Gov’t should take over low-cost flat maintenance

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The government should scrap monthly maintenance payments for low-cost flat dwellers and take over low-cost flat maintenance using assessment payments, says Rani Rasiah

The issue of maintenance of low- and medium-cost flats took centre stage for a good one hour in the House of Parliament on Tuesday evening (8 Dec 2009), with both sides of the political divide debating the motion to cut the pay of the Housing and Local Government Minister by RM10. This quaint but symbolic tactic used by the socialist MP Dr Jeyakumar Devaraj of the Parti Sosialis Malaysia achieved its desired end as it drew attention to and provoked debate on the stinking state of the many neglected low-cost high-rise flats in the country and compelled the Minister,  Kong Cho Ha, to respond.

In tabling the motion, Dr Kumar spoke about the problems arising from the poor or non-maintenance of low- and medium-cost flats: clogged drains, unlit stairwells and corridors, unkempt and dirty common areas and the attendant social problems of theft, drug abuse and other crime. He referred to the notorious First Garden Flats of Ipoh as an example to show how government policy and existing laws had failed to solve the long festering problem of maintenance.

The poor pay more

He also revealed the scandalous circumstances where a low-cost flat dweller ended up paying more than a semi-detached house owner for ‘maintenance’. Landed house owners pay assessment twice a year to the local council for rubbish collection, road, drain, kerb, street and street light maintenance outside their homes.  Every flat owner on every storey also pays assessment. However, the only services provided are rubbish collection at the few ground floor chutes within the flats, and maintenance of the perimeter drain and kerb. There is no maintenance of the drains, grass, street and street lights outside the individual units, and of other common areas within the flats complex as all these are considered private property. The maintenance of all these areas is the responsibility of flat owners who have to fork out an additional monthly payment to hire workers, and meet repair costs.  The two bills, assessment and maintenance, add up to twice or three times that paid by owners of landed housing. The following examples were presented to give an idea of this absurdity:

READ MORE:  Low-cost homes that are not low cost

Area

Type of housing

Maintenance/ year RM

Assessment/ year RM

Total

RM

Ipoh

Low cost flat

300

125

425

Semi-detached medium cost house

307

307

Low-cost terrace house

163

163

Shah Alam

Low-cost flat

420

154

616

Terrace house

200

200


Government should take over maintenance of low-cost flats

Two proposals were made in presenting the motion, first that the government should take over maintenance of all low-cost flats, and second, that flat dwellers should be required to make only one payment towards maintenance i.e assessment rates equal to that paid by low-cost terrace house owners.

Ever so predictably, the BN MPs spoke against the motion whilst the PR members, some passionately like Pas’ Dr. Siti Mariah (Kota Raja) argued about the reality of low-income flat dwellers and why the government should view them as a special category from owners of other high-rise premises such as condominiums and business outfits. Many flat communities had incomes below the poverty line, and had been resettled from squatter villages where they could still manage on their meager incomes, she said, arguing that exceptions should be made for them.

Minister blames the people

The flat committees from Ipoh and Selangor who were in the gallery watching the debate got a first-hand chance to see how the less than 30 elected reps present positioned themselves on pressing issues affecting low-income communities. Some reps, in this case all from the PR, sympathised with the lot of low-cost flats dwellers; others condemned them. But the Minister made a lasting impression with all his clichéd old-school remarks delivered in devil-may-care fashion.  He took refuge under the laws and defended his ministry and the government, putting the entire blame on the residents of low-cost flats. Indeed many of those present felt that the Minister truly deserved a pay cut but by many multiples of the amount proposed by Dr Kumar.

READ MORE:  Hidden cost of affordable home ownership in Penang

When most of the low-cost flats in the country are in a sorry state, when flats communities are plagued by filthy surroundings and escalating social problems, the government needs to realize that it has a failed project on its hands instead of singing the usual refrain about people’s attitudes and the need to educate them. It may be well and convenient under the zero-squatter policy to gather and tuck away poor communities in little high-rise boxes, thereby hiding the squalour within, but it is high time the government sees that all it has done is merely transfer people from squatter slums to high-rise ghettos. It is totally irresponsible of the government to blame the people for the low-cost flat maintenance nightmares, which it has created through its inadequate and shortsighted policies.

It is time for the government to scrap the monthly maintenance payments for low-cost flat dwellers, and use the assessment payments to take over low-cost flat  maintenance. The government must see that working people on poverty-line wages cannot cope with the monthly maintenance bills.  It has to do better than just self-righteously blaming the owners.

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