure for peace Ghana has built, through the National Peace Council and the Regional Peace Councils in particular, has proven effective in strengthening Ghana’s resilience to conflict; promoting peaceful discourse across ethnic and regional divides. This manifested ahead of the potentially explosive 2012 and 2016 Presidential elections. However, there are still gaps in the level of involvement of women and youth in peacebuilding and conflict management initiatives, according to the UN.
In 2010 the World Bank classified Ghana as a Lower Middle-Income Country (LMIC). The GDP growth rate that year was 7.9 percent, thanks to oil production. After a rebasing of national accounts, per capita GDP was estimated at nearly US$1,300. These were welcome developments, but standards of living and provision of essential public services in most parts of the country were far from middle-income standards.
Predictably, by 2014 GDP growth had fallen to 4 percent, even as world oil prices had plummeted to US$45 a barrel compared to the US$99 that had been estimated for the national budget for 2015. Also, persistent budget and balance of payments deficits led to a rising public debt, which reached 72.5 percent of GDP in 2016. This in turn undermined public financing for development.
For instance, in 2017 just 1.2 percent of the budget was allocated to goods and services and 3.5 percent to capital investments. This was after the bulk of the budget was devoted to debt service and payments to public employees. What’s more, government borrowing had crowded out the private sector in domestic capital markets, with interest rates typically above 30 percent.
With its back to the wall, government at the time naturally entered into an “Extended Credit Facility for US$918million” with the IMF in April 2015. The current government agreed several conditions with the IMF to pull Ghana out of the credit facility. Since 2018, the economic fundamentals have rebounded with GDP clawing back to 9 percent, inflation dropping to 11 percent and still dropping; while interest rates dropped to between 20 to 25 percent depending on the bank, from a high of 35 to 40 percent.
However, corruption remains a critical issue in both economic and political discourse. Many Ghanaians are agitated at what is perceived as failure of the current government to speedily prosecute corrupt officials of the past administration. In 2013, many Ghanaians perceived that key institutions were “extremely corrupt” or “corrupt”, including the police, the judiciary, public officials/civil servants, and Parliament; or that they had “little” or “no” trust in the Tax Department, local government, and political parties. On the flip-side, members of the past administration and the NGO coalition against corruption are alleging corrupt practices among current government officials which need prompt investigation.
Meanwhile, government has been proclaiming loudly that curbing corruption remains one of its priorities – including improving the enabling environment for business growth, protecting natural resources, and mobilising domestic resources for investments in development. Protecting our natural resources from the menace of mining is one of development challenges in which government has to step up the fight.
Progress is also needed in investigating and prosecuting major financial scandals, such as the banking fraud and public corruption as contained in the Auditor General’s reports over the years. Ghanaians are eager to see some prosecution of past public officials and efforts made to recover stolen public money.
Role in global development
That said, the UN Resident Coordinator, Ms. Evans-Klock, has singled out Ghana for commendation for its commitment to the 2030 Agenda, the Paris Agreement on combatting climate change, and the New Urban Agenda – all of which are important to promote resilient and inclusive urbanisation. Ghana is on record as playing a significant role in the global development of the 2030 Agenda and the African Union’s Agenda 2063. This leadership was recognised by the 2017 appointments of President Akufo-Addo as co-Chair of the UN’s group of SDG Eminent Advocates and as AU Gender Champion.
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is an ambitious and unified agenda for social, economic and environmental development, translated into concrete and measurable results through its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Ghana took a leadership role in influencing global development of the Sustainable Development Goals, and established a Cross-Ministerial Technical Committee to ensure their inclusion in national planning and budgets. This work was reinforced in September 2017 with the president’s inauguration of the High-Level Ministerial Committee for SDG implementation. These inter-ministerial bodies recognise that the SDGs are all interconnected; working to achieve one goal helps achieve another.
United Nations Office of Project Services (2019) “UNOPS 100,000 housing project takes off at Amasaman.”
United Nations Sustainable Development Partnership (UNSDP) 2018 – 2022 Ghana Government/United Nations
(***The writer is a Development and Communications management Specialist, and a Social Justice Advocate. All views expressed in this article are my personal views and do not represent those of any organization(s). (Email: Mobiles: 0202642504/ 0243327586/0264327586)