Minister Doran grants second right of long lease on same plot of land

~ “With a well-functioning Cadastre it is impossible to establish long lease twice on the same parcel of land.” ~

PHILIPSBURG — Minister Egbert Doran (Public Housing, Urban Planning, Environment and Infrastructure – VROMI) has issued a piece of land in Hope Estate in long lease for the construction of social housing, while a company called High Tech Development has held the same plot in long lease since 2012.

MP Raeyhon Peterson, a member of parliament for the Party for Progress and a former acting head of Domain Affairs said during the budget debate in Parliament that he remembers the case well. The right of long lease was issued on July 20, 2012, when National Alliance stalwart William Marlin was minister of VROMI. Peterson looked into the details of this dossier at the time because Minister Marlin had removed the customary expiry date from the contract.

The issue has also attracted the attention of Ir. Clemens Roos, the former director of the Cadastre. He is very clear: “With a well-functioning Cadastre it is impossible to establish long lease twice on the same parcel of land. The basic rule is that nobody can transfer what is not theirs. Once government has established long lease on a plot of land and as long as the long lease term has not expired, it can never again issue another long lease on that particular parcel. If this happens willfully or accidentally that issuance is null and void. It must be considered to have never existed.”

If the government makes a mistake, as is obviously the case here, it is not immediately fatal. Roos: “The Cadastre must inform the head of Domain Affairs about this and then they should refrain from further action and await instructions from the government.”

From the press release issued by Minister Doran it is clear that it still happened: the issuance of the right of long lease twice for the same plot of land. “The Cadastre is to blame,” Roos observes. “How it is possible that the surveyors did not notice that there was already a long lease established?”

Roos mentions several possibilities for the Cadastre-failure. The first one that comes to mind is that management and surveyors do not have the knowledge and the ability to recognize these situations and that they have no idea how to handle. “For the surveyors this is impossible because they have been doing this for so long and they have dealt with similar situations before.”

Another possibility is that the Cadastre-management lacks the proper knowledge to understand and handle these cases. “The surveyors, who are assumed to be aware of this, act as they feel and without concern about the consequences.”

A third possibility is that deeds are not properly processed and registered. “This leads to unreliable information in the public registers. Only if deeds are not properly processed can previous issuances of long lease remain undetected,” Roos says.

The former Cadastre-director points out that especially notaries depend on information they obtain from the Cadastre. “If that information is unreliable it poses a major risk for St. Maarten because this will have a negative impact on the cash flow in this sector. That will subsequently affect other sectors of the economy.”

Before going into the above mentioned details, Roos briefly explained the proper procedure for the issuance of long lease. “Domain Affairs files a request for a certificate of admeasurement (meetbrief) at the Cadastre. This request contains specific information about the parcel of land and who will pay for the meetbrief. Before carrying out the measurements, Cadastre researches the legal status of the land to avoid that land on which long lease is already established will be given out again.”

Roos emphasizes that the Cadastre’s task is “to establish and assure the legal security by preventing the establishment of double, triple or even more long leases on the same plot of land.”

There is however one more crucial element in play: the discretion of the Minister of VROMI in the process of granting rights of long lease. MP Peterson: “That’s where Doran always checkmates us. When you think he cannot stoop lower, he does.”

StMaartenNews.com reached out to Achken Roberto Richardson, the manager of High Tech Development NV for his view on the situation.