Published On: Tue, Jan 11th, 2022

Court shoots down former Minister Sevinger’s departure policy decision

PHILIPSBURG — The website dossierkoninkrijksrelaties.nl published an article about Aruba’s former Minister Benny Sevinger and his “incomprehensible decision” to grant the company Ocean Eco Cleaning in 2017 the right to change the purpose of a piece of land it held on long lease to commercial. The court annulled this decision in a ruling published on November 3, 2021.

Why does all this sound so familiar? Because St. Maarten’s former VROMI-Minister Christophe Emmanuel did something similar with government-owned land on the day before the government he was a part of faced a motion of no-confidence in Parliament in November 2017. The difference is, in Aruba the public prosecutor contemplated prosecuting Sevinger, while the prosecutor in St. Maarten had to drop the case against Emmanuel because the Common Court of Justice withheld its approval.

What happened in Aruba? Just before the Wever-Kroes government took office, Sevinger signed off on Ocean’s request to change the purpose of land it held in long lease to commercial. The plan was to demolish houses on the property and to replace them with an apartment complex for housing tourists and personnel of the local refinery.

The court ruled that Sevinger’s actions fall under the term departure policy; the tendency of politicians to quickly take questionable decisions just before they leave office, while they know that a new government would never take such a decision.

The court ruling refers to the unwritten law that a government should be reluctant taking decisions when a new government of a different signature is about to take office. This reluctance is even more pressing when the matter at hand is not urgent.

The court notes in its ruling that Ocean had submitted a disguised request for commercial long lease. Such a request requires following a so-called option-procedure beforehand. Furthermore, the court notes, the long lease canon for commercial long lease is much higher than the canon for non-commercial long lease.

The court annulled Sevinger’s decision and the public prosecutor has announced that it plans to prosecute the former minister, who is currently a member of the AVP-faction in Aruba’s parliament.

What did Emmanuel do? According to an investigation carried out by his successor Miklos Giterson, Emmanuel instructed Domain Affairs in the later afternoon of November 1, 2017, to issue around 10,000 square meters in long lease to eleven different people. Among the beneficiaries was his Chief of Staff, Marisha Richardson.

On November 1, it was clear to Emmanuel that the Marlin-government was about to face a motion of no-confidence in Parliament the next day, marking the end of his tenure as a minister.

Read the full details of Giterson’s investigation here.

Related article: How former Minister Emmanuel helped his friends to pieces of land

While the Prosecutor’s Office on St. Maarten fully intended to prosecute Emmanuel for his alleged involvement in the long lease-affair, this intention came to nought when the Common Court of Justice denied the attorney-general’s request to go after the former minister. The Court stated that it could not determine that the actions of the MP could have brought the justified suspicion of having committed the crimes of which he was being accused.

The cases of both Sevinger and Emmanuel do however raise serious questions about the way ministers who are about to leave office use their authority to curry favor with questionable last-minute decisions. The question that must be foremost in many people’s kinds is this one: what is any government going to do about it?