Baby steps to Green City
MASERU – GREEN City, the much touted housing project in Ha Pena Pena, was supposed to be a premium address in Maseru.
A promotional video on Youtube portrays a place of spectacular beauty, with lash gardens, opulent houses and magnificent views.
The pictures in adverts splashed in newspapers portray what looks like a holiday resort rather than a housing project.
Home seekers are told they will have a hospital, school, shopping complex, filling station and a church in the suburb.
A 24-hour security service supported by CCTV was supposed to put those who fret over security at ease.
This was supposed to be a ‘city within a city’, according to some pundits. OM Investments, the little-known company driving the M1 billion project, claims to have the support of a major bank.
Stunning billboards remind you what you will be missing if you don’t partake in the project.
Yet so far those adverts seem to be all there is to the Green City Project.
Not much has happened on the Ha Pena Pena site apart from a parametre wall, an unpaved street connecting to the main road and the shell of what promises to be a majestic gate.
All these were there three years ago when the marketing blitz started.
The excitement at the project’s inception has been replaced by scepticism. Blame that on the promises unfulfilled and the self-imposed targets missed.
“M1 billion Green City project takes off,” announced a headline in a local newspaper in May last year.
“We are still in the first phase of the project which consists of the already registered 96 houses. The project covers 100 hectares of prime land of land at Ha Pena-Pena and will consist of seven phases, each owning a 1 000 square meter playground with 800 residential sites,” said Mahesh Patel, OM Investments’ chief executive.
What Patel did not tell the newspaper was that by that time all he had in hand was a lease for Phase 1 but banks could not fund houses there until the subdivision had been approved by the Land Administration Authority (LAA).
The applications for those individual leases were slowly making their way through the cabinets and files of bureaucrats.
“It was painfully slow,” Patel says.
In July the same newspaper came back with more news on the project, this time giving August as the exact month the construction of the first house would start.
“Construction of the much-talked about luxury comfort living estate of Green City at Ha Pena-Pena will start in earnest this coming month of August when 20-plus houses will have their first foundation laid out in what has become to be known as the ‘City within the City’ by many in the property sector,” the newspaper said.
When August came and no foundation was laid news on the project seemed to dry up. Patel says the project would have been far if the leases had been released on time.
“It took us more than eight months to get leases from the Lesotho Administration Authority (LAA),” says Patel.
As Patel battled to get the leases the 100 people who had registered for the project started building somewhere else.
“They could not wait for us. Some already had their loans approved by their banks and could not wait for us to deal with our issues.”
“Customers ran away because they thought we were not serious. They thought we were playing.”
Patel says as he waited for the leases another problem threatened to upend the project.
It had taken him two years to negotiate prices with the land owners and he was making regular payments to them as agreed.
Yet instead of moving forward he was dealing with dozens of people who claimed to have rights to the land and wanted to be paid.
“You buy land from someone you get the necessary approvals but after a few months someone comes and says his father owned the land.”
“In some cases you find that you have bought land that has already been sold to two or three other people.”
“That means you have to go back to the village community to settle the dispute because it is only them who can know who is the rightful owner of the land.”
That process can take several months, Patel says.
“Meanwhile you cannot move on the project because you might have a serious problem if it turns out that you were wrong.”
“In some cases we would buy a piece of land from a villager then as we are getting the lease you realise that someone has already started building on that land. When you ask them they say they bought the land from the same person who sold it to you.”
Earlier this year OM Investments eventually got the first batch of leases. He says he has 12 clients and is building six model houses.
The last of the 94 leases was approved in January. But he admits his has been a gruelling journey that started in 2010.
Back then OM had a deal to build a complex that was going to have hostels and shops in Roma.
The target market was the students at the National University of Lesotho.
A lease had been granted and OM was at foundation level when the landlord was sued over the land, forcing OM to abandon the project.
“We lost M10 million on that project and the case is still dragging on in the courts,” he explains. At Green City OM has managed to avoid a similar fate but the cost of the delay has been huge.
Even as the leases were stuck in government offices OM still had to pay salaries and cover other operational costs.
OM’s funders in the Middle East were becoming apprehensive. Patel says he has been shocked “at the pace at which things move in Lesotho.”
“When you start something you tell people it will cost M100 but by the time you finish it you will be asking people to pay M200 because of the delays. People start thinking you are overcharging them.”
“Things don just move fast in this country.”
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