The map of the 11 parcels of long lease land.
~Despite negative advices from VROMI~
PHILIPSBURG–Former Minister of Minister of Public Housing, Physical Planning, Environment and Infrastructure VROMI Christophe Emmanuel issued more than 10,000 m2 in long lease to eight persons (names provided to The Daily Herald) of whom three were part of his cabinet, including his chief of staff, late 2017 while still Minister before being ousted by a new coalition in Parliament. The ministerial decrees for all eight people were signed on December 15.
Present VROMI Minister Miklos Giterson recently presented in a letter to the Council of Ministers a detailed account of how Emmanuel signed off the land located opposite GEBE in Philipsburg against all advice issued by VROMI. What follows is a synopsis of that account.
The VROMI cabinet’s former chief of staff approached the Department of Domain Affairs on November 1, 2017, with instructions from Emmanuel to issue approximately 10.000 m2 in long lease to eight persons.
The Department informed the cabinet chief that issuance by a definite decree on the same day would be impossible, given the fact that no procedure was followed and the certificates of admeasurement were not made up yet. Domain Affairs advised the cabinet chief to follow the regular procedure for issuance of land, and to ask all the relevant departments for their advice, before finalising the issuance.
On the same day, a promissory letter was made instead, communicating to these applicants that the then-Minister wanted to issue a parcel of land to them in long lease. “Most of the eight applicants did not send a request to the Ministry through the normal channels (General Affairs). Instead it was done directly from the cabinet with the same text font and request wording,” Giterson wrote in his letter.
Domain Affairs advised not going through with the issuance of land, but instead to come up with a development agreement for the area and offer to let the applicants be a part of this project. That way, their involvement would be secured as per the Minister’s wishes. It was also communicated to him that issuing a parcel of land to his own chief of staff could possibly be a conflict of interest as referred to in article 3:43 of the Civil Code.
According to research by Government, the former chief of staff already had land in long lease. It was agreed by Emmanuel that the development plan would be worked on instead of the long lease issuance. “Weeks later, Domain Affairs received instructions from Emmanuel to finalise the issuance of 11 parcels anyway, regardless of their negative advice,” Giterson noted.
Regular procedure to issue long lease is to make an advice and draft decree for the issuance of land as approved by the Minister. The Department of Domain Affairs follows up and sends a written instruction to the Cadaster to make up the certificates of admeasurement. After these are made up, they are sent to Domain Affairs for approval. After that, the definite certificate of admeasurement is made up by Cadaster, after which an advice is made to approve and sign the definite decree for the issuance.
However, the former Minister issued an instruction to Cadaster on November 29, 2017, to make up the certificates of admeasurement. This happened. The certificates of admeasurement were made up and approved by the former Minister, before the advice of the issuance was made, current VROMI Minister Giterson informed the Council of Ministers last week. The certificates of admeasurement were also not sent to Domain Affairs for approval.
The Cadaster via e-mail did seek clarity about the strange instruction made by the former Minister and requested clarity from Domain Affairs about the direct instruction to them. “According to e-mails by the Cadaster, Emmanuel provided the payment for the admeasurement for some of the certificates from his own money.”
The Department of Domain Affairs throughout the first weeks of December received numerous instructions from the former Minister and his cabinet to finalise the issuance. Some applicants were added and some removed from the previous advice. The issuance was going to be an area of approximately 12,000 m2. An advice was made up concerning the issuance on December 13, 2017. The VROMI Departments and the Department of New Projects were asked for advice on the issuance.
In the advice from VROMI it was stated that the issuance was projected in a way that did not seem practical. “The project seems to be in conflict with the future plans for the ring road. The issuance seems to cut out a lot of the parking projected in the plans for the ring road. Also, the heights of the building could not be 15 metres like the Minister requested to be put in the promissory letters but 12 metres instead,” according to the advice from VROMI in December.
The Department of New Projects advised against the issuance. In its findings, drainage channels are clearly present at the moment. With the issuance of long lease land, the existing channels would have to make way for the new development, whereas the drainage plan in accordance with the plans for the ring road will have to be carried out. The cost to remedy this drainage problem is estimated at NAf. 2 million guilders.
“The alignment of the Ring Road will be affected if circa 15,000m2 of the Great Salt Pond is not reclaimed in order to maintain the layout of the Ring Road in accordance with the approved masterplan of the area.
“The holding capacity of the Great Salt Pond is now at a minimum of 107 to 110 ha. It is advised to not decrease this in order to avoid severe flooding in the surrounding areas. Therefore, the required reclamation of 1.5 ha in order to maintain the alignment of the Ring Road is not advised, due to severe flooding risks of the Great Salt Pond and the surrounding areas of Philipsburg.
“For Philipsburg, some 1,200 parking spaces are needed in order to remedy the current traffic circulation problem. With the issuance, approx. 220 parking spaces will become obsolete, if land is not reclaimed from the Great Salt Pond in order to maintain the projected parking. The cost related to this extra filling is estimated at least at approx. NAf. 1 million guilders.
“Taking everything into consideration (elimination of parking spaces and added financial burden of NAf. 3 million guilders to the already strapped budget), the Department of New Projects strongly advises negative towards the issuance of the parcels on the Pondfill Road,” according to the negative advice.
The Department of Domain Affairs took the advices of the other departments into consideration and advised negatively again on the issuance of the parcels. The estimated amounts needed to remedy the situation are very high. At this moment, after Hurricane Irma, it was advised not to issue the parcels in long lease.
Emmanuel was not in agreement with the advice and chose to continue with the issuance in long lease. On January 18, 2018, a letter was submitted to General Affairs’ Records and Information Management DepartmentDIV with a motivation on his decision. However, at that time, the current Council of Ministers were already sworn in.
Nevertheless three deeds were already paid for and issued by a notary to three applicants. “The Department of Domain Affairs put in the conditions of the long lease decrees that the draft deed of issuance had to be sent to the Department before final approval and signing of the deed. However, Emmanuel bypassed the Department again and went to the notary and gave said approval and signed the deeds himself,” Giterson noted.
Minister Giterson informed his fellow Ministers that it was communicated to Emmanuel that his own chief of staff cannot receive a parcel of land to avoid a conflict of interest. She came to the Department of Domain Affairs. Her name was to be taken out of the group to receive the parcels in long lease and the parcel originally allocated to her would go to a company called Mansha Property Management BV.
The owner of this company is another applicant whose name was removed in the revised list from the Minister at the time. The date of incorporation of this company by the Chamber of Commerce is November 7, 2017. This means that the company did not exist at the time of the first advice regarding the Pondfill parcels on November 1, 2017.
When it was communicated to the cabinet in the first week of December that for the company to receive land in long lease, a request from the company was necessary as a legal basis for the issuance, the cabinet provided Domain Affairs with a request from the applicant in question representing the company, but according to research by the relevant departments, the company was only established days after the request was made. The signature on this request was questionable as well.
When Emmanuel was told on December 8, 2017, that there were concerns about the request a third request from the applicant was made on that same day. Another company that became a recipient of a parcel after the first advice is believed to be the brother of the former chief of staff.
The new VROMI minister believes the procedure of the issuance of land on the Pondfill Road did not go in accordance with regular VROMI procedure policies.
The Daily Herald attempted to contact Emmanuel via phone and e-mail this past weekend, but received no response.
However, Emmanuel was vocal during National Alliance’s public meeting in Sucker Garden on Saturday where he said he heard political opponents were coming after him about giving away land on the ring road.
He said, “Yes, I did, and they say that I paid for it with my own money. That is not true.”
He said the United Democrats lie to the people of St. Maarten every day. He reminded his audience that when he got into office he found a paper trial of how the previous government planned to give out land and money to their friends and cronies.
“Is only you [United Democrats – Ed.] must get land; if it was a Wathey or a Heyliger there would be no problem,” he said.
“I gave land to young St. Maarten people,” he stated, before adding, “I know where 21,000m2 of Government land is located and if elected again I will give land to 200 young St. Maarten people.”
The Council of Ministers was contacted for comment on the issuance of the land, but Minister Giterson said he would not comment about the matter at this time.