Hiyaa flats a 'debt trap', says Nasheed

Speaker of the Parliament and former president of the Maldives Mohamed Nasheed has described the flats constructed under former president Yameen Abdul Gayyoom's Hiyaa housing project as a 'debt trap'.

Officials from the government have been vocal about their dissatisfaction with the design and build of the 7000 Hiyaa flats constructed under Hulhumale' second phase.

In a tweet published on Sunday, Nasheed said the flats were 'pigeonholes' of a mere 500 square feet, and noted that the construction cost per square feet has been recorded as MVR 1,900. If calculated using these figures, the estimated rent of a single apartment is at MVR 11,000, said Nasheed.

"How is this feasible? This is a debt trap," wrote Nasheed, publishing a picture of the towers along with the text.

President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih has previously stated that the rent of Hiyaa flats are around MVR 11,000 and said that the government is trying to bring down the rent to MVR 6,000 per month with the introduction of additional government subsidies.

While the government initially planned to bring changes to the design of the apartments, the president later revealed to the media that the calculated renovation cost for a two bedroom apartment was MVR 13,000 and MVR 23,000 for a three bedroom apartment.

Housing Minister during President Yameen's tenure, Dr. Mohamed Muizzu had previously stated that the former government had intended to charge MVR 5,600 as monthly rental for each apartment, and said even if MVR 7,000 is charged as rent, revenue will be generated within 15 years.

Muizzu shared details of his calculations, noting that USD 434 million was spent on the construction of the flats, and that an additional USD 563 million was incurred as project management and administration cost. If a monthly rent of MVR 7000 is charged, Hulhumale Development Corporation (HDC) will receive MVR 572 million over 15 years.

Muizzu further said the former president on October 17, 2018 had informed both the Housing Ministry and HDC of his decision to set the rent of the Hiyaa flats at MVR 5600. The information was revealed by the former Housing Minister after the new administration replaced the President Yameen's administration and before the current government announced its decision on the rent that would be charged for the apartments.

The public has been expressing concern that the current government has failed to hand over the apartments to its recipients while 1.5 years have passed since the new government began administration. While the new Housing Minister Aminath Athifa recently said the flats are expected to be handed over to the recipients by the end of July, the ministry later retracted her statement and said the minister's statement was a 'mix-up'. According to HDC, the flats will be ready for occupancy by the end of the year.