MUSCAT: In line with the Royal Directives of His Majesty Sultan Haitham bin Tarik to accelerate the provision of subsidised housing finance for individuals on the waiting lists for housing allocations, Oman Housing Bank (OHB) launched the ‘Iskan’ programme on Monday, January 8, 2024, under the auspices of Sultan bin Salem al Habsi, Minister of Finance.
The launch ceremony, held at Al Bustan Palace Hotel, was attended by numerous dignitaries, including the Chief Executive Officer, Chairman, and Members of the Board of Oman Housing Bank, as well as experts and professionals from the economic sector.
The Royal Directives of His Majesty Sultan Haitham bin Tarik are aimed at standardising the criteria for finance applications on the waiting lists at both the Ministry of Housing & Urban Planning and the Oman Housing Bank. They also set the fees for banking and administrative services related to financing, to facilitate the provision of funds to applicants on the waiting lists of the Bank and the Ministry of Housing and Urban Planning.
Following the Royal Directives, OHB quickly adopted innovative digital technologies to streamline the application process and engage national talents in this initiative, which aims to serve the diverse regions of the Sultanate. Additionally, the Bank has signed agreements with various local banks to finance housing applications, covering both conventional and Islamic banking services.
During the launch ceremony, Moosa bin Masoud al Jadidi, CEO of OHB, emphasised that the initiative is aimed at reducing the lengthy waiting times for eligible citizens on the waiting lists of both the Bank and the Ministry of Housing & Urban Planning. This comes particularly after the transfer of all applications from the Ministry to the Oman Housing Bank for processing.
The programme will speed up the distribution of housing finance through the dedicated electronic platform 'Iskan'. This platform allows citizens to submit their data and documents, know their turns, and choose their preferred bank for securing housing finance, in line with the criteria set by Oman Housing Bank. Additionally, it outlines the eligibility criteria, the targeted income groups, and the fees individuals must pay for the interest rate.
OHB uploads the lists of eligible citizens to the 'Iskan' electronic platform according to priority. As their turn nears, individuals receive an SMS alert with a direct link to the application process on the platform. This enables them to complete all necessary steps to obtain housing finance, including application submission, data entry, financial access, and evaluation of the whole process.
The 'Iskan' electronic platform aims to significantly reduce waiting times from application to finance disbursement by utilising advanced digital technologies. This enhances the platform's ability to efficiently meet citizens' needs. On the platform, any citizen can find comprehensive details about housing finance options. The 'Iskan' programme , acting as a comprehensive umbrella, addresses the requirements of citizens eligible for housing finance through a thoughtful approach that ensures accessibility and inclusiveness. The maximum finance amount provided by OHB is RO 60,000, which extends to RO 80,000 for citizens interested in purchasing housing units in Sultan Haitham City and the integrated city projects spearheaded by the Ministry of Housing & Urban Planning
The CEO of OHB emphasised the bank’s crucial role since its establishment and affirmed the leadership's strong commitment to providing decent living standards for various societal segments. From its inception in 1977 until the end of 2022, OHB has extended over RO 1.5 billion in subsidised housing finance. This significant figure is supported by financial results showing a substantial increase in the housing finance portfolio.
Al Jadidi highlighted that challenges have prompted the bank to develop innovative finance solutions. The bank received a total of 61,000 applications, including over 49,000 transferred from the Ministry of Housing & Urban Planning and more than 11,000 originally on the bank’s list. Additionally, the CEO emphasised the importance of providing flexible services and reducing both the waiting lists and the time to obtain housing finance. This is particularly crucial, considering the government's commitment to ensuring a decent life for every Omani citizen. OHB, as an extension of the government, plays a pivotal role in delivering direct services to citizens. “We must offer services and products that align with the government’s support for citizens eligible for housing finances,” he said.
About the strategic goals of the 'Iskan' programme, Al Jadidi outlined its primary objectives as fostering social welfare and ensuring a stable and sustainable life for all. The programme aims to launch a comprehensive housing initiative, planning to secure finance for more than 50,000 housing units over five years. The goal seeks to bring the urban development strategy to life, encompassing all governorates and sustainable cities. A key target is to significantly reduce waiting times from 15 years to less than six months within these five years.
The programme is also designed to contribute to economic diversification through its housing finance initiatives.
During the programme's launch, more than 60,000 citizens who had applied for housing finance were sent SMS alerts. These individuals were selected based on the priority of their application submissions. Moreover, the plan is to process more than 900 applications each month to initiate the finance operations in a new and innovative manner. These citizens were chosen according to the date of their application submissions. Text messages will also be successively sent to other citizens, based on their application priority.
Al Jadidi affirmed that the 'Iskan' programme will significantly improve the quality of life for the Omani population. By easing access to affordable housing finance, the programme aims to improve livelihoods, spur urban development, and stimulate the Sultanate's economic landscape. It is designed to alleviate the financial burden on citizens, thus facilitating their pursuit of housing opportunities. The programme will also strengthen the real estate and construction sectors, along with related businesses, by providing cash flows. This influx of funds is expected to stimulate the entire housing sector and its associated industries.
In adherence to the highest standards of transparency in its financing operations, OHB has integrated a dedicated electronic platform within its website, Iskan. oh.co.om. By accessing this platform, citizens can find comprehensive information about the programme, including details on the application process, the maximum finance limit, terms and conditions, and eligibility criteria. This integration is designed to facilitate and simplify access to information for all users.
Before launching the 'Iskan' programme, OHB established collaborations with partner banks within the programme. In coordination with various local banks, OHB's human capital division conducted comprehensive training for staff across branches, the call centre, and customer service departments. The training aimed to familiarise them with the programme, ensuring they could provide sufficient and readily available answers to citizens’ inquiries.