NATION

Lagilagi Housing: Complaints Taken Into Consideration As Probe Continues

The Ministry of Housing Will look at all government housing initiatives and find out if people living there deserve to do so. You will find that people occupying the flats have good jobs. They include teachers, Police and military officers.
18 Jun 2019 14:12
Lagilagi Housing: Complaints Taken Into Consideration As Probe Continues
Lagilagi housing at Raiwaqa, Suva, on June 2, 2019. Photo: Simione Haravanua

Offer letters for flats in the Lagilagi Housing in Raiwaqa, Suva were sent as far as Labasa says People’s Community Network (PCN) pioneer Walosio Tolevu.

Mr Tolevu was among the people who started the PCN when the idea for better housing was mooted.

This laid the foundation of what PCN is and the idea that eventuated in the current housing project.

Mr Tolevu and Eroni Ratuwalesi also compiled a report on the Lagilagi Housing Project and presented it to the Government.

This initiated an inquiry by the Fijian Competition and Consumer Commission.

“We have found that offer letters for flats were sent to Labasa, military camps, police barracks and to members of the civil service,” Mr Tolevu said.

“This is why you will find that people occupying the flats have good jobs. They are teachers, Police officers and military officers.

“This is not right. The Lagilagi Housing Project was made for the people in Jittu Estate.

“It was in 2012, when offer letters started flying off to people outside of Jittu Estate. We had started a savings scheme for the people of the Jittu Squatter Settlement. The money that was saved would go to the payment of these flats.

“Then once people were in their flats, they would continue by paying $40 a week for the next 12 years or so.

The whole idea was for people of Jittu to have houses which were proper and live in conditions that were acceptable.”

Mr Tolevu further claimed that records of these payments were not properly kept.

He said the Lagilagi Housing Project was to house people living in shanty houses in the Jittu Squatter Settlement.

He added this was not to be.

The Lagilagi Housing would allow the residents of Jittu to become homeowners moving out of homes built out of used tins, tents and timber into proper homes.

For this project to take place people occupying State land had to move.

These were the people who were promised homes.

And to do so, these people started saving money.

Minister for Housing Premila Kumar said such complaints had been taken into consideration and FCCC was investigating the claims.

Mrs Kumar said the ministry was now awaiting the FCCC investigation to be completed so they can commence with the operational takeover of the Lagilagi Housing Project.

“We have announced the operational takeover of the Lagilagi Housing Project. We will have to wait for the FCCC to finish its investigation,” she said.

“The other thing we are waiting for is the State lease from the Ministry of Lands.”

As part of the initial inquiry, FCCC released a 635-page report.

It highlighted among other things that people ineligible for the housing assistance were living there, while Jittu Estate squatters were still living in shacks after being promised flats, PCN staff having unexplained money in their bank accounts and mismanagement of records regarding the Lagilagi Housing Project.

FCCC chief executive Joel Abraham said there were families who woke up each morning looking at the Lagilagi Housing flats and wondered why they had not been able to move across even after it was promised to them.

Mr Abraham said FCCC had started taking legal action to evict people who were ineligible for housing.

He said this was being done on a case by case basis after investigations into the alleged scam.

He added that FCCC would not be evicting people from other squatter settlements who are staying in Lagilagi.

However, those who do not qualify for the housing assistance will find themselves on the way out after court procedures.

The Fiji Sun in its own investigation has found that there are flats within Lagilagi which are being offered for rent.

One in particular has an air-condition unit. The owner is in USA.

In some other flats, owners have vehicles which clearly suggested that income is definitely much more than the threshold qualifying one for the housing assistance.

Residents have also said that they know of people who went to occupy flats but found other people living in them when they went to occupy the flats.

Lalita Devi had been living in Wailea in Vatuwaqa. She had been a squatter settlement resident for more than 30 years.

She said she was offered a place in the flats by PCN. All she had to do was pay a deposit and continue to pay the weekly fees.

Eroni Elliot used to live in a tin house in Jittu and paid $20,000 as deposit. He said his son sent the money.

Then there are others like Navitilai Moceica who moved to allow the Lagilagi Housing structures to be set up.

They were told they would get first preference to get flats. When this happened his eldest child had not started schooling, now she is in high school.

The Moceica family’s living conditions have become worse and there are 53 other people like that.

PCN director Samuela Saumatua said they would not be commenting until after the investigations were completed.

The staff who had been implicated in the alleged housing scam have been sent on leave.

Mr Tolevu and Mr Ratuwalesi organised a meeting for the 54 members of the PCN last Saturday at the Raiwaqa Catholic Parish to decide on which way they were headed.

The two have praised the work done by the Government but want justice for the people of Jittu Estate who continue to live in shacks and in unsanitary conditions.

Mrs Kumar has said the Lagilagi Housing saga represents the poor were being bypassed because they could not pay money upfront.

She said her ministry would look at all government housing initiatives and find out if people living there deserved to do so.
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