PHILIPSBURG, Sint Maarten – The brewing controversy surrounding the granting of long-lease rights in the area known as Vineyard Heights has shed light on the government’s systemic lack of procedures, transparency and accountability. This is the view of Party for Progress (PFP) Member of Parliament (MP) Raeyhon Peterson, who is renewing his call for fair policies and procedures to be put in place to prevent abuse by political authorities in the issuance of government-owned land parcels.
“From the very beginning, in 2016, the granting of parcels in the area was done in a way that was not in line with good governing practices. After all, a former-VROMI Minister received a negative internal memo concerning this issuance, but still proceeded with issuing Ministerial Decrees to the 54 awardees,” said MP Peterson on Tuesday. “Now, these awardees have been largely replaced by 25 others, in a process initiated by the current VROMI Minister that also leaves many unanswered questions about its objectivity and fairness.”
While MP Peterson believes that the development of an objective and consistent policy is one of the solutions to address discrepancies in granting long-lease land, he also acknowledges that the VROMI Minister has too far-reaching powers, which enables them to ignore negative advice and issue parcels indiscriminately.
“Some politicians feel that the Minister title comes with the right to have the final say when it comes to giving out long-lease land. I completely disagree with that sentiment. I think that it should be an objective process that the Department of Domain Affairs should be ultimately responsible for, and not left to the personal choices of individual ministers,” said MP Peterson.
However, the most disheartening aspect of the Vineyard Heights controversy is the dozens of innocent victims who expended considerable resources and who now might not receive the long-lease parcels that were promised to them, continued MP Peterson.
“I am here for these victims. The citizens who requested land beforehand through the regular procedures, who were ready to build and who were looking forward to progressing with their goals and developing a life on this island,” said MP Peterson. “At the end of the day, it is the human element that should be central in this whole discussion, and how it has negatively affected individuals, their families and their livelihoods.”
For MP Peterson, there must be accountability for these procedural wrongs and it needs to be holistic. “The issues surrounding long-lease land cannot be totally blamed on any one Minister, but an unclear process that is systematically disproportionate and ad-hoc, one which gives too much authority in the hands of ministers with no checks and balances to their power. If we decide to hold the current minister responsible for this fiasco, we also need to hold the former politicians responsible for starting the process incorrectly in the first place.”