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Enlarging the Ministry’s role
04/01/2003 NST-PROP By Salleh Buang

I have rarely found anything useful in the Internet portals maintained by our various federal ministries and departments, but there are exceptions to the rule. I tracked down some nuggets of information in the Ministry of Housing and Local Government’s web-site in the form of an article entitled “Ministry acts only when there is a breach of the law”.

Although I don’t agree with everything that was said, there are several items that could be of interest to readers.

The article began by stating the obvious - that the “primary role” of the Ministry is to “ensure the orderly development of local housing projects” and that its presence would ensure houses built by developers “will meet the needs of buyers”.

To achieve the objectives, the Ministry’s Licensing and Advisory division was set up to take on the responsibility of “issuing licenses, permits and advertising permits to developers”.

The article added that developers “who build more than four houses for sale are required to obtain a license, as well as advertising and sale permits from the Ministry.”

Emphasising the fact that “failure to do so is an offence” under the law, the article said “an errant developer can be penalised, depending on the breaches.”

Another nugget I found extremely interesting had to do with the Ministry’s Monitoring and Enforcement Division which “conducts checks” in order to ensure “the development of a housing project moves without any hitches and on schedule”.

I have no way of knowing the frequency of these checks as the article was silent on it. Perhaps a clue lay in the article’s paragraph: “Enforcement officers will visit project or construction sites
to ensure that the project is on schedule.

“Since there are limited numbers of enforcement officers, and there are far too many housing projects, checks are conducted at random.”

The word “random” is key. When I read it, I realised that this may be why so many projects across the country have either stalled and been abandoned by developers with the Ministry being none the wiser.

However, all is not lost. The article added that “this is where the Ministry welcomes feedback from buyers, so that it can pay more attention to troubled projects.” In other words, its call to housebuyers is “help us to help you”.

Not wanting to make the Ministry appear powerless to handle the problem of delayed or abandoned projects, the article then made a strident warning. It said: “Developers who do not abide by the Act and the Regulations will face the wrath of the Ministry officials.”

I like that expression - “the wrath of the Ministry officials”. Given a choice, I would rather use the expression: “the wrath of the law”.

The article then reminded developers to send “a progress report on their projects through Form 7F” to the Ministry “at least twice a year” so that it would know whether or not a project is behind schedule. If it is, the developer responsible would be asked to “show cause and submit suggestions to speed up work”.

The article then went on to highlight some statistics. It said that in 1998, only 14 complaints were received from housebuyers. In 1999, from January to October, the number rose to 1,753, of which only 23 pertained “to the Act and the Regulation” with the remainder concerning disputes affecting the Sale and Purchase Agreement (SPA).

The main thrust of the article is found in the part which read: “Based on the complaints received, it is found that buyers do not understand the difference between problems pertaining to the Act, where legal action can be taken by the Ministry, and contractual (SPA) problems where legal action has to be initiated by the buyer”.

I may be wrong in this but to me, the SPA is grounded either in Schedule G or Schedule H, which is part and parcel of the Housing Development Regulations 1989. That being so, problems affecting the SPA are indeed problems affecting the law as the Schedules are crucial parts of the Regulations.

Be that as it may, the article went on to say “the Ministry has the power to take action against a developer who runs foul of the Act or Regulation but in cases where there is a breach of the SPA, it is powerless to act”.

By way of justification, the article said this is because “the agreement usually comes under the jurisdiction of the courts”.

Assuming I’m wrong in saying that breaches of the SPA are also breaches of the law, my fervent hope is that the Ministry will, in its wisdom, find ways and means to enhance its role in the future for the sake of buyers.


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