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Bahrain plans to regulate unsafe buildings

Manama, March 13, 2013

New legislation is being drawn up as part of a crackdown on unsafe living conditions in Bahrain, said a report citing the Kingdom's labour minister.

It aims to close loopholes in existing laws, including banning building owners from sub-letting accommodation to people who sell bed space to low-income workers, reported the Gulf Daily News, our sister publication, citing the Labour Minister Jameel Humaidan.

The plan comes after 13 Bangladeshis were killed in a fire at a three-storey building in Manama in January.

Around 135 people, mainly Pakistanis and Bangla-deshis, lived in the building, which consisted of 27 rooms illegally built by wooden partitions, the report added.

Humaidan said the government had been preparing a law regulating company accommodation.

"We have heard that parliament is currently preparing the same, so we told parliament chairman Khalifa Al Dhahrani to merge both - to save time and ensure strength," he said.

However, Humaidan said it was important that MPs differentiate between accommodation provided by companies for their staff - understood to total around 150,000 - and people living independently.

"In Bahrain, as in other countries, employers have a choice between providing housing or housing allowances through contracts and we don't have legislation obliging compulsory accommodation," he said.

"This is why most employers provide accommodation in old houses abandoned by inhabitants in Manama and Muharraq because they are cheap. On the other hand, they are also a suitable choice for many labourers, who want to save their allowance, or those with "free visas".

Humaidan said the government did not have the authority to enter homes for legal reasons without permission from the Public Prosecution, which meant a speedy resolution was difficult.

"Even if we manage to enter, sponge beds are hidden to show that only a few are living in the place," he said.

Humaidan said a permanent committee was set up by the government under the chairmanship of Interior Minister Shaikh Rashid bin Abdulla Al Khalifa after January's fire.

"Now governors have been assigned duties to locate all dangerous homes and take immediate action, through a team from the ministries concerned. There are numerous homes that have been emptied and those accountable were taken to the Public Prosecution," he said.

"There are flaws in numerous laws that we are currently dealing with, either through Cabinet decisions or through amendments that will be presented to parliament.

"The Municipalities and Urban Planning Affairs Ministry will be mainly responsible, and only through it other concerned ministries will be able to act - since it is the only body in the country with access to all information regarding expatriate bachelor accommodation."

Humaidan was summoned to parliament, along with Municipalities and Urban Planning Affairs Minister Dr Juma Al Ka'abi and Interior Minister Shaikh Rashid bin Abdulla Al Khalifa, who deputised Under-Secretary of Legal Affairs Brigadier Mohammed Buhamood, to speak about the unsafe living conditions.

Dr Al Ka'abi said accusations that ministers did not care about the problem were wrong.

"Earlier, a study was conducted by municipal councils highlighting security, health and environment concerns and we have changed many municipal regulations accordingly but the problem continued," he said.

"Forty per cent of accommodation are registered with the Labour Ministry, but 60 per cent remains difficult to deal with because they are not listed."

Brig Buhamood said inspectors regularly visited accommodation, but can only bulldoze homes if courts give a verdict to that effect.

He said the teams had found several unsafe electricity connections, including in January's deadly fire, but nothing could be done as it was not illegal.

Minister of State for Parliament and Shura Council Affairs Abdulaziz Al Fadhel said the government presented MPs with a draft law on unsafe living conditions in 2010, but it never saw the light of day.-TradeArabia News Service

Tags: Bahrain | Legislation | building |

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