The end of the six-month grace period granted to those violating building regulations is just a month away, and the government is adamant that all buildings put up in violation of the regulations will be demolished along with all buildings built illegally on agricultural land.
During the inauguration of various projects in Alexandria on Saturday, President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi said some 700,000 building violations had been recorded, with only 10 per cent of their perpetrators having sought a solution with the state.
He said that building violations on agricultural land and unplanned buildings were two significant problems facing the country. Violations that took place in the past had been the result of negligence by officials, he said, and the state would bear the cost of righting any wrongs.
There were some 12 per cent of illegal structures in 2014, but these had increased to 37.5 per cent this year, Al-Sisi said.
The state removed 10,844 buildings built illegally on 2.7 million square metres of land and 3,885 constructions built illegally on 209,414 feddans of agricultural land between 8 July and 28 August, the Ministry of Local Development said on Saturday.
A law was issued last year that allowed violators to rectify the status of their buildings unless they were structurally unsound or violated approved planning regulations. Violations in buildings built to special architectural designs cannot be rectified and nor can those giving rise to buildings above heights specified by the Civil Aviation Authority.
Some 688,000 people nationwide had applied for buildings to be rectified up until 21 August, and the state had collected LE3.8 billion from violators up to 18 August.
At a cabinet meeting on Monday, Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouli said the grace period for building violations would not be extended and that starting in early October illegal structures that had not been subject to applications for rectification would be immediately removed.
However, Raafat Shemis, head of the Technical Inspection Authority that follows up on construction in Egypt, said that the new law was “a legal birth certificate for illegal construction”. Those violating building regulations could apply to have their buildings rectified under the law, he said, meaning they could legally register their buildings and acquire financing.
According to the law, applications are presented to the municipality in which an illegal building has been built. After the payment of fees by its owners, these varying from one area to another, the applications are examined.
If accepted, the building must be painted, and a committee assesses the rectification fee required, which ranges from LE50 to LE2,000 per square metre.
Following the application for rectification, building owners receive a certificate halting any court hearings or rulings against their buildings. Violators can pay 25 per cent of the rectification price and pay the rest in installments.
The law was amended in early 2020 to end problems in its application. The ministry of housing said some administrative bodies had requested violators to present documents not stated in the law, while others had not issued certificates halting legal procedures and fines. Some had been over-hasty in removing illegal buildings.
Ahmed Samir, an advisor at the Egypt Centre for Economic and Strategic Studies, a think tank, said that prior to 2014 there were some 6.4 million feddans of agricultural land in Egypt. About 30 per cent of Egypt’s workforce works in agriculture, he said.
The loss of agricultural land to illegal construction can lead to rising food prices and the need to import more food, adding pressure on the currency and threatening food security.
There were some 1.9 million encroachments on agricultural land from 2011 to 2019. According to figures from the ministry of local development announced in July, around 2,200 encroachments were removed and around 17,500 feddans of land were returned to agricultural use.
Some 19,600 building violations on 4,500 feddans of agricultural land were removed.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 3 September, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly