The Maldivian Democratic Party has denied allegations of promising housing to voters in the capital ahead of the April 6 parliamentary elections.
According to media reports, the party’s campaign offices have been calling applicants of the Veshi Fahi Malé social housing scheme – which was launched by former president Mohamed Nasheed during the previous MDP government – and assuring they would be provided housing in Hulhumalé.
Some people have posted recordings of the calls. Newspaper Mihaaru was told there was a list of 4,000 applicants who were the most deserving of social housing when a reporter called the campaign office number.
The MDP’s candidates for constituencies in Malé have also been meeting Veshi Fahi applicants who were not awarded flats by successive administrations.
The media reports prompted the opposition to accuse the MDP of offering flats as bribes.
“Senior government officials using state resources for campaigning is misuse of the people’s property,” tweeted opposition lawmaker Dr Abdulla Khaleel, who has been under fire after it was revealed that recipients of flats under the previous government’s Hiyaa scheme included 37 of his family members.
MDP campaign spokeswoman Afshan Latheef told the Maldives Independent that social housing was an integral part of party’s legislative agenda.
“MDP candidates will pledge housing. It is one of the pledges of the party to ensure housing for all. President [Ibrahim Mohamed Solih] has talked about it too and it is part of his presidential pledges,” she said on Thursday.
“Now ‘Agenda 19’ pledges to give legal status to the housing policy and is part of our legislative proposal.”
At a campaign event earlier this week for the MDP’s Maafannu North candidate, President Solih announced plans for a massive housing project in Malé. But he did not offer any details.
Lack of adequate housing has been a perennial crisis in the Maldives with nearly 40 percent of the country’s population crammed into the 2.2-square mile island of Malé. After decades of migration to the densely-packed capital, many families share a single room and most people pay exorbitant rents to live in slum-like conditions.
– Veshi Fahi –
On Wednesday, the Anti-Corruption Commission said it was considering launching a probe into the offers of social housing to constituents.
ACC Vice President Muavviz Rasheed told the media that the phone calls have been brought to the watchdog’s attention. The commission will discuss whether the issue should be investigated, he added.
In the face of criticism over the alleged assurances of housing, the MDP denied offering flats to voters in Malé.
“MDP is a political party. Handing flats or plots of land is not something a political party could do,” the party told the press.
But phone calls were made to invite people to a meeting intended to provide information about the Veshi Fahi programme, the MDP said.
Speaking at the town hall-style event Wednesday night, former president Nasheed – an MDP candidate for a newly-formed constituency in Malé – pledged to provide housing for more than 8,000 people who had applied for the Veshi Fahi scheme in 2011.
The MDP’s ‘Agenda 19’ proposes legislation that would introduce legal mechanisms to regulate government housing schemes, Nasheed said, which would address complaints of unfair allocation that have dogged previous schemes.
The MDP envisions connecting Malé with three nearby islands – the suburb Vilimalé and the artificial islands of Thilafushi and Gulhifalhu— to create a metropolis that would also include Hulhumalé, a reclaimed island that was connected to the capital last year via the country’s first overwater bridge.
Offering housing on the interconnected islands would solve the crisis, Nasheed suggested.
Under the Veshi Fahi programme, flats were offered under three categories: residents of Malé who inherit less than 600 square feet, residents born in the capital who do not own land, and long-term residents who were on a special municipal registry.
The programme was continued under former president Abdulla Yameen as the Gedhoruverikan housing scheme.
When recipients were announced, it was alleged that a “minister’s list” was compiled after applicants were phoned by the first lady’s campaign office to check their political allegiance.
The recipients were kept anonymous.
The construction of apartment complexes under the previous administration’s flagship Hiyaa project is meanwhile ongoing in Hulhumalé.
Allegations of unfair allocation of the flats under the Hiyaa scheme were also fuelled by the refusal to disclose the 6,723 recipients who were chosen from more than 22,000 applicants under 12 categories.
A committee formed by President Solih to probe complaints about previous housing schemes has since published lists of recipients under both the Gedhoruverikan and Hiyaa programmes.
According to the committee, issues flagged included full marks scored for forms submitted without information on living situation. A flat was awarded to a family that earns above MVR85,000 (US$5,500) a month while more deserving applicants failed to make the final lists published in November.