HomeBuyers Pressure Group

Meeting with Özkan Murat

19th December 2006

MINUTES

 

Present                                       Özkan Murat, Minister for the Interior

                                                 Cafer Gürcafer, President, Construction Association

                                                 Ali Alnar, Undersecretary to Özkan Murat

                                                 Erkut Sahali, Private Secretary to Prime Minister

                                                 Cazar Oramsel, City Planning Department Director

                                                 Layik Topcan Mesutoğlu, City Planning Department

                                                 Translator  

                                                 Angela Gallen, Cyprus Today Reporter

Committee Members:                     David James

                                      Marian Stokes

Minutes                                       Sheila Vango

The meeting commenced at 10.00 am with Özkan Murat’s (OM) within the Ministry of the Interiors new building (map for location on website). OM started by apologising for being unable to meet us earlier due to the budget meetings taking place within Parliament at the present time. He also stated that he would be required to attend Parliament later in the morning so therefore our time today would be limited to around 90 minutes. 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, and again during the meeting dated 10 October 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 for me please?

OM:    We have completed our investigations to your questions and have them for you today (he then handed MS the answers – in Turkish, once translated we will publish them on the site).

MS:    Thank you for these Minister, we shall look at them when we can, in the meantime we have a further set of questions raised by our members, could we have answers to these as well please? You will appreciate that as much as we know you are trying to cure many of the problems within the construction industry, including the estate agents and lawyers, that the living conditions of many of our members remains unchanged. Many are without their homes, many have no water and electric and many are seeking redress through the court procedure. 

OM:    We are in the process of hearing new laws in Parliament and hopefully these will become law soon and that will help your members greatly as further protection will be afforded them. 

MS:    As we say we do appreciate that and hopefully all future problems will be unable to happen, but that does not help the plight of those already caught in the system. You promised us last time that I would have access to your Under Secretaries when I called – this has not happened. On the one occasion I managed to secure a meeting with Ali Alnar, he did not know it was taking place and was unable to attend! This is particularly frustrating when I have made the time and have brought people with me who are desperate for help with their problems to be met with total confusion. We have given you lots of information, case histories and such and we receive no feedback on anything. We appreciate that we are not voters, we are merely guests in your country, but we are a powerful economic force and this government cannot keep on ignoring us or making empty promises, we are not going to go away. 

OM:    I want to answer specific questions, these we may be able to help with, generalised questions are not so easy to solve. We are taking steps, such as the halt on building permits in Girne, to take stock and find a better way of doing things; we have new laws governing the practices of estate agents going through Parliament at the moment. When third parties have been involved, such as estate agents, builders and lawyers we have informed the relevant regulatory bodies such as Baro (Law Society) and Union of Builders. 

MS:    I appreciate that things are due to improve going forward, but as I said that does not help the hundreds who are caught in between. These regulatory bodies have not provided us with any feedback on actions they have taken following our complaints. As far as I am aware no one has approached my members to ask them about their experiences, there might be lots of good works taking place on our behalf, but we cannot see it. 

OM:    Your members should rely on their contracts for the solution to many of their problems. There is always recourse through the Courts, but the buyer must be sure their contracts are robust. At the moment there are about 150 cases going through the courts, this is not a high percentage of the 7000 purchasers over the last three years.

MS:    In a perfect world I would agree with you Minister, however, many of our members are persuaded by the builder that a contract is not needed as it is not worth the paper it is written on, many more who upon seeking assistance from a solicitor are told it is unwise to do unless you have your PTB, or that the cost of the case will outweigh the sum being sought as redress, or that it will take three years or longer and , even if you do win, you are unlikely to get the judgement enforced. Many are afraid that if they threaten Court action, their builders will simply down tools and walk away. Many of our members have been threatened and are therefore afraid to seek legal help. 

OM:    Contracts are needed in every case; your members should protect themselves in this way. 

MS:    We agree and we tell our members this, but many of these contracts are badly written by solicitors who are not independent of the builder. We come from a culture where a solicitor protects their clients’ interests, we put our complete trust in the advocate that we employ on our behalf, it is not until later that it becomes apparent that they have not protected our interests. 

OM:    It is up to your members to read these contracts before they sign them. 

MS:    I do not disagree with what you are saying, but we are going in circles here, next we will be told it is our fault we are in this position because we did not wait for our PTB! The facts of the matter are that 90% of our members’ problems stem from dishonest estate agents, builders and advocates; we are vulnerable as the majority of us do not speak the language or understand the process of the country and some people take advantage of this weakness. Then when we complain about it, we are fobbed off with empty promises or threats.

OM:    With the new laws coming into being, things will be organised differently and I will ensure you are heard. The PTB process is now working much faster, many other related offices are now being upgraded and the whole process, coupled with the new laws will make things much better. All other issues will be solved in Court according to the contract – so your people must be careful about what they sign.

MS:    Thank you, I am sure by now you are aware our members just want fairness, we do 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 cancelled our demonstration on this occasion, but will not hesitate to use peaceful demonstrations as a means of drawing attention to our situation if the need arises again. We will no longer be ignored or fobbed off with non-existent meetings.

OM:    There is no reason why we cannot meet on a monthly basis and discuss progress; we can put a date in the diary before we close this meeting.

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.

SV:     Minister, I take on board what you say about the importance of the contract, however, my responsibilities under my contract are to make stage payments on time, which I did. 90% of the contract relates to what the builder has promised to do, it is the builder who does not honour the contract. How will these new laws change that?

OM:    Only when cases go to Court and disputes are solved will justice be served.

MS:   With respect, we have many members who are pursuing their grievances through the courts. Again this process is problematic, the hearings are always held in Turkish, many of our members are called to come to Court the day beforehand, the builder rarely attends court so everything just slides to the next month. The process is bewildering and confusing for many of our members and indeed one of the questions I have just given you asks for clarification of this whole process. One of our members secured a Default Judgement and on the strength of that ruling, purchased another property, that Judgement has now been overturned as the builder suddenly wanted to defend himself – it shakes our faith in the legal system.

OM:    People do have the right to defend themselves, as it is the world over. If a decision is reached that one party is unhappy with, they can go to a higher Court, again this is the same the world over. Court procedure is bewildering to anyone not used to it, but for specific cases this is the only remedy open to your members, we can only try to prevent such cases being necessary in the future by amending our laws.

At this point Minister Murat, made his apologies and withdrew from the meeting to attend Parliament.

MS:    Minister Murat said we could put a future date in the diary for another meeting, can we do that now please.

AA:     The first Tuesday of February  - the sixth at 10 am.

MS:    Will you have the answers to our second question sheet ready at that meeting?

AA:     Yes, we do have a Bayram in January, but that should not impact our ability to have the answers for you by then.

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

LTM:   The points you have raised today have provided us with much brainstorming material, the discussions that have taken place between the members present here today are an example of this, I am sure we will all benefit from these meetings. (Much discussion did take place in Turkish for which we did not receive a translation; it was nice to have LTM clarify what was happening for our benefit)

 The meeting drew to a close at 11.30am