Cancelling Rent and Granting Freehold Title to Colombo Flat Dwellers is not a good move
Posted on December 20th, 2023

Chanaka Bandarage

In the recent Budget, the government announced the cancellation of rent and then granting freehold title to Colombo Flat dwellers. Although the government stated that the number of beneficiaries would be around 50,000, it is unlikely that the number is that high. According to the Opposition (SJB) it is about 15,000.

There is no doubt that this is a gimmick to win voters. The UNP believes it must win in Colombo. Presently, Colombo is a SJB stronghold.

The fact of the matter is that these people were paying the  megre monthly rental of Rs 3000 happily. Many of them can afford to pay same.

When the writer spoke to some of them recently they expressed reservation of becoming sudden flat owners. What they say is that once they become owners, the UDA will stop doing all the property and common areas (body corporate) maintenance work.

Because they have been guaranteed ownership of the properties upon payment of the full value by way of monthly instalments (rent), the flat dwellers are unexcited that they will soon become owners. The drawback for them is that they will henceforth have to bear the full cost of the repair and maintenance of the flats. Most of the flats have urgent repair work and some are substantial.

Unless they are much needed social welfare payments (eg. අස්වැසුම), the overall concept of the governments giving freebies to citizens is bad.

If the government is to hand houses free of charge, it can never solve the country’s  housing crisis. It will be like pouring water into a bottomless bucket.

There are many thousands of homeless families in Sri Lanka.  If this is the government’s policy of solving the housing crisis – giving away free houses, it will never solve the problem.

The government will exacerbate the problem.

There are people living in ramshackle sheds outside of the boundary wall of the Bambalapitiya railway station, directly facing the sea. They live in most appalling (inhuman) conditions. These slums (ever expanding) are a terrible eye sore. The safety of the Bambalapitiya Railway Station is in jeopardy.

Is the  government aware of this problem and is it determine to solve it?

In the previous Gotabhaya government it reduced VAT from 15% to 8% , this action made the country poor. The present government’s this move is similar to same.

What the country needs is thousands of new houses. Given the land shortage, they should be high rise apartments (like in Singapore).

The Department of Housing and the UDA should build them en- mass and lease out to people who live in slums or those do not have a house at all. Once given on lease, they should be afforded the first opportunity to buy-back from the government, when the government is ready to sell them. Otherwise, they will become the owners after paying rent for the full stipulated period (30 years?).

It is only through this way that the government could generate revenue to build more and more new housing units.

Even in rural areas the government must consider building apartment blocks. There is a land shortage in the country even in rural areas. People (homeless) can live in such apartments and go to work in the fields (paddy, vegetable), and the sea (fishermen). 

The human – elephant conflict has come to the boiling point. Many people own shot guns, air rifles now. They shoot down elephants mercilessly. There are instances where elephants’ eyes have been shot at and their trunks cut using sharp knives/axes.

Villagers have become barbaric in relation to treating elephants.

Have we even got 1,500 elephants left in the wild?

What the Yahapalana Government did in relation to solving the housing crisis was a flop. Between 2015 to 2019, they tried to exactly repeat what Ranasinghe Premadasa did in 1980s and 1990s.

The Yahapalana Government did not  realise that the country had changed a lot during those 35 – 40 years.

The method that was good in 1980 was not good in 2016.

Large amount of precious land and money was wasted. It is reported that thousands were given new jobs in the then Department of Housing. For eg in Hambanthotha Housing Authority, staff had come to work just to sign in/off the attendance register.  They had been used primarily for political scout work (the writer is unable to verify the actual truth of this story).

This shows the short sightedness of our rulers.

If we do not have intelligent, smart, dynamic, dedicated and patriotic politicians to lead this country, the country will forever  be doomed.

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