HomeBuyers Pressure Group

Meeting with Özkan Murat

10th October 2006

MINUTES

 

 Present                                      Özkan Murat

                                                 Cafer Gürcafer

Committee Members:                     David James

                                      Marian Stokes

Minutes                                       Sheila Vango

The meeting was commenced at 10.45 am in Özkan Murat’s (OM) office within the Ministry of the Interior. OM started by apologising for the late start and by introducing the members of his team, Cafer Gürcafer (CG) and the interpreter for the meeting. Marian (MS) reciprocated by introducing the HBPG representatives. The following is a fair representation (given translation) of that meeting:

 MS:    Minister Murat, at the meeting held in Girne on the 19th of September 2006, you took away with you a number of questions which had been compiled from our database of home buyers problems, have you got the answers to these, or are we going to discuss them individually today?

 OM:    I do not have the answers to your questions today; they have been passed to my officers who are working on them. We want to make sure we give you full answers especially around the area of construction. So I cannot say anything on these matters until the research is complete.

CG:     The laws for the construction industry are changing a lot, in the future the Construction Association will have total control over its members instead of having to rely on the Courts for discipline, so it is important we give you the correct information as we are in transition.

MS:    It is good news that changes are coming, but some of the questions were very general and related to problems when the system of Permission to Buy broke down, do you have answers to these?

OM:    You will get a written response to all your queries later, my officers are still working on them.

MS:    It has been some three weeks since I gave you these questions and you knew we were to be here today, why has it taken so long?

OM:    I am sure you have been aware that there has been a major governmental change in the TRNC and that has taken priority for me, as I have responsibility for 18 different departments , I have been heavily involved in these matters, I am sorry I do not have the answers today but they are being worked on.

MS:    I appreciate that recent events will have taken up your time, but that should not have affected the people who work within your departments.

OM:    I appreciate what you are saying, as I have been so occupied myself, I did not get your queries to my officers until a short while ago.

MS:    Since starting this group a year ago, I have spent a lot of my time trying to get answers to questions, I have spent a lot of time trying to get in touch with you but I rarely get a call back or a query answered. I get asked to speak to your Undersecretaries and they rarely take my calls, and if they do they do not come back to me with answers when they say they will. When I phone again, I get no response. Likewise the Prime Minister said we would have regular meetings with your department and others, these have not come to pass. Our frustration at being ignored is immense. I would like to know if this meeting will be any different. Will promises made here be honoured?

OM:    Your Group has been very helpful to us; you provide one point of contact and have highlighted the need for change. We have taken notice of all the matters you have brought to the government’s attention, there are vast changes before government now that will protect the foreign investors in our country and make the process of purchasing properties robust. These are currently before Parliament and will become law very soon. As to answering specific queries, I am in charge of many departments and as much as I would like to speak to them and sort your problems, I do not have the time. However we are proposing to set up a Commission within my department to deal with problems that have occurred for people before our new laws come into effect and I will ensure you have a direct link with them.

MS:    Who will be part of this commission?

OM:    I will appoint one of my Undersecretaries to be in charge and we will call on all the necessary departments to solve your problems.

MS:    I have been given your Undersecretaries as contacts before, I speak to their secretaries a lot but rarely to them. Why should this be any different?

OM:    With the new laws coming into being, things will be organised differently and I will ensure you are heard.

MS:    Thank you, I am sure by now you are aware our members just want fairness, we come to you with lots of problems, but we want to work with you to make this a place where problems can no longer happen. If our members cannot see that our efforts to work with you are bearing fruit and improving their lives then they take other action – they leave the country, taking their revenue with them, they tell others not to invest in this country, they get their stories in the English papers here and the tourists read of such things. We do not want to see the economy of the TRNC suffer, but we do have a voice and will continue to use it. You can understand why I am sceptical that this Commission will be any different to the other meetings we have been promised, but we thank you for your offer and will start to use it. You say there are new laws coming into being to protect the foreign investor, when will these be passed?

OM:    Very shortly, the newly formed government have promised all our people lots of sweeping reforms, they all have to be discussed and ratified, before they can become law. However, we are working very hard at doing this and changes will be evident shortly.

MS:    When these laws are passed can we have access to them, in English, to publish them on our website for prospective and existing buyers? It is important that we have this as the lawyers here do not apply (or know) your existing laws and this causes many problems for our members. If people can read the law for themselves then they can make sure their lawyer or builder is doing right by them.

OM:    Yes, of course.

CG:     There are many changes due to take place in the construction industry too that will impact the foreign community. We are going to appoint teams of civil engineers and architects who will be responsible for each stage of a building project. We are changing the ways that we deal with illegal builders when they are discovered. We are working hard to prevent the problems that your members have suffered up till now.

MS:    I appreciate that Cafer, but there are many who will not be protected in this way, I have given you a number of case histories, are these being progressed? Another of our frustrations is that when I finally get an answer, things are happening, but we get no regular feedback about what you have done on behalf of our members. If our members cannot see victories, they think you do not care.

CG:     The cases you have given me are being dealt with and, once the law changes, I will be able to act more quickly as I will have the power to do so.

MS:    So we are entering a new period of co-operation between our Group and the Ministry of the Interior and the Construction Association?

OM:    Absolutely, an officer will be appointed to look at each problem and they will all come under the chair of the Ministry of the Interior for Immovable Property and Immigration.

MS:   With respect, we have been told this for the past year.

OM:    The new regulations for buying property that are with the Parliament for approval will protect the rights of buyers and give us a framework for when things go wrong. For instance we propose all contracts to be held at the land registry. This will alleviate many of the problems your Group have highlighted to us. We are even considering fixed fees for some of the solicitors’ services, but this all needs to be finalised.

MS:    I appreciate the strides you are taking in this field, but that only protects future buyers, our members are people with problems right now, how are these new laws going to help us?

OM:    The new law will encompass contracts.

MS:    What does that mean?

OM:    If a contract has been drawn up we can examine that in light of the new laws and still take action. The Commission will look at things in light of the new laws even if the agreement was old.

 MS:   Cafer, you said you were going to take a look at building procedures, how is that progressing?

CG:     Yes there are lots of measures in the new Bill to enable us to act quickly, but it needs approval.

MS:    So is there anything we can do in the meantime if we find there is illegal building going on?

CG:     At the moment we have to apply to the Courts to stop such things, the new law will not require this step, we will be able to investigate and move quickly.

MS:    When do you expect to have these powers?

CG:     Before the end of the year.

MS:    Again, please may we have these laws in writing so we can publish them on our website.

CG:     Of course.

MS:    Another big problem for many of our members is the Permission to Buy process – permissions are granted and nobody is informed, the solicitors know but do not tell their clients. I have sent people to your office to see if their permissions have been granted and they find that it has, but they did not know. What can we do to solve this? The solicitors are simply not doing the job they have been paid for.

OM:    This is easy to solve, we have a list of Permissions that are passed after every Council of Ministers meeting, I will make sure you have a copy.

MS:    Can we publish this on our website? With minimal information of course – maybe just the PTB number that has been passed?

OM:    Of course, it is not a big secret.

MS:    In the past it has not been easy for people to check how their PTB is being progressed, if they do not have a PTB number and the solicitor can not or will not provide one, even though they have been paid to provide this service, what can we do?

OM:    We have been working 24/7 to clear the backlog of applications and now have almost all the applications of 2004, 2005 and 2006 on a computer. We are currently working on 2003 applications. We can now search on a person’s name, so that is no longer a problem. We can quickly tell anybody at what stage their application is.

MS:    Thank you, that is a big improvement and having visibility of the applications passed will be wonderful for our members. As our time with you is drawing to a close can I just go over what we have agreed today. You have said that you have officers working on our list of questions, when can we expect a reply to those questions?

OM:    Tentatively by the end of next week.

MS:    We are to have access to the list of approvals – who will I see to pick that up?

OM:    I have told the office that deals with these things you are to have them, just ask when you call in and get any new lists.

MS:    That just leaves us with the case histories I have passed onto you, when will we get to speak to someone about those and what actions you are taking so we can feed that information back to the member concerned?

OM:    My Undersecretaries will be charged with that responsibility, please contact them and ask for a meeting.

MS:    Will they take my call?

OM:    Yes, I have instructed them that they are to assist you in every possible way.

MS:    Who will I contact about the translation for the new laws when they are passed?

OM:    Again, I suggest my undersecretaries’.

MS:    Thank you Minister for your time today, this meeting has been very productive and progressive.

Discussions also took place regarding some members problematic Permission to Buy applications and we were handed the Council of Ministers TPB Approvals list for 4/10/2006

The meeting drew to a close at 12 noon.