The government reacted quickly this week after MPs and the media demanded a reduction in fines for building code violations and a two-month extension to the 30 September deadline set for owners to regularise the status of their buildings.
On 12 September Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouli issued a statement saying that President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi had asked the government to take account of conditions in the rural economy and reduce the reconciliation fees for illegal buildings on agricultural land to as low as LE50 per square metre in some cases.
“The reduction reflects the fact that the government is not seeking to collect as much money as possible but to codify buildings in a legal way,” said Madbouli.
He insisted, however, that henceforth there would be zero tolerance for illegal building on agricultural land.
“Egypt has lost 90,000 feddans of its most fertile agricultural land since 2011 and it has to stop,” said Madbouli.
Visiting Qalioubiya governorate on Saturday, Madbouli said money collected to settle building violations will be used to fund social programmes.
“The government has already spent LE13 billion developing 374 rural communities,” said Madbouli, and it will cost LE18 billion to reclaim desert land to compensate for the 90,000 feddans lost to illegal building.
In a good-will gesture Madbouli announced a 25 per cent discount on settlement fees paid in a lump sum rather than in installments.
In January, President Al-Sisi ratified a law allowing owners of buildings constructed illegally to settle with the state. Yosri Al-Moghazi, deputy chairman of parliament’s Housing Committee, said the so-called Reconciliation Law was central to government plans to stem the tide of illegal building on agricultural and state-owned land and crack down on unlicensed multi-storey buildings that violated building codes and safety standards.
“When discussing the law the committee stressed reconciliation should not be based on collecting as much money as possible. Rather, local authorities should take into account economic conditions when setting fees,” said Al-Moghazli.
MP Mohamed Helmi, a member of the Housing Committee, told Al-Ahram Weekly that MPs had not only pressed the government to extend the reconciliation deadline beyond 30 September but were keen to report any arbitrary measures adopted by local council employees in implementing the law.
“We are happy the government is now making it easier, and less costly, to reach a reconciliation,” he said.
Egypt saw a rise in illegal construction during the security vacuum that followed the 2011 uprising when many people constructed multi-storey buildings without acquiring the necessary permits or complying with safety standards.
“The most important thing now,” argues Helmi, “is to settle offences in an orderly way, without disrupting public order or compelling citizens to pay fines they cannot afford.”
Helmi warned that hostile Muslim Brotherhood TV channels, broadcasting from Turkey and Qatar, are trying their best to exploit the reconciliation law and incite citizens to protest.
In addition to the offer of a 25 per cent discount on settlements paid in full, the cabinet said on 11 September that fines on illegal buildings in 23 out of 27 Egyptian governorates had been reduced by between 10 and 70 per cent in order to ease the burden on low-income citizens. The governorates included in the decision are Cairo, Alexandria, Beheira, Daqahliya, Sharqiya, Gharbiya, Qalioubiya, Menoufiya, Port Said, Damietta, Kafr Al-Sheikh, Minya, Assiut, Sohag, Qena, Aswan, Luxor, the Red Sea, Ismailia, Suez, North Sinai, South Sinai, and Fayoum.
On Monday, Minister of Housing Assem Al-Gazzar also revealed that the government was offering a discount of up to 25 per cent on reconciliation fees for illegal buildings in new cities.
Madbouli made it clear that the 30 September deadline will now be extended by two months to allow citizens more time to prepare the paperwork necessary for the reconciliation process. In a statement on 9 September he announced that local authorities had been instructed to process reconciliation requests immediately.
“If requests were submitted with some necessary documents missing, citizens now have two months to rectify this,” said Madbouli.
The prime minister added that while there was no intention to demolish illegal buildings or take punitive measures, people who fail to reach a reconciliation deal will have the status of their buildings frozen.
“They will not be able to sell their property or access public utilities while those who will do get a licence through the reconciliation process will see the status of their building regularised which will be reflected in an increase in the value of the property,” he said.
Independent MP Mohamed Fouad sent a letter to the prime minister on Monday requesting the deadline be extended by six rather than two months.
“The two-month extension is likely to be too short for many people to raise the money necessary to pay the fees and prepare the necessary documentation,” said Fouad.
It was announced this week that fines for outstanding building violations can be paid in installments over three years at zero interest.
“I have also ordered that citizens be allowed to file complaints against the reconciliation fees and not to be asked to get a costly report from a consultancy office assessing the value of the illegal building,” said Madbouli.
In a press conference on 12 September Madbouli revealed that real estate tycoons had already paid LE1 billion to settle building code violations. “Hundreds of local council employees have also been referred for prosecution for not taking statutory measures to halt illegal construction,” he said.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 17 September, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly