- Another ribbon cutting photo-op?
The Federal Cabinet has approved the setting up of a Naya Pakistan Housing Authority, as well as the construction of 135,000 apartments in Islamabad and Balochistan. There will be a groundbreaking ceremony with Prime Minister Imran Khan as the chief guest on April17. It seems as if this is the only certainty in the plan, which is linked to the Prime Minister’s announcement that the government would build five million houses for the poor in its tenure, made in December, at the launch ceremony for the programme. There are several uncertainties hanging over the plan, not the least of which is where the funds are supposed to come from. The government suffers from such a dire shortage of funds that it has to go to the IMF even after getting bailout packages from friendly countries, and the IMF’s dislike of subsidies is difficult to reconcile with the needs of the project.
Another important question left unanswered is the cost per unit, which will determine affordability. There has been no payment schedule made public either. As people have not been able to save, there is a need for some financing institution. There is complete silence on that. While 25,000 apartments are to be built for federal government employees, 110,000 units will be built in Balochistan, including a housing society for Gwadar fishermen. The latter may be problematic, for there must not be the least suspicion that there is any attempt to change the demography of the province. Then are a number of ancillary issues related to the land itself too, mainly to do with the provincial governments. An important issue is land disputes. While government land is relatively free of them, the government is involved in many disputes.
Construction is a key sector for jumpstarting an economy. However, as empty housing the world over shows, people will not live just anywhere. There seem to be too many questions about the housing programme for it to be more than a ribbon-cutting photo-op for a Prime Minister whose ideas of how to jumpstart the economy have so far not really worked.