Cabinet on Wednesday should give top priority to the colossal blunder by the Housing Minister who had precipitated a crisis for tens of thousands of small-time house-buyers and devise a safety-net to ensure that they would lose as much as RM250 million as a result of the High Court judgment striking down the jurisdiction of Tribunal for Homebuyer Claims to adjudicate disputes over property bought before December 1 last year
by Lim Kit Siang
(Penang, Monday): The Cabinet on Wednesday should give top priority to the colossal blunder by the Housing and Local Government Minister, Datuk Seri Ong Ka Ting who had precipitated a crisis for tens of thousands of small-time house-buyers who stand to lose as much as RM250 million as a result of the Kuala Lumpur High Court judgment last Thursday striking down the jurisdiction of the Tribunal for Homebuyer Claims to adjudicate disputes over property bought before December 1 last year
Ong should explain how he could have committed such a colossal blunder which has completely dashed the hopes of house-buyers that there is a cheap, expeditious and fair mechanism to address their grievances and dispense justice in their long and even battle against unscrupulous and unprincipled but powerful and wealthy housing developers, who have now turned the table causing the tens of thousands of aggrieved house-buyers to face a loss of the astronomical sum of RM250 million which ordinary wage earners could have looked forward to as compensation from the tribunal.
As of July 3 this year, a total of 2,209 cases had been filed with the tribunal, of which 438 had been settled and a total of RM2.4 million in compensation had been awarded to home-buyers. It has been reported that according to inside sources, an average of 50 claims were filed with the tribunal since it came into effect on December 1 last year, which would mean that to date, there would be more than 5,000 cases. If the Tribunal for Homebuyer Claims’ jurisdiction to deal with properties bought before Dec. 1 is not overturned, the total number of claims involving properties bought before Dec. 1 could be in the region of 10,000 to 20,000, or even a higher figure.
Although the claims to the Housing Tribunal are limited to a maximum of RM25,000 each, the total compensations involved for 10,000 claims could be in the region of RM250 million – a staggering sum and loss for tens of thousands of small-time house-buyers in their uneven fight for justice against housing developers.
How could Ong make such a colossal blunder in a legislation specifically designed to protect house-buyers, ending up in such a mess as to give no protection whatsoever to the house-buyers before December 1 last year, rendering all claims before the Tribunal null and void, reducing the Tribunal to a “white elephant” as disputes arising from properties bought after December 1 last year could not have reached the stage of being filed as a claim to the Tribunal at this time.
The Cabinet should devise a safety net for the small-time house-buyers to ensure that they would not suffer any financial losses as a result of the blunder by the Minister and the government in their slipshod and badly-drafted legislation allowing the housing developers to escape liability running to RM250 million in compensation by a sheer technicality, which should never have been allowed to happen in the first place!
The Cabinet should not practise double standards, as in the past it never had qualms in coming to the rescue of favoured individuals and companies tottering under losses running into hundreds of millions of ringgit at the taxpayers’ expense.
As the losses which could total RM250 million faced by tens of thousands of small-time house-buyers are completely through no fault of their own, the Cabinet should set up a Cabinet Committee to save and protect the rights and interests of the small-time house buyers to ensure that they would not have to pay an astronomical price for the colossal blunder of the Minister and government.
Ong’s announcement that the government will appeal against the High Court decision and that the Attorney-General General Tan Sri Abdul Gani Patail would personally conduct the appeal and will ask for an early date for the hearing is not assuring at all. What happens if the appeal is rejected at the higher appellate levels? After all, the Attorney-General’s Chambers was represented at the High Court hearing through Senior Federal Counsel Umi Kalthum Abdul Majid, appearing for the tribunal and who had argued that the Housing Development (Control and Licensing) Act 2002 was a piece of social legislation to provide a measure of protection to homebuyers who were economically in a weaker position – but to no avail.
Furthermore, what is the position of the 438 claims involving RM2.4 million which had been settled and awarded by the Tribunal for Homebuyer Claims? Can the developers who had not paid the awards adjudged by the Tribunal now withhold payment to the housebuyers in view of the High Court decision? Can developers who have paid the awards file civil claims for their return?
What is the position of the some 4,000 cases pending in the Tribunal for Homebuyers Claims as they should all be affected by the High Court judgment as involving properties transacted before Dec. 1. Must the Tribunal suspend all hearings and awards until the outcome of the appeals against the High Court judgment? Will the Tribunal be guilty of contempt if it proceeds to exercise jurisdiction over property transactions before Dec. 1 last year?
Can new claims involving properties transacted before Dec. 1 be submitted to theTribunal or are all new claims now suspended? In fact, should the Tribunal for Housebuyer Claims close shop temporarily until the outcome of the appeals, with all the staff being paid for no work done in the meantime?
Ong must be able to give answers to all these questions, and if not, they must be decided by the Cabinet on Wednesday.
* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman