PFP, De Weever reaffirms motion of disapproval with Over-the-Bank verdict

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PHILIPSBURG – PFP members of Parliament Raeyhon Peterson and Melissa Gumbs, as well as independent member of Parliament Ludmila de Weever, reaffirmed the passing of the motion of disapproval towards Minister of VROMI Egbert Doran, following the verdict handed down in the Over the Bank case. The motion passed with the support of opposition and coalition members in Parliament in October 2021.

On 22 August 2023, the judge in the Court of First Instance handed down a verdict in the Over the Bank saga, which has been running since 2021. Some of the applicants that formed part of the original recipients under then-Minister of VROMI Angel Meyers, took current Minister Doran to court. They believed that then-Minister Meyers promised them a piece of land, that current Minister Doran would have to issue. The judge ruled against them, stating that then-Minister Meyers handled the matter against the principles of good governance, the principles of equality and that he was not fair and transparent in his selection process to choose the then-recipients of long lease parcels. 

This verdict is not in favor of the originally perceived recipients but also determines that then-Minister Meyers acted unlawfully in his selection of those recipients. In point 4.7 of the verdict, the judge states that based on article 3:14 of the Civil Code, Ministers have to take the following into consideration when they make these sorts of decisions: the rules of written and unwritten law, as well as the principles of good governance, such as the principle of equality and transparency. One of these principles is that there needs to be infrastructure in place, to issue a piece of land in long lease. 

This includes that if a Minister wants to do such an issuance of multiple parcels, that it is pertinent to publicize the intentions of the Minister so that all who are interested have the fair chance to send in their request as well. After this public notice, the Minister is supposed to have a fair and objective selection procedure where all the criteria are made clear to the public in a transparent manner. This was not done by then-Minister Meyers. And this was also not done by the current Minister Doran, which spearheaded the motion of disapproval against him, a motion which coalition members also voted for. 

The motion of disapproval disapproved of the way Minister Doran reissued the same parcel to approximately 25 new candidates, while still not taking into consideration any of the principles of good governance, and also while there is still no infrastructure in place. The motion of disapproval now falls directly in line with the new verdict on the case and reaffirms its contents, mainly that Minister Doran also handled in contravention of the principle of good governance.

 “At no point did current Minister Doran do anything different than then-Minister Meyers’, MP Peterson says. ‘He too did NOT make a public announcement to offer ALL the citizens of Sint Maarten interested in long lease land, a fair chance to request to be part of the issuance in the Over the Bank area. I personally advised then-Minister Meyers when he first presented the case, that he should do a selection process through a notary, thus ensuring that the issuance is done objectively and fair. He immediately turned down my advice, and presented to me his list of applicants,” Peterson continued.

“What Minister Doran did was no different. He, too, hand selected 25 recipients of land, without any sort of fair and objective selection procedure that gave the rest of the public a chance to send in their request to also become eligible for a parcel in the area. There was absolutely no transparency in his decision. And to top it all off, there is still no infrastructure in place on the land, thus any issuance would still automatically be against the unwritten rules of issuing government long lease land’, Peterson concluded. 

The judge made these criteria for the issuance of government long lease land crystal clear in points 4.7 – 4.9 of the verdict. Minister Doran’s expressions in another social media outlet that he was right and that this is based on the considerations of the judge in the verdict are therefore completely untrue. Also false, was his expression that a motion of no confidence was based on the Over the Bank case, as said motion was clearly based on the Ombudsman report about his questionable handling of the garbage contracts, where he again favored family members.

“Even though the original recipients lost the case, I am relieved that we now have some actual criteria set forth by a judge that limits the Minister of VROMI in their authority to freely give land to whoever they want. As for the policy that needs to come to Parliament, we still await the Minister to come back and present an actual policy that takes into consideration all of these criteria that the judge now anchored in the verdict,” stated MP Gumbs. “What the verdict is very clear about is that even if the Minister successfully establishes a land policy, the selection procedure for specifically the Over the Bank area would still have to be done in a public and transparent manner, giving all citizens of Sint Maarten a fair chance to send in their request. And we will be watching the Ministry closely these next couple of months, as the judge was also very clear on what is “afscheidsbeleid” and we are entering campaign season. The judge deemed the actions of then-Minister Meyers unlawful, and I believe he’s personally responsible for the financial damages caused to the original recipients.” 

“This is what we keep calling for,” De Weever stated. “A commitment to processes and procedures will lead to small wins that make public services better accessible for our people and helps prevent against the basic functions of a ministry being misused for personal favors.”