The government Sunday said it was taking over the social housing flats in the capital after slamming Malé council for neglecting the properties.
Sinamalé, Malé Hiyaa and flats in the nearby island suburb of Villimalé have been managed by the city council. But President Abdulla Yameen was advised by the cabinet to hand these over to the housing ministry instead, in a further erosion of the council’s powers.
Housing Minister Dr Mohamed Muizzu said the council, which has an opposition majority, had failed to establish a system to collect rents and misused the authority it had been granted.
Tenants have expressed concern over a notice sent by the council to make full payments for unpaid rents, fines and maintenance fees or face eviction.
“We spoke with the tenants and found out that the city council did not do anything to get the unpaid rents all these years,” Muizzu told reporters at a press conference held at the President’s Office.
He promised to cancel the notices and make easy arrangements to settle the unpaid rents and fines in installments.
Muizzu also announced that islanders living in Malé would once again be able to register as residents of the capital so they were eligible for social housing in the region, a scheme that had been suspended by the council.
The minister said there would be a proper system for registration.
It is campaign pledge of the current administration to provide affordable housing to people registered in Malé and 1,044 flats were set aside for them when the government announced its flagship Hiyaa housing project.
Flanked by Environment Minister Thoriq Ibrahim and Youth Minister Iruthisham Adam, Muizzu said the living conditions of families in the flats had dropped because of low-maintenance, resulting in broken elevators and roof leaks.
He previously accused the city council of neglecting the people who lived in these flats and asked why a Maldivian Democratic Party-majority council was mistreating them.
– ‘Oppressed by the government’ –
But Muizzu was criticised for learning about the condition of the flats during a door-to-door campaign event for Yameen.
“Haven’t you seen a thousand things on your first visit to these flats? You still have to check out the roofs and other places. The balconies and pillars that are about to fall. I sent many letters regarding the flats to you honourable minister. No care given,” deputy mayor Shamau Shareef said.
“Holding onto all our powers, MCC [Malé city council] is being oppressed by the government,” he added.
The city council’s powers were limited three years ago, starting with Yameen’s decision to restrict its responsibilities to administrative functions such as issuing birth and death certificates.
Municipal services previously provided by the council were moved to the housing ministry following legal changes that authorised the president to determine the council’s powers and responsibilities.
A third of the council’s employees were transferred to the housing ministry, which also took over management of waste, public spaces, parks, harbours, cemeteries and roads. The council also struggled to find office space after being forced to leave two previous properties.
Mayor Shifa Mohamed said the council’s concerns have been shared with Yameen, but there was no response. She said the council has a limited budget, with only MVR7,000 (US$447) left for projects after tending to administrative costs.
The social housing flats in the capital are in need of urgent renovation, but the city council says it does not have the budget for this work while government authorities refuse to cooperate with them.
Malé is home to around 40 percent of the Maldives population and is widely cited as one of the most densely populated cities in the world.