Govt draws up plans to reduce housing wait

National 3 minutes, 33 seconds

BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN

THE Minister of Development yesterday announced that a new scheme is being drawn up to reduce the long waiting period for national housing from the current 20 years to about five.

At the State Legislative Council (LegCo) session yesterday, Development Minister Pehin Orang Kaya Hamzah Pahlawan Dato Seri Setia Hj Abdullah Begawan Mudim Dato Paduka Hj Bakar said plans were being drawn up to establish a "Housing Fund" scheme that will cut the long wait for National Housing Scheme (NHS) applicants in receiving their new homes.

"This plan will reduce the wait for applications from what it is currently, 18 to 20 years, to approximately only five years," said Pehin Dato Hj Abdullah.

NHS applicants will be encouraged to invest in the fund, which is intended to be part of the long-term solutions to reduce the outstanding national housing debt.

"The outstanding figure currently for housing (payments from NHS home owners owed to the scheme)... is approximately $16 million and involves as many as 1,493 people," said the minister, pointing out that the average amount owed was about $10,000 per person.

Another long-term solution being considered is having NHS payments being taken from a retiree's pension. "Not in a manner whereby they retire and pay in cash without any reduction from their pension," stressed the minister, adding that currently, "only a portion of the remaining housing loan can be collected through the gratuity as outlined by set guidelines".

However, Pehin Dato Hj Abdullah also pointed out that some people are abusing the privilege of having government housing loans.

"A number of national housing recipients are not using the government house loans, instead they are being used to extend homes. This is not encouraged and what is expected is that the government loans are used for (making) national housing payments," he said.

Another consideration highlighted by the minister was for the tenure of the housing loans to coincide with the applicant's remaining years in the civil service.

The Minister of Development cited several short-term solutions outlined by Minister of Finance II Pehin Orang Kaya Laila Setia Dato Seri Setia Hj Abdul Rahman Hj Ibrahim. Among the reforms are steps to ensure that monthly payments are consistent.

The minister said that payments will be deducted from wages and not deferred temporarily, or indefinitely, with applicants being restricted from changing the method of payment from salary deductions to cash payments.

"The maximum period for repayment will also be reduced to 25 or 30 years to ensure the monthly repayments are not too low," said the minister, adding that a monthly statement will be sent to respective homeowners.

"The outstanding debt must also be settled before the transfer of ownership and land grants will be considered," stressed the minister.

Renovations to the homes will also be prohibited until the balance has been cleared, he said.

Applicants will also be required to clear any other outstanding rent or housing payments before an NHS application is accepted, he added.

Another short-term solution to help reduce housing debt, said Pehin Dato Hj Abdullah, was the Al-Gharimin (debt-ridden) payments made by the Islamic Religious Council.

"A portion of the outstanding housing debt has been settled through Al-Gharimin payments through the Islamic Religious Council, which last year amounted to $2 million being paid," said the minister.

Religious Affairs Minister Pehin Jawatan Luar Pekerma Raja Dato Seri Utama Dr Ustaz Hj Mohd Zain Hj Serudin reported to the assembly that $6.7 million in Al-Gharimin payments is to be used in paying housing debt.

"Up to this point, support for 539 people is being provided by the Islamic Religious Council totalling $6,725,993.53," he said.

He added that as many as 145 people have not qualified for Al-Gharimin support as many were able to make housing payments through several other ways.

"There are many reasons, among them are that they have the means to make the payments, are still employed, can make payments through salary deductions and have kin who are able to pay the housing debt or a guarantor," he said.

The minister also cited that some had renovated their homes to the extent that the additions cost close to the original value of their homes.

The Brunei Times