Districts have been warned against increasing fees for construction permits, which Rwanda Housing Authority (RHA) says is contrary to the law. Janvier Muhire, the building regulations specialist at RHA told The New Times in an interview that the warning was issued after thorough investigation in Bugesera district as a sample before inspecting other districts. He said that according to the 2012 presidential order and 2019 infrastructure minister order, landowners or investors should pay Rwf20,000 fee for a construction permit on a plot/Unique Parcel Identifier (UPI) whose size ranges from one to 100 square metres. A fee of Rwf40,000 should be paid for a construction permit on a UPI whose size is between 100 and 500 square metres while Rwf60, 000 has to be paid on a UPI that exceeds 500 square metres. All construction permits across the country are issued through the system called Building Permit Information System Management (BPMIS) which the housing authority supervises. However, he noted, a recent probe discovered violations of the recommended fees. “By investigating through the system and on the field, we realized that districts misinterpreted or misused the law which triggered complaints from people,” he said. He said that the districts were charging a construction permit fee per each house in a plot/UPI yet the fee should be charged on the plot irrespective of the number of structures on that land. “This means, for instance, that even if a plot (UPI) of over 500 square metres can accommodate 20 houses, the developer will only have to pay Rwf60, 000 instead of paying for every house,” he noted. According to the investigation, he said, people were being asked to pay Rwf1.2 million per 20 houses in the plot. “In just Bugesera district, the probe found that over 180 construction permits were overcharged fees contrary to the law. Some were charged Rwf80, 000, Rwf120,000 or Rwf200,000, while others paid up to Rwf920, 000. This is not acceptable unless the law is revised,” he said. He said the problem is not just in Bugesera saying that in the near future, they will release a report with a national outlook. “We continue inspections,” he said. Auditor General findings The New Times has learnt that the Auditor General report ending June 2021, also grilled the housing authority over the discrepancies in construction permit fees. “The audit noted that 134 invoices which were overbilled by Rwf6,180,000. For example, an applicant paid application fees of Rwf920,000 instead of Rwf60,000. This was due to weak system control that allows invoicing any amount above prescribed thresholds, it says. “Therefore, there is a risk that if this control is not reinforced, applicants may continue to be unfairly billed contrary to the Presidential Order,” it adds. Why the crackdown? Failure to comply with the law, he said, the overcharging could discourage investors especially those in real estate and affordable housing yet the government is striving for incentivizing them. “We have an issue of land size and therefore we encourage many houses in one UPI to house many families,” he explained. Will there be a refund? Asked if those overcharged will be refunded, Muhire said, “Violating the law is punished by the laws including refunding those who had been overcharged on construction permit fees. We have submitted the report to the districts for handling this.” Corruption in construction permits Recently senators raised the issues of delayed construction permits and corruption being reported. The recent bribery index by corruption watchdog Transparency International Rwanda (TI-RW) revealed that officials involved in issuing construction permits are at the top of the list of service providers that take bribes. Soliciting a bribe from those seeking a construction permit comes at the top scoring 61 percent in 2020 as compared to 33.8 percent in 2019. Muhire said that a construction permit should be available in 15 days and maximum 30 days if a landowner fulfills all requirements. “There should be mechanisms to effectively crackdown on corruption in construction permits,” he said. Marie-Solange Muhirwa, Chief of Urban Planning at the City of Kigali said this week that there are some brokers who pretend to help people to get construction permits and end up swindling money from them by telling lies that officials have solicited them a bribe.