The Ministry of Housing and Community Development expresses disappointment on the recent, misleading social media post by Fiji Labour Party claiming delays in refunding Lagilagi Housing applicants.
Permanent Secretary, Sanjeeva Perera has refuted such claims by the party stating that it is extremely disappointing to see that FLP has failed to understand the refund scheme in its entirety and is trying to mislead the public.
Perera says the Programme was initiated by the Fijian Government to bring justice to those who lost their hard earned savings paid to PCN for units at Lagilagi Housing Project.
He says the Government took over the affairs of the project and allocated $2.27 million in the 2021/2022 revised budget for the refund scheme.
He adds applications were called in April and May this year and the Ministry received a total of 643 applications and in the last two months of last financial year alone, the Ministry managed to refund more than $2 million to 278 applicants.
The Permanent Secretary says considering the high number of applications received, Government allocated a further $1.9 million in the 2022/2023 National Budget to refund the remaining applicants.
He says after careful assessment in the last two months, a further 130 applications have been approved for refund, 90 of these already paid out and the final 40 to be paid in the coming week. Perera says the total payments to these 130 applicants adds up to over 1 million dollars.
He adds in entirety, a total of 408 out of the 643 applicants have met the criteria and have been refunded more than $3 million and the remaining 235 applicants unfortunately did not meet the requirements.
The Permanent Secretary says PCN also ran their own savings scheme with their members that had nothing to do with the Lagilagi Housing Project.
Perera says their refund scheme does not cover these applicants and it is very clearly stated in the legislation.
He says they have been explaining this to all applicants who did not qualify for refunds and they have been very understanding and appreciative.
He adds they have been very transparent on this in their previous press statements.
The PS says on the other hand, those who have received refunds are overwhelmed with the Fijian Government’s decision to support them, and so, the statements made on the FLP Facebook page on this matter looks totally out of context to them.
He says they have now approved payment of refunds to all eligible applicants and the remaining 235 unfortunately do not meet the criteria set for the programme.
He further says their team has been in constant touch with these applicants to see if they have any documentary evidence to support their claim under the Lagilagi Refund Programme. The Permanent Secretary says that unfortunately, most of them are PCN members who contributed to their savings scheme, so they do not meet the criteria.
He adds that the Ministry promised that all eligible applicants will receive their payments by 30th September as stipulated in its August press release and has abided by its commitment.
He says the claim made on FLP social media is completely baseless and is misinforming Fijians and the Ministry urges any applicant who needs further clarification on his or her application to contact the Ministry directly rather than being misled by any third party.
The Ministry is also warning Fijians to exercise caution while making any further contribution to PCN using their hard earned savings as PCN is a deregistered trust.
Meanwhile in a statement, the Fiji Labour Party has called for justice for the final 318 families who are left to be refunded in the Lagilagi Housing scam.
Party Leader Mahendra Chaudhry has strongly condemned the delay from the government in giving refunds to the victims.
He says these are poor families who were swindled under the scam where they had to save money from their meagre earnings to meet regular payments towards decent affordable housing for themselves.
Chaudhry says the victims are now being made to run around from pillar to post to at least recover their money without any hope of getting the homes they were promised, and he sees no reason for the continued delay in repaying these poor people.
He adds in the 2022/2023 National Budget, the Economy Minister had allocated $1.9 million for the final 318 victims of the scam who had not been reimbursed.
He also questioned why are the funds not being released for payments.
The Party Leader says it sounds like another one of those budget gimmicks that are just for show with no actual funds being released.
Chaudhry says they have been fighting for justice for the poor victims of the Lagilagi Housing project since late 2018/2019.
He says they had exposed the scam in a letter to the Fijian Competition and Consumer Commission (FCCC) calling for an investigation into why low-income workers who had put their meagre savings towards the Lagilagi housing units did not get the homes they paid for and were being pushed around.
He further says following this, an inquiry by the Commission revealed a huge scam with some 655 victims defrauded of their savings.
Chaudhry adds some have since recovered their money leaving 318 victims still to be reimbursed, but even with the $1.9 million allocated for reimbursement in the recent National Budget, these families are being given the run around for their money.
The Party Leader is calling on the government to accept equal responsibility for not keeping a close tab on how taxpayer funds were being abused as the Lagilagi Housing Scheme was a joint venture between the Fiji First government and the People’s Community Network.
He says the Government had put in $12 million towards the project. Chaudhry says a 635-page investigation report which was never made public, revealed huge financial mismanagement including improper record keeping of finances, unauthorised alterations to receipts, unexplained transactions to staff personal accounts and so on.
He adds it also found units were allocated to police and army officers, teachers and other civil servants who did not qualify for the low-cost housing units.
He says they are still calling for justice for the final 318 families who are harassed for money owed to them.
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