By Samuel Estefanous
And the never ending sad lot of the hard pressed city dwellers, you might add as well.
The drawing of the lot to determine the lucky winners of the Condominium blocks made available by the City Administration should have been a glorious event and occasion to celebrate. Instead it came to pass as one more sad betrayal of the ever indulging public by the corrupt bureaucracy of the incumbent. It will ever bug us on no end why the lot of the hard pressed city poor is thus compounded by the inefficiency of the authorities and the avarice of the well to do.
The Housing Development program was by all accounts one of the few a noble endeavors the previous administration has undertaken. A considerable number of hard core detractors of EPRDF try to belittle its significance attributing the effort to ‘buying’ the vote of the widely estranged city dwellers in the prelude to the landmark May 2005 election, something that never ceases to amaze me. That is what political organizations try to do- try to win the vote of their respective constituencies. On this one I have nothing to blame the authorities for except laud their effort and to flash a thumb up for eventually, albeit grudgingly, acknowledge the power of the people.
The Legal Framework
The Condo housing development program wasn’t just a paragraph in the declaration of the political manifesto of EPRDF. It had long become a government endeavor with definitive legislative foundation. A legal framework was put in place by the City Administration through regulations, among others
- to commit to law the primary purpose of the project in the event of ambiguity as to who stands to benefit
- to render exact definitions to the various programs encompassed in the project
- to define and limit the powers of the authorities
- to set the minimum preconditions to qualify for the lot and thereby determine eligibility
- to define the manner of effecting periodic payments and to determine the rate of interest
- to determine methods and manner of drawing the lot
A proclamation was adopted by the House of People’s Representative to regulate the private and communal ownership of the Condos and designate organs for the administration of the blocks.
One can positively conclude that visible attempts were made to forestall any possible misunderstanding and to avoid litigations.
Attempts to Hijack the Program
The Housing Program began sliding in to the realm of the vicious speculators in urban land when the government betrayed its public obligations to regulate and succumbed to the lures of financial interests and reclaimed a segment of each and every Condo blocks for commercial lease purposes.
The noble purpose of the program to benefit the low income city dwellers was in part forfeited when the city administration installed itself at the forefront of the queue and put claim to the prime floors of the Condos. The program wasn’t launched as a public business venture for the government. And the government has a much pressing issues of governance to take care of on daily bases that it cannot afford to collect rent and administer commercial premises.
The damage was multifaceted. To begin with the government has set a bad example by joining the scramble for the condos of Addis. Secondly it chose to stand to gain from the endeavor and commercialized the program. It opened the door for the evils of corruption to sneak through the back door.
When a Simple Inventory of the Units becomes an insurmountable Challenge
Something doesn’t feel right when responsible organs of the city administration openly admit that they don’t keep systematic track of the number of blocks, units and locations of the Condos built. A few years ago it was reported that a whole block of Condos were gone missing while some have been laying waste unclaimed and in shambles to date.
How could such a precious commodity become so cheap as to remain unaccounted for and unclaimed? I mean the dearth of housing is the foremost headache bothering both the government and the overwhelming majority of the residents of Addis Ababa. The abuse of and speculation in urban accommodation is the one single resource that had double quickened the demise of the previous administration. EPRDFites and their cohorts have allegedly traded and speculated in urban land without any qualms of conscience with such great abandon that they are reputed to have become overnight millionaires.
The rumor mills are churning out stories that the ‘neglect’ was effected by design and on purpose so that eventually insiders in the City Administration could claim them.
The Largesse of the City Administration to ‘Reward’ its employees
The City Administration flagrantly breached the overarching purpose of its own regulation when instead of enforcing the law, it ‘designated’ itself as a rightful owner of the Condo Units and began distributing them at will. Practically it dispossessed the rightful owners and gave away the booty out of the kindness of its benevolent heart.
Again it used the units to compensate residents who were ‘victims’ of legal expropriation. Though it may not sound legal, this is at least understandable, particularly when the displaced are former residents of the lot. But nothing justifies the largesse of the City Administration to ‘give away’ the property of the rightful prospective owners to its employees and others.
What would the City say in its defense if the eligible but unprivileged city dwellers were to bring a class action against the administration? Makes one wonder, isn’t this the classical case of being extremely generous against the purse of a third party?
Taking the City Administration to Court
Guess who took the City Administration to Court, though? Condo saving account owners who wanted the law courts to abrogate the 40/60 program and have it redefined by sheer judicial activism! In plain words they were pleading to have the possible beneficiaries who have been saving as required by the law to be ejected from the program. They don’t even realize they are possible active accomplices who had colluded with officials to hijack the housing development program. They might be guilty of aiding and abetting in a whole conspiracy to derail the program.
In this particular case the Addis Ababa City Administration was required to accord privileged status to those who could afford to close the account by paying up the total price of the Condos without bothering to resort to a system of periodic payment stretched out up until fifteen years. The first question that strikes one as an oddity is if these account owners have comfortable disposable income that enables them to ‘close account’ at one go, what in God’s good name are they doing in a housing development program launched to benefit the low income hard pressed city dwellers who couldn’t afford to do that? Aren’t they illegally sneaked in to the wrong program?
The 40/60 housing development program is exactly what it is called. Every single account owner who has saved 40% of the price of the Condo at the time of registration is eligible to have his/her name listed in the drawing of the lots. Here the market dynamism of paying more to earn better works against those with deep purse. But instead of keeping low profiles lest they should be ejected from the program themselves, they ‘washed their eyes with salty water’ and demanded that those who couldn’t afford to pay the whole price be denied the right. Isn’t this a total mockery of justice? Whatever happened to the wisdom of chiefly being guided by the ‘intention of the law maker’ in enforcing legislations?
Behold, tipping the balance of power checking mechanism at one end is certain to induce a domino effect that is going to crush the legal system in to the abyss. In our legal system judicial activism has absolutely no place and little role to play. In part that is why lawyers and justices have very much reduced role in litigation other than ‘applying the law’ or in rare cases ‘interpret’ it. Again that is why we are spared the legal trills and dramas of the Common law legal Systems.
This kinda reminds me a bickering between a lawyer and a prospective client. The client briefs a lawyer about his case regarding the purchase he had made and wants to retain the service of the lawyer. On his part the lawyer wants to know if his prospective client had the contract registered with the notary. This latter inquiry of the lawyer makes the prospective client snap and angrily he retorts
‘What do you mean ‘had it registered’? Why would I need your services if I had it registered?’ You see, when the law is beyond ambiguity there is little room left for creative lawyering.
I refrain from commenting on the recent blatant hijacking of the program almost pulled off by a bunch of daredevil saboteurs. But the crudity of the attempt has left a sour taste in our mouth. I mean at the end of the day it was a failure to match the number of eligible account owners and their corresponding names, isn’t it? The attempt is made even more perplexing when we were told that eventually it wouldn’t have come to anything even if they had succeeded as they would be unable to enter the contract with the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia.
We will wait and see.