The doors to the Dharubaaruge conference centre in Male’ appeared open again this evening after its employees were sent home earlier today and the building locked.
Minister for Housing and Environment Dr Mohamed Muiz has claimed the centre was “unlawfully” closed by Male’ City Council amidst a dispute between the two bodies.
Minivan News this evening witnessed the doors to the centre once again open and a police presence outside.
According to the housing minister, control of the conference centre had recently been transferred from Male’ City Council (MCC) to his ministry.
“As far as we are concerned someone locked the doors and unlawfully asked employees to leave,” said Dr Muiz.
Speaking with Minivan News this afternoon, City Councillor Mohamed Abdul Kareem confirmed that the centre had been locked up, as authorities were expected to make their way to the building.
“We hear they will be breaking the locks and entering the premises, but we don’t know what will happen,” he said.
After hearing reports that police had moved in to forcefully re-open the building, Minivan News witnessed around twenty police officers outside the centre at around 5:30pm. As they waited outside the open doors, nearby crowds could be heared shouting ‘baaghee’.
The Dharubaaruge conference centre was originally built for the 5th SAARC summit in 1990 and is rented out for events, press conferences and private functions. President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan appeared at an event celebrating high academic achievers just last night.
Kareem said that a letter was received from the Civil Service Commission (CSC) yesterday informing the council that all 17 staff at the centre had been transferred to the Housing Ministry.
“The CSC has taken the staff and may be thinking that the whole premises belong to the Housing Ministry. But it is already handed over to the MCC. I believe our legal team has submitted the case to court,” said Kareem.
The Chairman of the CSC Mohamed Fahmy Hassan, countered this view, arguing that the local government laws allowed for the removal of state land from city councils.
“Institutions and land belonging to central government can be changed by cabinet decision according to the rules. The cabinet has decided that Dharubaaruge is to move from the MCC to the Housing Ministry,” Fahmy informed Minivan.
He also argued that staff at the conference centre could only be ordered home by the CSC itself: “Staff should not be sent home. This has to be worked out in the courts between the MCC and the Housing Ministry.”
Both sides expressed concern that despite the dispute, the provision of services at the conference centre should not be affected.
Kareem therefore argued that the centre needed to re-opened quickly for pre-booked events. Fahmy added that the CSC always made efforts to ensure that services were not impeded in these situations.
In another tussle over the jurisdiction of land in the capital, the Housing Ministry last week issued a letter to the MCC stating that it intended to claim the area immediately behind Dharubaaruge, known as Usfangandu.
The reasons given by the ministry were that the presence of the new Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) demonstration area on the land violated the regulations concerning the use of public space. The MCC disputed these allegations.
The issue of MCC jurisdiction over the Tsunami monument area also arose recently after the case of the dismantling by security forces of the MDP’s ‘Justice Square’ was submitted to legal process.
A number of justifications for the camp’s removal were posited, but the case was dismissed by the Civil Court on a technicality. The court alleged that MDP interim chairperson Mooosa ‘Reeko’ Manik had exceeded his authority when submitting the case. The case has since been re-submitted by party President Dr Ibrahim Didi.
When asked about any possible connection between the Usfangandu and Dharubaaruge incidents, Dr Muiz said that he believed there was no link.
However, Councillor Kareem believed the two were linked to recent political tensions.
Last week, the Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) criticised the MCC’s allocation of land for political uses, arguing that the council’s policies violated decentralisation laws.