SINT MAARTEN (PHILIPSBURG) – On June 16, 2020, Party for Progress (PFP) Members of Parliament (MP) Melissa Gumbs and Raeyhon Peterson have submitted questions to the Honorable Minister of Public Housing, Spatial Planning, Environment and Infrastructure (VROMI) Egbert C. Doran. Previously, on February 26th 2020, the PFP faction had submitted questions to then-caretaker Minister of VROMI Christopher Wever, concerning the actions undertaken by the Ministry during the period of caretaker status of the former Council of Ministers.
The questions posed to Wever concerned, among others, the long outstanding lack of policy related to the issuance of government long-lease land and water rights. The PFP faction also inquired which instructions were given to the Ministry by the caretaker Minister in the last months of his tenure. To date no answer has been received by the faction, and Wever is no longer Minister of VROMI.
“It happens too often that questions posed to Ministers are not answered in a timely manner, in some cases not at all, especially when the Council of Ministers is in a caretaker status,” MP Peterson stated. “This hampers the Members of Parliament from doing their job, which is also to inform the people accordingly in a transparent manner. This very important tool that the MPs have in order to represent the people should be safeguarded through a policy.”
The faction re-issued their previous questions to Minister Doran and included two new queries, based on more recent developments that had been brought to their attention. Both MPs are concerned about the alleged intention of the Ministry of VROMI to issue approximately 14,000 square meters of water rights in long lease. This is meant to be issued around the sea area by Sunset Bar and Grill, in the vicinity of the Maho Bay. This brings some concerns for the faction, given the size, location and purpose of the prospective parcel of water rights.
“For such a substantial amount of square meters to be issued in long lease while in caretaker status, I would hope that in light of transparency this was done in consultation with the Council of Ministers,” MP Gumbs said. “We have seen these scenarios come and go too frequently since we became Country Sint Maarten, and we have seen the consequences as well.”
The faction is concerned as to what the purpose of a possible long lease in the area would be and what the plans are for the area, which borders the Princess Juliana International Airport. “In 2019 this topic came up and given the area it was already a point of discussion,” Peterson stated. “To my recollection, the Nature Foundation was not completely in agreement with the proposed issuance. A full environmental study on the possible effects was to be done, but now it is the question if this was actually executed before the decision was made to issue these water rights.”
The issuance of water rights in such highly public and publicized areas should always be strictly controlled and transparent, the faction believes. Failure to do so, the MPs fear, could lead to future situations similar to the Mullet Bay and Simpson Bay beach scenarios. Of particular concern is the proximity to the airport and whether or not there are development plans that could compromise the safety of PJIA’s operations.
The faction requested that Minister Doran respond to their questions with two weeks, considering the delays they had encountered with the Minister’s predecessor.