PHILIPSBURG–It was former Minister of Public Housing, Spatial Planning, Environment and Infrastructure VROMI Maurice Lake, who granted St. Maarten Chamber of Commerce and Industry (COCI) a parcel of land in the vicinity of the ring road, and not former Minister Claret Connor.
The land was granted to the Chamber on September 18, 2014, with the fee of one guilder annually until January 2016.
COCI President Peggy-Ann Brandon, reacting to comments about the land by Prime Minister William Marlin (National Alliance) on a radio programme, said in a press statement the long lease called for one guilder a year until January 2016, and thereafter NAf. 4 per square metre from January 1, based on a land value of NAf. 50 per square metre, being NAf 40,000 per year.
“The suggestion that Minister Connor just before his departure issued this land for one guilder to COCI, against all procedures is absolutely false,” Brandon said.
Although, COCI “wishes to remain neutral,” it has been “inadvertently drawn into the political campaign” and is “forced to respond to the incorrect and unsubstantiated account given on the subject matter,” she said.
Marlin “suggested” on the radio programme that Connor, currently COCI Executive Director, had issued the long lease to COCI a day before his departure from office as a minister in October 2015 and this lease included the property on which Air Lekkerbek restaurant has been located for 20 years. Marlin also said COCI received the land for the fee of one guilder per year, while others have to pay a regular long-lease rate.
COCI was given a period to pay one guilder per year for the property is based on the requirements of Government in the development agreement, based on which COCI at its own expense is obligated to develop the property. The period for which one guilder must be paid “serves to allow each party to prepare and meet the obligations set in the Development Agreement, as COCI cannot comply with certain requirements without the Government doing its part,” said Brandon.
COCI was not given an advantage rather it has “accepted quite a risk, burden and task to develop an economic service centre and to pay for all parking facilities and other facilities demanded by the Government.”
The inclusion of the land where Air Lekkerbek stands “is in the opinion of COCI incorrect.” When the land was given out the then minister “never indicated that the property would include the area where Air Lekkerbek is located. The Ministry of Public Housing, Spatial Planning, Environment and Infrastructure VROMI, clearly based on available renditions/concepts at the time, determined the size of the property and its bounds.”
Brandon said to COCI’s the knowledge the Air Lekkerbek land is expected to become part of a roundabout.
The dimensions of the property granted to COCI were set by the VROMI Ministry and through Domain Affairs Department submitted it to the Notary. “COCI accepted the property as per the indication of VROMI and set forth in the decision and agreement, and which to its knowledge does not include the Air Lekkerbek property,” said Brandon.
COCI, following that decision, approached the notary on the execution of the deed of transfer to which the Government must cooperate. The transfer tax that was being levied on the transfer of the property was not based on the long lease fee, but on an estimated future value of the property (one that yet has to take shape).
In the process of verification of the transfer tax amount, and while awaiting the final development agreement, six months lapsed and the Notary required a new decision, which was sought in 2015.
COCI explained that it received a warrant for payment of NAf 10,000 in long lease for 2014, whilst the property was issued in September, 2014. It seemed that the wording resulted in different interpretations and COCI requested the long lease to be re-issued and updated.
COCI also indicated that the financial burden placed by the long lease during development and construction was unduly high and requested the fee to be set in increasing increments.
On October 26, 2015, COCI finally received the “re-issued” long lease decision. With the execution of the Development Agreement in place, COCI could finally get the transfer deed executed on November 12, 2015.
“So contrary to the statements of the honourable Prime Minister the land in question was not issued to COCI a day before the Minister had to leave office. Given that this matter was before the Government long before the caretaker period commenced, the finalization hereof was fully in line with the permitted actions. This was not a new matter, and did not pertain to a new issuance of property. Government is obligated to cooperate with the recipient on the transfer of the property,” said Brandon.
Marlin has “also unduly created the impression” that COCI would have caused a third party to be deprived of a right to property because the land was given to COCI. He “failed to explain” that COCI is a semi-Government institution, that it works on economic development and that this land issued is permitting COCI to actively work towards execution of its task to promote economic development in St. Maarten, she said.
“COCI did not receive a gift, but accepted this property with its requirements, restrictions and financial implications; financial burdens which means the Government now would not need to develop an Economic Service Centre for the benefit of the country.
Source: Daily Herald
COCI: Land granted by Lake, not Connor