The Ministry of Housing has taken over the Dharubaaruge conference center from the Malé City Council and changed locks on the building with police assistance.
The ministry claimed the council is deliberately delaying the handover of the center as per a cabinet decision on March 27.
The Dharubaaruge takeover is the latest in an ongoing dispute between the ministry and opposition dominated council on ownership of land in the capital city.
Deputy Mayor Shifa Mohamed told Minivan News she is shocked by the ministry’s actions and would take up the matter at the Civil Court.
“We are shocked, and we will take this to the court. The council has already agreed to discuss the transfer through proposer procedures. There is a regulation on this, so why should they work against laws and regulations?” she said.
The Dharubaaruge conference center—originally built for the 5th SAARC summit in 1990—is rented out for events, press conferences and private functions. Former President Mohamed Nasheed handed the center over to the city council with the establishment of a local government system in 2011.
Regulations on transfer of land to local councils allow the cabinet to take back land to implement the government’s economic, social and national security related policies.
Minivan News observed police cordoning off the areas sealing the entrance to Dharubaaruge with yellow ‘crime scene’ police tape at around 14:45 in the afternoon as city council members protested outside.
“We asked the police if they had a court warrant to enter [the premises of the building without permission], they said they did not have any such permit and asked us to take up the issue with housing ministry.” Shifa said.
A Maldives Police Services official said the police involvement was only limited to protecting state property “as there was a dispute between the ministry and the council over its ownership.”
Police had been at the site on Housing Minister Mohamed Muiz’s orders, the official said.
Speaking to local media, Muiz said police assistance had been sought on the Attorney General’s advice.
Police assistance had been necessary because the council had delayed handover of Dharubaaruge despite agreeing to the move, Muiz claimed adding that ministry officials and the police had completed all due procedures in the takeover.
“Starting from today, Dharubaaruge will be maintained by the Housing Ministry. The ministry will carry out all necessary repair and development. A plan to develop Dharubaaruge will be formulated very soon,” Muiz said.
Malé City Council Member Shamau Shareef told Minivan News the council was willing to hand the center over, but only within procedures outlined in the regulations.
“We are in the process of handing over right now, so many things have to be considered in changing [the jurisdiction of] a land such as taking an inventory and we even have a contract with a private party for the maintenance [of Dharubaaruge]. The place is still under the council, and those people who came to change the locks did not have any document or warrant or even proper identification,” he said.
The Housing Ministry had told the council it was taking over the center due to poor maintenance, Shamau claimed.
“But the council never received the requested budget to maintain the place, this is only convention center in Malé,” he said.
The Malé City Council and Housing Ministry had clashed over Dharubaaruge ownership during former President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan’s administration.
Waheed, who came to power in a controversial transfer of power February 2012, decided to take over a number of plots under the Malé City Council’s jurisdiction.
But the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) dominated council refused to handover the center and dispute escalated rapidly with the council locking up the building and the ministry attempting to change locks in April 17, 2012.
The Housing Ministry had transferred all staff at the center from the council jurisdiction to the ministry the night before.
The council passed a resolution to fight back and hold on to Dharubaaruge. The ministry took the case to Civil Court, but dropped the claim in March 2013.
The following May, the council contracted Dharubaaruge maintenance of to a private company for ten years. At the time the council said fifty percent of revenues generated from running the center would be given to the state under the agreement.
President Abdulla Yameen’s cabinet decided to take back lands under the council on March 27. The Ministry of Housing requested the handover of seven lands to be completed within seven days, but the new council agreed to return all requested lands as per rules and regulations.
The requested lands include the artificial beach, carnival area, south harbour area, lands near the T-Jetty, Usfasgandu area on the southeast, and Dharubaaruge multipurpose hall.