Minister blames MDP government for housing project controversy

Minister blames MDP government for housing project controversy
January 02 08:00 2017

Housing Minister Dr Mohamed Muiz has blamed the ousted Maldivian Democratic Party government for the high price and poor quality of flats built in Malé by a subsidiary of India’s Tata Group.

Flat winners under the MDP government’s Veshi Fahi Malé social housing programme were told earlier this month to either pay MVR2 million (US$130,000) upfront or obtain home loans with a down payment of at least MVR400,000 (US$25,940), a price out of reach for middle or low-income families.

On December 5, a group of flat winners staged a protest outside one of the newly-built condominiums as the MDP government’s housing minister insisted that the price of the flats is MVR1.1 million (US$71,300).

But Muiz told the press last Thursday that the agreement with Apex Realty entitles the company to two floors in the condominiums as well as an island to develop 50 villas.

“When you complete valuation for all of this, each of these flats come to more than MVR4 million. These aren’t MVR1.2 million flats. Senior officials of [former President Mohamed] Nasheed’s government are saying this is an MVR1.2 million flat to deceive [the public],” the minister said at his weekly press conference.

Addressing complaints about the poor quality of fixtures in the flats, Muiz was adamant that Nasheed’s administration must “bear responsibility” for approving the design in 2011, insisting that successive governments “did not have much of an opportunity to make changes to the agreement”.

However, he added, the current administration ensured that the flats were up to social housing unit standards.

The MDP meanwhile hit back at the minister’s claims on Friday, contending that the responsibility falls squarely on Muiz’s shoulders as he has been housing minister since early 2012.

“This is proof as well that he has not overseen work under the project from 2012 to the present day,” the main opposition party said in a statement.

The price of flats built under a programme aimed at providing affordable housing is “irresponsible” and “unacceptable,” it added, lambasting the government’s ad hoc policy making.

On December 22, the housing ministry meanwhile threatened to take legal action against flat winners who fail to hand over their plots of land in Malé within three months.

Applicants under category A of the programme were promised flats in exchange for relinquishing small plots in the capital.

However, most of the 266 flat winners have been struggling to raise the down payment needed to secure the home loan before a deadline set by the government of January 26. Several were also deemed ineligible for the commercial bank loans.

Flat winners say the government should deduct the value of their plots from the price of the flats.

One man whose mother won a flat from category A told the Maldives Independent that “the government decisions in the social housing scheme are blackmail and pure harassment”.

“The government knows that we cannot afford the down payment and that we aren’t eligible for the loan. Now they keep telling me to withdraw my flat if I don’t like how things are going. How is this fair?” asked the man, who wanted to remain anonymous out of fear of losing his civil service job.

He added: ““I live in less than 70 sq ft with six other people including a disabled child. It’s a terrible living condition. If everyone is asleep in the night you cannot even go to the toilet because there won’t be space to walk.”

Another flat winner urged the government to withdraw the legal notice for vacating the plots. The housing ministry has “no right to demand my land when they haven’t got their flats yet,” she said.

“How are we supposed to live if we obey the government? On the streets?” she asked.

A man who has also been struggling to raise funds to secure his flat condemned the government’s apparent unwillingness to compromise and offer solutions.

“This was meant to be a social housing scheme,” he said.

“Now it has become everything but it. My biggest concern is how easy it is for them to demand millions in exchange to live in our own country.”