Published On: Wed, Feb 21st, 2018

Fair distribution of Government land in a small island state

Dear Editor,

It speaks to our political immaturity when the distribution of state lands takes center stage in the 2018 Parliamentary Election. It was only on the 10th October 2010, with the dissolution of the Netherlands Antilles, Sint Maarten became a constituent country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

Most of us already know that the island of Sint Maarten-Saint Martin is the smallest land mass in the world to be shared by two different nations. Only 37 square miles are owned by France and the Dutch Kingdom, with Dutch St. Maarten on the South spanning only 16 square miles and French Saint Martin on the North covering 21 miles. But what we did not know, was that Sint Maarten is possessed of a bunch of fork tongue politicians who take issue with ordinary citizens receiving a small allocation of land.

We say this to reflect on the absurdity of pronouncing on the former Minister of VROMI Christopher Emmanuel’s decision to give out government lands in long lease to tax paying citizens of Sint Maarten. To start with, the current interim office holders are laying bare their lack of knowledge of what a Minister can or cannot do, as it is permissible, and not illegal for a Minister to issue long lease for government lands. When William Marlin secured Emilio Wilson Estate for the use of the state to secure a National Park for citizens of Sint Maarten and then government changed, the same noise makers of today quickly gave away “below market price” government land on long lease in a non-transparent manner to the Rain Forest Foundation; a profit making concern, and it appears those detractors and other serving Ministers and prominent technocrats were muzzled, as they said nothing.

In the current scenario it is already established that these leases were issued at market rates, so these recipients are not getting a peppercorn rate, they are instead paying market rate sums of 10 Guilders per square meter, paying to “KADASTER” and paying the notary, it is no gift.

On further scrutiny the citizens’ of Sint Maarten will be happy to learn the recipients are not aliens landed here, but all indigenous citizens of Sint Maarten. Some of the family names that are said to have gotten lands, have lived on the island for decades, with family both on the Dutch and French side. There is no one parcel that exceeds 10,000 square meters, there is no single parcel that any individual received that is in excess of 5,000 square meters. What will shock citizens is that this much ado about nothing is over no more than a total of 11,000 square meters.

In the final analysis it is irrefutable that the issue is not with the awarding of long lease of significantly small parcels of land, but the salient issue for the sitting interim government is their utter abhorrence that the former Minister of VROMI Christopher Emmanuel elected to distribute lands to citizens who are not of the bourgeois class. The Sarah Westcot-Williams and Theo Heyliger Team are beyond themselves at the audacity of this Minister Christopher Emmanuel, to attempt to empower the working class families by putting government land in their hands for which they have to pay.

There is a big hue and cry about Christopher Emmanuel actions as if a serious breach in protocol occurred during his short window of opportunity to serve, to not have allowed technocrats with vested interest in self-serving to have frustrated his efforts to locate government land for “ordinary” Sint Maarten citizens. Emmanuel has upset the apple cart, where the usual order of the day is that large non-traditional business interests snatched large pieces of land in prime locations; like next to the airport.

Good governance necessitates for national economic development pursuing policies that facilitate equitable distribution of limited land resources and with proper spatial planning ensuring country’s development agenda in a small state.

The casual non transparent distribution of water rights to proprietors already in control of large blocks of government land at Mullet Bay did not even result in a murmur. Today a minuscule amount of land for locals is too much, and the citizens’ names are plastered in the public domain as if they have broken laws. The only thing broken by Christopher Emmanuel is the glass ceiling that existed before Emmanuel that made ordinary people believe that it was only a privilege extended to the rich and those of lighter hue that are entitled to land. Today Christopher Emmanuel is the “Equalizer’. To hear Sarah and Theo busy across the land wooing would be voters and condemning Emmanuel’s actions as if it borders on treason, is a clear signal to voters that they plan to give nothing more than rhetoric and a T-shirt.

To his credit Emmanuel has not even blinked at this absurdity other than to promise that he is committed to continuing to place citizens in a position to access government lands through his housing platform.

The Mongoose