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Buyers nix self-certification?
NST-PROP 19/2/2005

I  write this letter in response to the Viewpoint in PropertyTimes of Jan 29, under the heading  We are ready and able, say engineers, submitted by the Association of Consulting Engineers Malaysia (ACEM), relating to the issuance of Certificate of Fitness for Occupation (CFs) of residential units by professionals.

Admittedly, I am a layman on that issue, but I wish to express my views, from the perspective of one that has gone through the mill in dealing with purchase of few houses from developers.

ACEM challenged the position taken by the National House Buyers Association ( HBA) in an earlier article, in which the HBA recommended keeping the status-quo in the system of CF issuance.

Some of the salient points in the ACEM's argument that I find unacceptable are:

  • The assertion by ACEM, that "HBA is not a worthy representative of house buyers" since it does not have more than 50 per cent of buyers in the country as members”.

This is totally irrelevant to the argument. HBA functions as an independent non-governmental organisation (NGO). While most NGOs generally service only their members, HBA, on the other hand, helps all house owners, whether they are members or not. The HBA has limited funds, so carrying out its activities is more important than promoting itself to increase membership.

HBA's argument that self-certification by project architects may be biased is valid because these consultants, who are on the payroll of developers, may tend to hasten the processes for the issuance of CFs.

I have had personal experiences where architects employed by developers certified that various engineering works had been carried out by the developers' contractors under the Third Schedule of the Sale and Purchase Agreement when such was not the case.

Such certification enables the developers to claim progress payments from the banks that provided the housing loans to buyers. In several cases too, these architects have been negligent in their responsibilities, resulting in shoddy workmanship on the part of the contractors.

In the final analysis, we may end up with a lot more problems if we take away the powers given to the local authorities in favour of the self-certification process.

  • ACEM pointed out that it, as a body of professional consultants, also consists of house buyers. These professions would, therefore, take into account the various concerns that have been raised by the HBA.

Such an argument is incompatible in today's world, wherein society's needs are very diverse and cannot be assigned to one particular group of technical experts. Allowing only ACEM to determine the housing quality concerns of society is equivalent to saying that medical specialists ought to treat themselves if they fall ill, and need not take any other specialist's advice.

  • ACEM also said the issuance of the Certificate of Completion and Compliance for housing by industry professionals does not eliminate the check-and-balance process, since the local authorities still retain their clout to enter any site during the construction or completion stage to carry out inspections.

In other words, ACEM admits that the local authorities still have a dominant role in inspecting the areas of concern to them.

Therefore, the local authorities as independent Government agencies, must retain their powers to determine whether the developers have fulfilled all their projects obligations.

In the past, there have been several instances where local authorities have found it necessary to issue temporary CFs because of inadequacies in housing projects that needed to be corrected before issuance of proper CFs. This demonstrates that local authorities have a role to play, not only in the technical implementation of housing projects but also in its social and environmental impacts.

We have an established system of CF issuance. So, why stir a hornet's nest now? All that is necessary is to focus on the glitches and resolve them. ACEM could look into working jointly with the local authorities to remove these glitches.

The idea of self-certification by professionals was mooted by our Prime Minister in an attempt to hasten the process of CF issuance, and more importantly, to address the numerous administration problems delaying the issuance. I am sure he made the suggestion with good intentions, so that the matter could be analysed and debated exhaustively. Let us also remember that the PM never suggested anything about relegating the authority or powers of the local authorities in this respect.

At this juncture, may I point out that our PM also made a call for the implementation of the build-then-sell (BTS) form of housing delivery. This proposal ought to have been given more serious consideration by ACEM, which unfortunately chose to dwell on CF issuance by professionals.

I am confident that if the BTS mode of delivery is implemented, there will no longer be delays in the issuance of CFs, besides all those other problems such as abandoned projects and shoddy workmanship. Perhaps ACEM kicked up a fuss about HBA's opposition to self-certification to divert attention from the BTS proposal, which I believe will receive wide support from all strata of society, the local authorities included.

A.D.T. Raj
Kuala Lumpur


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