Only two MMC members returned illegal allowances, after ACC investigation

The Maldives Media Council’s (MCC) annual audit report has revealed that only two of its members, Ahmed Abdulla and Ahmed Fazeel, have returned the MVR7,500 (US$478) living allowance adjudged to have been given illegally, reports local media.

The council’s other 13 member, despite being asked to do so, had not returned the allowance the report is said to have detailed.

In April 2011, council members decided not to receive the allowance any longer, after they were asked by Anti Corruption Commission (ACC) to discontinue a second time.

The MMC then sent letters to council members asking them to return the amounts they had received as living allowances – by now a total of almost a million rufiya, in addition to their salaries.

Following the ACC’s decision to sue the MCC over these allowance, the Maldives Journalist Association (MJA) urged the council’s members to resign.

“This raise questions about the integrity of MMC which was established by the Parliament to regulate media,” read an MJA statement at the time.

“The MMC Act which was passed by the parliament clearly stipulates that no additional money other than wages shall be given to the council members for their work, unless it is approved by the Parliament,” it continued.


MTCC blames city council for financial losses

The Maldives Transport and Contracting Company (MTCC) has today announced its intention to take legal action against Male’ City Council (MCC), alleging that negative rumours spread about the company had cost the companies shareholders money.

In a statement, reported by Haveeru, the MTCC refuted the council’s claims that it had to pay MVR 2.6million (US$170,000) in land rent. It further alleged that rumours started by MCC had directly resulted in the halting of its MVR 213.6 million (US$14 million) project to develop a lot close to Villimale’ ferry terminal.

The company also stated that, contrary to warnings received from the MCC, the council did not have the authority to find an alternative provider for ferry services in the greater Male’ area.

In today’s statement, the MTCC argued that the services it was providing were in accordance with the agreement signed with the government. It stressed that it had made efforts to improve the service without raising prices in line with hikes in the local Goods and Services Tax (GST).

The company was forced to reconsider raising fares last September after large protests outside the Villimale’ terminal. In June, it was revealed that the MTCC had made a  loss of Rf 89 million (US$5.7 million) in 2011.


LGA warns MCC against allowing use of council facilities for political activities

The body assigned to monitor the work and activities of the councils created under the 2010 decentralisation act has urged Male’ City Council (MCC) not to allow its facilities or equipment to be used for political purposes.

The Local Government Authority (LGA) has reported several complaints about the use of council offices for political purposes and has released a statement on its website warning the council that such activities could undermine public confidence in the MCC.

“[The LGA] believes that this could disrupt the system by which these services are provided to the people. Hence, we advise all councils and council offices to refrain from leasing council property and equipment for political gatherings,” read the statement.

Under the terms of the 2010 Decentralisation Act* the LGA was created to “monitor the work and activities and coordinate the work of the councils.”

The act also commits the LGA to “ensure the work and activities of councils created is functioning in accordance with the constitution, this act, and the other laws.”

The LGA statement did not elaborate on its position concerning the legality of the use of MCC facilities for political purposes. Minivan News was informed by an LGA staff member that there was to be no further comment given today.

The legality of the use of council land has become the focal point in the dispute between the MCC and the central government.

The most recent development in the long-running dispute came on June 7 when the government filed a request with the Civil Court, requesting an order for the MCC to hand the Usfasgandu area over to the Housing Ministry.

The ministry first announced its intentions to reclaim the site on April 9 should the MCC fail to dismantle the Maldivian Democratic Party’s (MDP) protest camp.

The government argued that the leasing of the land to the MDP for political purposes was in contravention of the decentralisation act. After the MCC refused to accept this interpretation of the law, the cabinet informed the MCC on May 9 that it was entrusting the Housing Minister to reclaim the area.

The situation escalated once more on May 29 after the government obtained a warrant from the Criminal Court to search the area after the Home Minister Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed had alleged complaints of illegal activity in the area. Among the purported misdemeanours listed on the warrant was “suspected black magic performed in the area”.

The security forces began to dismantle the camp before the MDP obtained an order from the Civil Court to halt the process.

The MDP, which enjoys a majority of seats in the MCC, has also been using Male’ City Hall, the council’s main office, for party press conferences in recent weeks.

Under the Decentralisation Act, the LGA is empowered to file suit with the High Court to dissolve the council. One of the situations detailed as warranting such action is the misuse of council’s faciltities.

Article 140 of the constitution states that a member of the cabinet must be assigned responsibility for each of the non-independent government authorities. The Home Minister currently fulfils this role.

*These details have been taken from an unofficial translation of the act.


Home Minister claims reports of criminal activity in Usfasgandu, after criminal court drops request for court order

The Home Minister Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed yesterday claimed to have received reports that criminal activity was being conducted at the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party MDP)’s protest camp in Usfasgandu area.

Jameel’s comments come only days after the Criminal Court refused to grant a court order for the forced dispersal of the protest camp, which was granted to the MDP by the Male’ City Council – which has an MDP majority. The court had argued that the case fell under the jurisdiction of the Civil Court.

Jameel was not responding at time of press. However he was reported in Haveeru saying that: “No complaints of any criminal activities had been raised with us at the time [of the original court order request]. But now many complaints have been received including criminal offences.”

The Criminal Court last week decided that the case concerning the disputed jurisdiction of the Usfasgandu area fell outside of its remit. The police had requested the court order following an instruction from the Home Ministry to take over the area on behalf of the government.

The MDP have based their activities in the area since their original ‘Justice Square’ protest camp was dismantled by security forces on March 19. During the subsequent court case the MDP’s legal team decried the fact that the government forces had acted without a court order.

After the camp had been dismantled, the government defended its actions, arguing that criminal activities had been planned and executed in the area.

There had been incidents in the days immediately preceding the raid in which police had been attacked by individuals who were then reported to have retreated into the crowded camp area.

Furthermore, the March 19 raid came only hours after an MDP led march, originating at the ‘Justice Square’ camp, in protest of the re-opening of the People’s Majlis turned violent resulting multiple injuries to both civilians, police and military personnel. Villa Television (VTV)) also sustained significant damage.

During the raid itself, after a brief media blackout, the security forces paraded cases of alcohol to waiting journalists as apparent evidence of illegal activity in the camp.

The ensuing court case was inconclusive, being dismissed on a technicality shortly before the closing statements were expected. The technical issue was resolved and the case re-filed, before again being held up on a similar issue.

Hissan Hussian, a member of the MDP’s legal team, said that the MDP will not stop police investigating potential cases of criminality. She said that the police could obtain a search and arrest warrant if it had reasonable grounds to believe that illegal activity was taking place.

“We are saying that if criminality is going on, they are free to investigate. We will not give cover to anyone engaging in illegal activities,” said Hissan.

She also revealed that a petition had been circulating in protest of the bullying tactics being used against the MCC. The petition seeks to remind the Local Government Association (LGA) and other government ministries that jurisdictional battles must be pursued through the appropriate legal avenues. The petition so far has arounf 150 signatures.

This follows the submission to the LGA last week of a petition criticising the MCC’s policies on religious speeches as well as its general provision of services.

Over 60 days had passed between the MDP’s relocation to Usfasgandu and the Home Ministry’s order to the police, during which time no complaints of criminal activity had been received according to the Home Minister’s comments.

Spokesman for the MDP Hamid Abdul Ghafoor saw these accusations as a furtherance of the government’s attack on basic freedoms: “This is very telling. They have tried but they are losing a battle against freedom of expression.”

“The coup administration appears to be acting on the previous constitution while we are acting on the current constitution. They have memory loss,” said Ghafoor

Ghafoor, who is also MP for Henveiru South, the constituency in which Usfasgandu lies, said that he had not been made aware of any criminal activities in the area.

“If there were serious problems I would be the first to know. I walk around the area every day,” he added.

Police Sub-Inspector Hassan Haneef was unable to give specific details of any of these complaints, explaining that such complaints do not always go through the police but can go directly to the Home Ministry.

Usfasgandu has become the most prominent in a series of inter-governmental disputes between the central government and Male’ City Council (MCC). The government has argued that the MCC’s leasing of the Usfasgandu area for political purposes violates the terms of the 2010 decentralisation act.

The MCC has repeatedly refuted this and refused to cede control the area to the Housing Ministry. MCC Mayor ‘Maisan’ Ali Manik has said previously that the MCC would stand aside if a court order was obtained, whilst stating his belief that that these jurisdictional issues fall within the mandate of the Civil Court.


Housing Ministry takes dispute with MCC to Human Rights Commission

The Ministry of Housing and Infrastructure has decided to involve the Human rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM) in its ongoing feud with Male’ City Council (MCC).

The ministry has forwarded a case to police as well as the HRCM in relation to its civil servants who have been assigned to work at the Dharubaaruge conference center.

President of the HRCM Mariyam Azra confirmed that a complaint had been received today regarding the right to work of these civil servants. She said that the HRCM will work with the CSC to resolve the issue.

In one of a series of jurisdictional disputes in the capital, the Civil Service Commission (CSC) informed the MCC in April that its Dharubaaruge staff had been transferred to the Housing Ministry following a cabinet decision to transfer the conference centre to the central government.

Upon receiving the letter, the MCC sent all members of staff home and locked the doors to the conference centre.

This prompted a swift response from Housing Minister Dr Mohamed Muiz who declared that the centre had been closed unlawfully. Police were sent in and the centre forcefully reopened.

Dr Muiz told Sun Online that Housing Ministry staff had been arriving for work at the conference centre since mid-April and being forced to stand outside as the MCC refuses to accept the legality of the transfer of ownership.

The minister argued that this situation contravened the workers human rights.

“Eighteen civil service employees of Dharubaaruge have to stay out in the sun every day after reporting to work. They can’t enter Dharubaaruge to work. So whether it’s City Council or another institution, they are denying these employees their rights,” Muiz told Sun.

MCC Councillor Mohamed Abdul Kareem denied that this was the case and said that the MCC had made interim arrangements with the CSC.

“No, they are not waiting outside, they are working at the Housing Ministry. We have arranged a temporary permit with the CSC to use our civil servants in the Dharubaaruge until the legal dispute is resolved,” said Kareem.

Mohamed Fahmy Hassan, Chairman of the CSC said that there was no prospect of Housing Ministry staff gaining access to the building until the MCC had agreed to the transfer and a full inventory of the facilities and equipment had been conducted.

“We have instructed the Ministry of Housing to make arrangements for staff to sign up and go home until the situation with the MCC is dealt with,” said Fahmy, though he was unsure whether these instruction had been carried out.

The legal battle between the MCC and the government continued to smoulder this week as the police, responding to a request from the Home Ministry, requested an order from the Criminal Court to dismantle the Maldivian Democratic Party’s (MDP) Usfasgandu protest area.

This area was one of 32 plots of land given over to the MCC as part of the 2010 decentralisation act and was reclaimed by the Housing Ministry on May 9 after its warnings for political activities in the area to cease went unheeded.

After some deliberation, as well as pleas from the MCC, the Criminal Court decided that this Usfasgandu did not fall under its remit, leaving the police to consider its next move.

The Ministry has Housing and Environment was this week renamed the Ministry of Housing and Infrastructure following the creation of the Ministry of Environment and Energy.


Male’ City Mayor summoned to court to apologise for “harassing” letter

Male’ City Council (MCC) Mayor ‘Maizan’ Ali  Manik was summoned to the Criminal Court today to explain to the registrar what the court felt was an “impolite” letter sent to it by the council.

The letter in question had been sent to the Criminal Court by the MCC following the police’s request for a court order for the clearance of the Usfasgandu area.

The police had received instruction from the Home Ministry to clear the area after the MCC had refused to hand the land over to the government.

Manik explained that the reasons for his summons had been “nothing serious”, and that the registrar felt “the letter was too hard and contained no politeness.”

City Councillor Mohamed Abdul Kareem said the court had described the letter as “harassing”. Kareem told Minivan News that the court was not able to promise that it would not give the court order although it agreed that the case was a civil matter, rather than criminal.

He said that the court had confirmed that it would look into the court order, although he claimed that the court was in agreement with him that the case fell under the civil court’s jurisdiction.

The offending letter argued that the Usfasgandu issue did not relate to the criminal court and ought to be dealt with by the civil court. It also said that the issue could not be ordered without the MCC being notified and allowed to represent itself.

Manik said that he had apologised for the tone of the letter, explaining that the matter was particularly urgent: “That’s why the letter was so harsh”.

The MCC has vowed to resist the repeated attempts by the government to reclaim areas of the council given over to it as part of the decentralisation process pursued by the previous administration.

The MCC’s belief that these issues should be dealt with by the Civil Court saw it submit two civil cases today relating to its disputes with the government.

The first challenges the reclamation of the Usfasgandu area by the Housing Ministry, while the second addresses the larger issue of conflicting legislation that it feels has prompted the battles over jurisdiction.

Local paper Haveeru spoke with City Councillor Ibrahim Shujau regarding the submission of these cases.

“The [second] case is regarding the conflict between the Land Administration Regulation, followed by the Housing Ministry, and the Decentralisation Act, Constitution and the Land Act. Thus we have appealed at the court to abolish the regulation,” Shujau told Haveeru.

Last week, the MCC sent letters to the Maldives Police Service (MPS), the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF), and the Housing Ministry, informing them of its decision not to comply with cabinet’s decision to reallocate the plot to the Ministry of Housing.

However, Manik argued that the MCC would not resist if a court order was obtained.

“They have to get a court order. If they have a court order, we will comply,“ he said.

The Usfasgandu area is currently leased to the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and is being used as the base of operations for their political activities. Most recently, these activities have consisted of weekly marches around the capital, attended by many thousands, protesting against the current government and calling for early elections.

The MDP’s previous base of operations at Lonuziyaaraiy Kolhu was dismantled by security forces on March 19. The government on this occasion acted without a court order, prompting legal challenge from the MDP.
The subsequent court case was first dismissed on a technicality and, after being re-submitted has once again been delayed for similar reasons.

When asked whether it was normal procedure to request a court order after a request from the Home Ministry, Sub-Inspector Hassan Haneef said that it depended on the case in question.

“We are trying to follow legal procedures. We want to make sure to follow law and order, to maintain peace. We understand that this is sensitive issue,” he said.

Home Minister Mohamed Jameel Ahmed was not responding at time press.


Housing Ministry accuses MCC of misleading the public in Huravee and Dharubaaruge dispute

The Housing Ministry has accused Male’ City Council (MCC) of misleading the public in laying the blame for potential service disruption following last week’s disputes solely at its door, according to Sun Online.

Last week the MCC was informed by the Housing Ministry that it’s Dharubaaruge staff were to be transferred to the ministry and a day later, that it had to vacate some of its offices in the Huravee building to make way for new government departments.

Following the latter incident, the MCC held a press conference in which it said: “These services [provided at the Huravee site] will be obstructed because of the Housing Ministry’s actions”.

The Housing Ministry rejected the claims made by the MCC that its actions were disrupting the Council’s provision of services.

“Following our request to vacate these premises, City Council told the media that this ministry obstructs public services provided by City Council – which is a purposeful attempt to mislead the public on this issue,” a Ministry statement is reported to have argued.

The Ministry is also reported to have said, “[We] made the request from City Council on two occasions, to hold discussions on the arrangements to be made following the transfer of employees [from Dharubaaruge] to this ministry, but [were] not met with a reasonable response from City Council.”


Dharubaaruge “unlawfully” closed, Housing Ministry claims

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.

Land tussle

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.

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.


PPM criticises MCC’s land allocation

The Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) had criticised the policies of Male’ City Council (MCC) over the allocation of land, arguing that the current policies are in violation of decentralisation laws.

The PPM claimed today that the Maldivian Democratic Party(MDP) have been granted land at surfer’s point an Usfangandi, whilst requests from other parties for space to use have been rejected, Haveeru has reported.

The MCC responded in local media that the land allocation complied with current regulations.

During the week it emerged that the Housing Ministry had issued a letter to the MCC informing them of their decision to take the Usfangandu area away from the Council’s control due to the continued political activity on the site. The MDP lease was due to run until the end of June.

The court case concerning the removal of the MDP from the surfer’s point area last month was dismissed this week after the judge ruled that MDP interim chairperon Moosa ‘Reeko’ Manik did not have the authority to submit the case on behalf of his party.