Published On: Tue, Jan 17th, 2023

The Cadastre in the news again – and it is not good – Part 1

PHILIPSBURG – The Cadastre is in the news once again and that news is not positive: the supervisory board has suspended its director, Shaka Lake, without pay earlier this month. Lake is a former policy advisor at the Department of Civil Aviation and was suspended allegedly on suspicion of irregularities with pay, eventhough rumors have it that he and the board were not seeing things eye to eye regarding a planned board trip to the Netherlands. Lake was appointed when the United Democrats (UD) party was in power. Other candidates for the position at the time were Louis Brown and Marcia Richardson.

Independent MP Grisha Heyliger-Marten, previously a member of the UP-faction in Parliament, recently requested a question hour with the government to get answers to questions about Lake’s suspension.

Related article: MP Heyliger-Marten questions suspension of Cadastre-director

The Cadastre has a long and rather colorful history in St. Maarten. Until roughly sixty years ago, there was no Cadastre in St. Maarten. That changed in 1962 with the establishment of an official land registry office. In 1999 the current organization was established as a private foundation.

When the Netherlands Antilles ceased to exist on October 10, 2010, St. Maarten became a constituent country in the kingdom of the Netherlands and in October 2011 the articles of incorporation of the Cadastre-foundation were duly amended.

Prior to 1869 St. Maarten relied on a medieval concept for land registration: the so-called scabinal deeds that were prepared by a magistrate and executed before a court of justice. These days property is registered through a notarial deed, but that happened only after the Netherlands introduced the Dutch civil code in the Netherlands Antilles on May 1, 1869. That date marks the establishment of the office of conservator of mortgages and the introduction of the profession of notary. These parties ensure the proper registration and transfer of ownership of properties in accordance with the law.

How does the current foundation work? It has a supervisory board and its members are appointed by national decree. The Cadastre-director is appointed, suspended, and fired by the supervisory board, so the government has no role to play in these decisions.

The main activities of the Cadastre consist, according to its website, “of maintaining the public registries on St. Maarten and providing surveying services on St. Maarten and abroad as needed.”

There are however a few other issues that fall under the Cadastre’s authority. According to the national ordinance for the privatization of the department of the Cadastre and Mortgage Business (dated October 10, 2010) the foundation is also charged with the execution of the ordinance that regulates the borders (grensregeling). It furthermore mentions a national ordinance of April 14, 1980, that authorizes the Cadastre to amend the method of transfer and registration of documents in the public registers that are kept at the mortgage offices.

One would think that with the establishment of a proper Cadastre organization there would be no more disputes about landownership in St. Maarten. Unfortunately, that is not so. There are plenty of examples where citizens have had to fight for ownership of properties that have been used by their families for decades, if not longer. But if those citizens cannot prove that ownership by showing a deed, they will lose the argument most of the time.

At the basis of such disputes is often a lack of understanding of how the system works, or at least, is supposed to work. Proving ownership requires a deed that is not only drafted by a notary but that is also duly entered into the public registry at the Cadastre.

There is however one escape route for those who do not have such a deed in their possession. They could acquire ownership through prescriptive rights.

We will continue in a second part about the situation at the Cadastre.


Related articles:
MP Heyliger-Marten questions suspension of Cadastre-director
How to obtain land-ownership through prescriptive rights