It will only lead to grief

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Planning and Development Minister Camille Robinson-Regis. File photo/Sureash Cholai

HOUSING Minister Camille Robinson-Regis is reminding the public that paying scammers for government housing “will only lead to grief.”

In a statement on Thursday, Robinson-Regis said she was concerned by the recent ruling of Justice Frank Seepersad, who, in a judgment on Tuesday, had some harsh words for a woman who was ordered to repay a little over half a million dollars as the downpayment for three Housing Development Corporation (HDC) homes.

In his ruling, Seepersad said the disregard for rules and circumventing processes was worrying.

“Why are citizens always prepared to pay to expedite matters or to jump the queue? Change will only occur when every citizen is prepared to act honestly, follow due process, and adopt a no-tolerance approach to corruption in all its manifestations.

“If you want an HDC house, fill out your application and wait your turn. It must be understood that when you pay to be placed on a list to receive a service or facility provided by the state, when you pay to get an immediate certified copy of a document, pay to get an early driving-test date, pay a kickback in return for a contact, you are part of the problem and share equal complicity with the individual who receives the payoff.

“Attitudes of selfishness must be adjusted and replaced by a sense of citizenship and social responsibility. Truth and integrity have to replace the prevalence of ‘smart man behaviour’ and define all interactions.

“If these adjustments are not effected with immediacy, chaos and dysfunction will continue unabated.”

Robinson-Regis said she noted with concern the facts in the case that revealed a “money for assistance to get houses” scheme.

In the case, Rene Ashing, of Arima, said he paid Soomaria Mahabal, of Rio Claro, $313,529 between March 2014 and April 2015 to secure three HDC houses.

Mahabal was also a sub-contractor with Petrotrin and in 2015 Ashing said he paid her $75,000 toward NIS payments and salaries for workers. In that same year, he further paid her a total of $125,000 for three parcels of land at Deep Ravine Road, Rio Claro.

Mahabal denied the accusations. The judge noted the matter had been reported to the police and said the evidence suggested there was ample reason to lay charges.

Robinson-Regis said, “Disgracefully this is not the first occurrence, but perhaps it is one of the worst, involving such large sums of money and one that has gone to trial and the scammer(s) found guilty.”

She said she knew citizens were concerned that their dream of owning their own home was taking longer than expected and were becoming anxious.

“But I must admonish persons that paying scammers will only lead to grief. Members of the public need to be mindful that there are unscrupulous individuals, who, recognising the vulnerability of some persons to acquire a home of their own will try to illegally solicit funds from them with the false promise of receiving a house in exchange for their hard-earned cash.”

She said in resorting to alternative solutions, without being fully aware of the legal and financial ramifications of bypassing the process, people should be aware that any attempt to breach the established protocol will lead to “less than desirable outcomes.”

She too encouraged people to follow the process for the allocation of housing.

The process for the allocation of a housing unit from the HDC:

An application must first be registered with the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development. This can be done via an Application Form from the Ministry of the HDC or persons can register online at www.housing.gov.tt;

Once registered the applicant will receive a reference number, username, and password;

An applicant’s status remains unchanged until the application is selected in a supervised, computerised random draw, conducted by the Ministry.

Selected applicants will be contacted by the HDC to attend an assessment interview

Eligible applicants will then be referred to the Trinidad and Tobago Mortgage Finance Company Ltd. (TTMF) for mortgage assessment

Once qualified and a unit is ready for allocation, the applicant will then be advised accordingly.

Only after the offer of allocation and acceptance is completed, the HDC will enter into contractual arrangements with the beneficiary.

Beneficiaries are then advised of payment arrangements and such payments MUST ONLY be made to the Cashiers at the HDC’s Head Office, 44-46 South Quay, Port-of-Spain.

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