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Double whammy for house buyers

23/01/1999 NST Editorial Voice

Works Minister Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu is distinctly exasperated with the shenanigans of certain developers. The Public Works Department, under his Ministry, has been lumped with the unfinished business of building interchanges to link housing estates to public roads and highways. Developers, he charges, have failed to keep to their end of the bargain, while local authorities have not been vigilant in enforcing the requirement.

Samy Vellu suggests that local authorities withhold the Certificate of Fitness to force developers to ante up. His Ministry will consider regulations to compel developers to build the interchanges before embarking on a project. If they fail to do so, their project areas are likely to be denied access to public roads.

Unfortunately, it is not developers who will feel the effect of such sanctions. Instead, the move would amount to a double whammy for house buyers. Under the present "book and buy"  concept of property sales, purchasers are typically the last to know of dereliction of duty by builders. let alone conditions of project approval. It would not be right to deprive buyers of access to public roads.

And if the CF is withheld, the impact would again be hardest on buyers. Interest payments on property loans would have taken effect, rental payments may have to be continued and decisions on relocation would have to be deferred indefinitely.

Developers would have collected 95 per cent of the purchase price by then and handed over vacant possession of the property. Their legal liability would be limited. Having reneged on their undertaking to build the interchanges in the first place - ostensibly due to cash-flow problems - they are unlikely to fulfil the obligations later.

The PWD has stepped into the breach six times in Kuala Lumpur so as not to inconvenience residents of the affected housing estates. while five interchanges are waiting to be built in Petaling Jaya.

Tough action will be necessary when the economy recovers. The Ministry will have to bill the errant developers for roadworks carried out or, should they fail to respond, institute legal action. It must show it is serious about checking the opportunities behaviour among developers.

But the larger picture is one of uncoordinated planning, lax enforcement and insufficient clout among State Governments and local authorities. They approve new housing projects, but do not take into account the corresponding constraints arising from rapid development. Their generous treatment of developers adds to economic activity and revenues, but there is little genuine reciprocity through provision of social amenities.

Much more needs to be discussed at the proposed meeting between the Works Ministry and the Housing and Local Government Ministry, then the problem at hand. There should, for instance, be scrutiny of the legal backing for "conditions" attached to project approval by local authorities, to plug the loopholes. A review should be undertaken of the catch-all Uniform Building Bylaw provision that has eased the issuance of CFs in recent years.

The unsatisfactory state of affairs cannot be allowed to continue. All parties must come to the meeting table with proposals that indicate their acceptance of a share of responsibility. No room can be made for private agendas, only for solutions that reflect the public interest.

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