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Minister apologises after overnight queues for social housing

Housing Minister Dr Mohamed Muizz apologised Thursday after hundreds queued up overnight for a chance to buy a plot of land from Hulhumalé.

Muizz announced that the process of selecting buyers for the 400 plots has been handed over to the Housing Development Corporation, the state-owned enterprises tasked with the urban development of Hulhumalé, an artificial island reclaimed to alleviate congestion in the capital.

Citing long lines that stretched for blocks outside the housing ministry office, Muizz said the HDC would be able to make better arrangements in a larger space in Hulhumalé.

“I know some people stayed in the queue since yesterday and some people said they have stayed in queue continuously for a day,” he said.

The government did not want people to stand in the scorching sun or wait overnight, he added, repeatedly apologising for the inconvenience.

More than 5,000 forms were submitted during the past two days, Muizz said, all of which would be handed over to the HDC.

The HDC would announce a new timeframe, he said. The previous deadline was Sunday.

The ministry issued 500 tokens per day and accepted up to five applications for each token. But the number of people in the queue was three times higher, Muizz said, and the ministry believed the lines would persist despite setting up more counters or issuing unlimited tokens.

The HDC would begin with people who were issued tokens when the ministry abruptly stopped accepting forms on Thursday afternoon, he assured.

The announcement sparked outrage and riot police arrived to calm the situation. Many people have reportedly started queuing up outside the HDC office in Hulhumalé.

On Wednesday night, hundreds of people stayed up all night for the next day’s 500 tokens. There were reports that token numbers were sold for up to MVR10,000 (US$6,485).

The overnight queue underscored the demand for housing in the overcrowded 2.2-square mile capital island, where most people live in slum-like conditions and many families share a single room.

The scheme was open to married residents of Malé who do not own or stand to inherit a plot larger than 600-square feet.

The 1,000-square feet plots are to be sold for MVR400,000 (US$25,940) each, well below the price of flats sold under social housing schemes. Payments can be made in instalments over 10 years with an MVR25,000 down-payment to the HDC.

The HDC previously sold beachfront plots for upwards of MVR3,000 per square feet.

The cabinet’s economic council decided to sell plots in Hulhumalé to ease the HDC’s “cashflow problems.” The land was previously reserved for industrial work, according to the Anti-Corruption Commission.

Muizz announced the sale of the 400 plots last Sunday in defiance of the incoming administration’s call not to sell state assets before the transfer of power on November 17.

The anti-corruption watchdog halted the process after complaints from the president-elect’s representatives. But the ministry was authorised to resume on Tuesday.

Muizz flatly denied media reports about disregarding ACC instructions to devise and announce criteria to identify Malé residents most in need of housing.

While successful applicants would be chosen at a lucky draw, Muizz said: “everyone will not be put into the same basket.”

The 400 plots would be allocated for various categories, such as natives of Malé and long-term residents on a special municipality register, he explained.

There would be further sub-categories based on the size of the applicant’s plot or length of residence in the capital.

Muizz said he was unaware of a letter sent from housing ministry staff to the ACC earlier today, which alleged a scam to award plots to a predetermined list of people.

It was alleged that there was an unusual spike in people added to the Malé special registry in the past week, including senior ruling party members and activists.

The watchdog was urged to stop the sale.

An ACC official confirmed to the Maldives Independent that a complaint was filed “in the name of housing ministry staff” but declined to provide details.

Muizz dismissed the corruption allegations.

“I would say those who take cases to the ACC or court based on false information without any basis are those who are politically opposed to President Yameen and the government,” he said.

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Source URL:  Maldives Independent

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