Published On: Wed, Jan 19th, 2022

Court justifies dismissal of VROMI’s Secretary-General Louis Brown

PHILIPSBURG — The Court for Civil Servants Affairs confirms in a ruling dated January 17 that the dismissal of Louis Brown as the Secretary-General of the Ministry of Public Housing, Urban Planning, Environment and Infrastructure (VROMI) is justified. A national decree dated June 28, 2021, confirms Brown’s dismissal for neglect of duty. As far as we have been able to establish, this decree was up to now not published in the National Gazette.

Brown’s dismissal came after he approved a settlement with the Alegria Resort about granting the right of long lease to a parcel of water of 13,525 square meters in an area called Burgeaux Bay adjacent to the resort. In September 2020, the Court in First Instance ruled that the country is bound by the agreement.

Alegria announced that the ruling enables it to invest $100 million in the development of Morgan Resort, a project said to offer job opportunities to 500 St. Maarteners.

VROMI-Minister Jurendy Doran was not so pleased with the outcome of the court case and he suspended Brown. Before the 2020 court case, the ministry already sent Brown a written warning about his actions and on September 4 it sent the plaintiff a letter, forbidding him to communicate within the ministry and with third parties about the Alegria-case. Later that month, the ministry announced an investigation into the matter. On October 15, 2020, Brown was barred from entering his workplace and he was suspended. His dismissal followed on June 28, 2021, whereby the national decree cited neglect of duty and irreparable breach of confidence.

In July 2021, Brown filed an appeal against his dismissal, arguing that the measure had been imposed carelessly, that it lacked proper motivation and that it violates the principles of proportionality and ne bis in idem (no one shall be tried twice for the same offense).

Alegria’s first attempts to obtain the right to long lease date back to 2018, when Miklos Giterson was minister of VROMI. Giterson said at the time that he had no problem with it. “The only construction to be allowed in the area in question is a breakwater and a sea aquarium,” he wrote in an email on May 31, 2018.

But the change of government also brought about a change of mind about the long lease rights Alegria wanted. Brown however, stayed on as the VROMI-ministry’s Secretary-General.

On May 5, 2020, Brown informed attorney Aernout Kraaijeveld that Alegria agreed with a settlement agreement that was on the table. Kraaijeveld informed Alegria and then the government refused to live up to the agreement. The court later ruled that the agreement was valid and that the government had to comply.

What happened behind the scenes? The ruling established that Brown, in his function as substitute head of Domain Management had abused his position by changing a negative advice from this department into a positive one. Brown gave a civil servant a “hard instruction” to change his motivated and substantiated negative advice into a positive advice,” the court ruling states. This way, the court ruled, Brown undermined the system of checks and balances and caused serious damage to an honest decision-making process.

Furthermore, the court agreed with the defense that Brown’s actions amount to serious neglect of duty. The ruling furthermore states that dismissal is not disproportionate.

Brown had the option to appeal the ruling.