Property development has reached a tipping point in Mauritius. Since December 2014, we have seen the Government's introduction of the Property Development Scheme (PDS), as the successor to the previous schemes, namely, the Integrated Resort Scheme (IRS) and Residential Estate Scheme (RES).
This has led to a situation where the previous IRS and RES continue to benefit from the advantages granted to them under the old schemes. The Investment Promotion Act 2000 (IPA 2000) was amended to cater for the new PDS which was set up after consultation between the Government and various stakeholders at the beginning of 2015. Under the powers conferred by the IPA 2000 to the Minister of Finance and Economic Development, the latter enacted the Investment Promotion (Property Development) Scheme Regulations 2015 which provide the framework for the development of the new PDS.
The figures show that about 1,500 residential units were sold by January 2015 through the previous IRS and RES schemes. As a reminder, the RES was introduced after the success of the IRS when it was felt that smaller landowners should also benefit from property development and bring in foreign direct investment (FDI) to the island. Numerous criticisms were made of those two schemes, however, the main one being that they were creating ghettos for rich foreigners who were living in their own communities and isolating themselves from Mauritian life. New solutions, therefore, had to be found.
After the global financial crisis and the slowdown of the property market, together with the desire to better integrate those foreigners who were investing in real estate, it was felt that a new scheme was needed and so the PDS was born in May 2015. The Investment Promotion (PDS) Regulations 2015 are designed to govern the new arrangements.
The objects and legal basis of the PDS
The objects of the PDS are to promote inclusive development and provide for residential, employment and leisure opportunities for Mauritians, members of the Mauritian Diaspora and foreigners. The PDS also aims to ensure that the development accrues to the neighbouring communities and to small individual entrepreneurs. The Regulations define who can be a PDS developer, what a PDS certificate is and the obligations and responsibilities of the PDS company. It provides the legal framework for the implementation of the PDS project and the administration for the PDS Social Fund. Finally, the Regulations govern the process for the acquisition and resale of property, both residential and non-residential.
The idea of the PDS is to develop luxury residences on areas ranging from one to 50 arpents and restricted to freehold land. Each project is to develop at least six high-standing residential properties and also provide public and green spaces for better social relationship. The PDS needs to provide leisure and commercial facilities as well as daily management services to look after these after completion.
Finally, social contributions are required whereby the PDS company will provide 200,000 Mauritian rupees per residential property built. Registration duty has been simplified and is now charged at a flat rate of 5 per cent.
The PDS guidelines
The PDS Guidelines have been published by the Board of Investment (BOI) and are available on its website at www.investmauritius.com. The Guidelines cover the whole framework starting with the application for a PDS up to the issue of the PDS Certificate. They provide for the type and extent of residential property to be acquired and the procedure required to acquire the PDS Certificate. Although it is a 27-page technical document, nonetheless, the keen promoter or buyer will certainly find his way whilst reading through it. It also covers the duties and taxes which are payable and the steps to be followed when the contract is governed by provisions of the VEFA (Vente en l'Etat Futur d'Achevement) and the GFA (Garantie Financière d'Achèvement).
It is clear that many of the previous procedures relating to IRS and RES have been streamlined and promoters are largely supportive of the new rules. However, an outstanding headache for the PDS promoter, until recently, was the obligation to sell 25 per cent of a development to a Mauritian resident or member of the Mauritian Diaspora. Whilst the original idea was probably laudable in its aim to mix both Mauritian and foreign buyers, in practice, it has proved unworkable. No one may start a project if he has not secured the sale of 25 per cent of properties on offer to Mauritians and the obvious question was why would Mauritians pay more to buy within the PDS Scheme when they could buy land for development anywhere in Mauritius. Representations were made to the Government and the BOI to amend the law or to make these provisions more flexible.
As the property market in Mauritius has matured, the Government has facilitated access to the PDS in its 2016 Budget by removing the stringent requirement on promoters to sell at least 25 per cent of residential units to Mauritian buyers. Likewise, the maximum permissible land size for a villa has been reviewed from half of an acre, which is approximately 2,110 sq. m., to 1.25 acres which is approximately 5,276 sq. m. The maximum limit of 50 acres has also been abolished.
To date, 19 PDS project promoters have received their Letter of Approval and two of these have been issued with their PDS certificates. Recent developments in the property sector in Mauritius have helped to establish more reliable structures for investors. The improved legislative framework shows a commitment from the Government to capitalise on the PDS scheme and to cater for a wide range of buyers with different construction projects. This greatly aids Mauritius in its goal to secure a place on the global property market.
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