EXCLUSIVE: Notary Recruitment Initiated After 4-Year Lapse | RALPH CANTAVE

By Ralph Cantave
PHILIPSBURG – After four years of non-implementing the mandatory recruitment process for a new civil-law notary, St. Maarten launched the recruitment process for a candidate notary to replace 69 year old notary Faride Tjon Ajong. The deadline for eligible candidate notaries to apply was July 31, 2022, which was posted in a one-day advertisement in the Daily Herald on June 20. It should be noted that Tjon Ajong should already have been discharged from her function on April 1, 2018 and that the former Joint Court of Justice President, Eunice Saleh sent several reminders on this matter to the Minister of Justice at the time and the Governor’s cabinet. Following steadfast inquiry by my person the recruitment finally commenced by the present Minister, Anna Richardson.
Tjon Ajong is a retired notary from Aruba. Her appointment as notary in St. Maarten in 2014 by the then Minister of Justice Dennis Richardson took place in order to prepare the position for a ‘landskind’ who was still studying in the Netherlands at the time and who now serves as a candidate notary under Tjon Ajong. This decision of Mr. Richardson bypassed the Court’s number one recommendation, the late Lars de Vries; who was familiar with the island and promising candidate notary who committed suicide shortly after he was ignored by Richardson and dismissed by Tjon Ajong.
Though Tjon Ajong should have been discharged as per 2018 she questionably kept functioning as a civil law notary and kept signing all kinds of authentic and official documents like wills and real estate deeds. Questionably, because for already four years she acted as her own substitute, using the same argument which led to her initial appointment in 2014 by Richardson. It is still not clear who, and on which legal grounds, approved or allowed this very odd situation that Tjon Ajong is substituting for herself. Substitution is regulated in Chapter IV of the National Ordinance regarding Notaries. According to articles 17 and 18 of this ordinance only the President of the Court can authorize others – i.e. other notaries or persons who are eligible to be appointed as notary – to temporarily replace a civil-law notary. Also, only in limited situations, mentioned in the law. None of these situations are applicable to Tjon Ajong’s case. It should also be pointed out that the law also stipulates that the substituted notary may not exercise his (or her) duties during the replacement period.
Up till today it is still unknown if the decision to substitute for oneself was taken by the President of the Court, the Minister of Justice or by Ajong herself. Mysteriously enough none of the questioned parties could produce any document by which the functioning of Tjon Ajong after April 1, 2018 is sanctioned. The question of the justness and legality of her actions as per that date – for example the signing of wills and real estate deeds – is still unanswered. The Minister of Justice and/or the President of the Court should give openness and clarity to the public on this matter.
For as far known, there are two eligible candidate notaries on the island to replace Tjon Ajong; Luz-Marie Tuitt who currently works with Meredith Boekhoudt and Keshia Richards who works with Tjon Ajong. Richards is the ‘landskind’ mentioned previously. She is also the daughter of former Lieutenant Governor Franklyn Richard. The latter was the St. Maarten representative in the Council of Law Enforcement during Dennis Richardson’s term as Minister of Justice and was last year appointed, on recommendation of Anna Richardson as St. Maarten representative in the Progress Committee, which has to supervise the execution of the plans of approach of the Prison and of the Police. According to the Minister of Justice, the recruitment was being managed by Ligia Stella. Stella is the department head of the Financial Intelligence Unit and was last year appointed by the Minister as the Acting Secretary General of the Ministry of Justice.
The appointment of the new notary, on the recommendation of the Court, is expected to be announced soon. Nonetheless the challenge still persists of backlogs and delays due to there being a legal limit of three notaries on the island. Richardson has the authority to amend the law to allow for more civil-law notaries to function on the island. It is unclear why the initiative to do so is delayed on St. Maarten. Aruba and Curacao, considering the demand for better and more efficient notarial services, have for some years already extended their cap on notaries from respectively 4 and 7 to respectively 7 and 10.
Expansion & Supervision
When asked about the possibility of increasing the number of notaries, Richardson stated, “it’s not just contingent on the Minister deciding to do an expansion but it is a discussion or at least a topic that has been brought forward in one of my consultations or discussions with the President of the Court.” She added, “it’s still being explored if that is the way to go because the existing notaries as well has to give some input to why they would think or not for an additional notary to come into the organization.” It is not clear how long the Minister will “explore” the situation and if she has approached the local notaries for their input.
Nonetheless, civil-law notaries play a crucial role in the St. Maarten economy but the public is confronted with high notary fees and costs and also with large and ever increasing backlogs. Complaints have been filed against all three notary firms and the recent misconduct regarding civil-law notary Marlene Mingo is a smear in the notarial industry which recently obtained oversight. For almost a decade the Supervisory Chamber of Notaries was nonfunctional on the island. In 2020 it was instituted to which there have been five complaints filed of which two were upheld. The complaints were logged via a written request to the Registry of the Courthouse. The notarial services on the island was also subjected in a closed door meeting of Parliament prior to recess, and noteworthy to consider is that civil-law notary is not one of the careers listed in the study financing priority list of the island.
By Ralph Cantave