Housing Minister Dr Mohamed Muiz has defended an anonymised list of winners of flats in Hulhumalé, denying allegations that applicants were phoned by the first lady’s campaign office to check their political allegiance.
At a testy press conference Monday morning, Muiz insisted that the 661 flat winners were chosen from more than 15,000 applicants after the most thorough and robust verification effort by any Maldivian government.
“There were three verification processes and then ministry staff conducted home visits to make sure that the information provided by applicants was truthful,” he said, assuring that the evaluation process was conducted fairly to ensure that the shortlisted were “the poorest, the neediest, and the most deserving.”
The Gedhoruverikan social housing scheme was unveiled four years ago for residents of Malé without adequate shelter. Application forms were collected from December 2014 to April 2015. Thousands of people in the densely-packed capital live in cramped conditions and pay exorbitant rents.
The housing ministry’s decision to publish the flat winners last week with only form numbers instead of name and address prompted the anti-corruption commission to launch a probe after complaints from unsuccessful applicants.
Questioned repeatedly about the decision to anonymise the winner’s list, Muiz said it was done to protect the privacy of individuals who won flats. Disclosing identities would have been “uncivilised,” he said.
“Some of them are in dire situations like having to live with five children in one room or having to take care of children with special needs,” he said, suggesting that such applicants would prefer not to be named on public lists.
Despite repeated queries, Muiz refused to explain how points were awarded and how much an applicant must score to become eligible for social housing.
A taxi driver in Malé who applied for the homeownership programme showed the Maldives Independent his receipt slip from the housing ministry. “This slip shows I got 98 points, but I know someone who got 70 points and was awarded a housing unit,” he said.
The housing ministry previously announced that living conditions, family income and the number of children or dependants would be among the factors considered during the evaluation process.
Asked about several applicants who missed out despite scoring 90 points while others with lower marks made the list, Muiz said it was likely that the score would change during the verification process.
Upon submitting the form, applicants were handed a receipt slip with their number of points based on the information provided. “In some situations, people have lied about their living conditions or the number of children they have,” he said.
Muiz welcomed the Anti-Corruption Commission inquiry into the awarding process, expressing confidence that the watchdog would not find any wrongdoing.
The minister also confirmed media reports that he bought a row house in Hulhumalé for MVR5.9 million (US$382,600), saying that he paid for the property with legitimately earned income.
Addressing allegations about phone calls to applicants from President Abdulla Yameen’s campaign office, Muiz denied that the housing ministry shared any information with the first lady’s office.
Shortly after the housing ministry’s press conference, Malé Mayor Shifa Mohamed told reporters that Muiz failed to assuage concerns over alleged corrupt dealings and advised the government to disclose complete details.
Dozens of people have complained to the opposition-dominated city council about calls from the president’s campaign office, she said.
The opposition has also been collecting signatures on a petition calling on the government to reveal details of the flat winners. On Sunday morning, opposition lawmakers and city councillors representing constituencies in Malé sought to meet with Muiz but was turned away at the housing ministry office.
However, Muiz later met with two ruling party lawmakers from Malé who shared concerns about the housing scheme.
The minister told reporters that MPs Abdulla Rifau and Asma Rasheed made appointments last week whereas the opposition lawmakers and councillors played out “a political drama” without any sincere effort to contact him.
“None of them called or texted or raised concerns about this in any form. It has been a week and then they suddenly gather here and demand that I meet them,” he said.
Muiz went on to assure the public that 7,000 families will be awarded flats before the current administration’s five-year term ends in 2018.
“They will be starting the construction work in October and from then it will take 18 months to finish. But we will be able to give a legal document acceptable in courts to award those units next year,” he said.
— Abdulla Rifau Bochey (@RifauMP) September 17, 2017
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