The housing minister on Wednesday defended a decision to publish an anonymous list of flat winners as a corruption probe continued into the social housing scheme and despite thousands of people complaining about its lack of transparency.
The 661 winners of the flats built in Hulhumalé, a reclaimed island under development near Malé, are the first chosen by the current administration.
According to its homeownership or ‘Gedhoruverikan’ programme unveiled in February 2014, applications would be evaluated based on the period of residence in Malé and other measures of their living situation, including income and the number of children.
The government had pledged to build 1,100 flats in Hulhumalé but the number was later reduced to 661 without explanation. More than 15,000 people applied for the flats.
The list of winners was published Tuesday and contained phone numbers only, no names.
At a heated press briefing, Housing Minister Dr Mohamed Muiz repeatedly refused to respond to questions when asked about the reasons for an anonymous list.
“We created this list with careful observation and time-consuming efforts,” he said. “The government does not wish to disclose details to protect the rights of the flat-winners.”
The housing project is the subject of an Anti-Corruption Commission investigation into how the flats were awarded, while a parliamentary committee has been tasked with scrutinising the list.
The minister said the government welcomed the ACC’s decision to launch a probe and that it had “fully responded in detail” to a letter from the parliamentary committee.
Hassan Manik, the ACC’s information officer, told the Maldives Independent that the “final list of flat winners was made public while the investigation was still underway.”
He declined to comment further citing the ongoing investigation.
Muiz told reporters that the final list was made public with 36 changes. Nineteen married couples were replaced with new applicants after both spouses were found to have won flats.
Another 16 new applicants were selected based on the points scored and one family with a disabled individual was also included in the final list, Muiz said.
“This government is doing a lot to provide adequate housing for a sector largely neglected in our society. Some 167 flats alone are allocated for families with disabled individuals,” he said.
He addressed criticism that Hulhumalé flat applicants were phoned by the first lady’s campaign office to check their political allegiance, accusing the former government of the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party of “blaming their ideology on others”.
“We should not forget what the applicants went through during the [former president] Nasheed administration. They always favoured supporters and now they think we work in the same manner,” he said.
Earlier this month, winners of flats under the previous government’s Veshi Fahi Malé social housing programme were told by the state-owned Housing Development Corporation to secure loans before a deadline of October 15, prompting some to express discontent with what they called “a forced entry into a ruinous loan scheme”.
According to the 2014 census, 39 percent of the Maldives’ 341,256 population resides in the 2.2 square mile island of Male.
In the past few decades, thousands of people from the atolls have migrated to the capital in search of jobs, better education and healthcare, making Malé one of the world’s most densely populated cities with thousands of people crammed into small apartments for exorbitant rents.
Muiz announced a monthly rent of MVR6,000 ($389) and MVR 25,000 ($1624) downpayment for the three-room apartments built under the Gedhoruverikan social housing scheme.