Government keeps refusing telecom concession to Corporate Innovations

POSTED: 10/2/11 11:51 PM

Court ruling orders a decision within eight weeks

St. Maarten – The Court in First Instance has given Telecommunications Minister Franklin Meyers eight weeks to take a decision about a request by Corporate Innovations N.V. to obtain a concession for operating a mobile telecommunications infrastructure.

More than four years ago, on May 4, 2007, the Executive Council of the Island Territory rejected the request. Corporate Innovations filed an appeal against the decision, but the government never reacted to it. On December 7 of last year the administrative court ordered the government to take a decision, but again there was no reaction. On May 20, Corporate Innovations filed a request at the administrative court. There was a hearing about the matter on September 13.

The December court ruling obliged the government to take a decision by April 7 of this year. “This has not happened, Judge mr. R.W.J. van Veen noted in his September 26 ruling. “Court rulings have to be observed. Now that the defendant remains negligent the court finds reason to allow for another term with a penalty.”

Corporate Innovation had asked for a 50,000 guilders penalty for each day the government fails to take a decision. The court mitigated the penalty to 1,500 guilders per day with a maximum of 100,000 guilders. The government has six weeks to appeal the ruling.

The Corporate Innovations story is tantalizing, because of the people who are, or have been, involved with it.

Documents obtained by this newspaper in November of last year show that on February 24, 2003 Brenda Wathey was the director of Corporate Innovations. Wathey is the partner of Telecom Minister Meyers.

The company was established on February 1, 2000, by Roland Duncan, who was an attorney at the time and is now our Minister of Justice. Records from the Chamber of Commerce show that Duncan was a director/shareholder of the company from February 25, 2000 until January 25, 2002.

The second director listed at the Chamber of Commerce was Minister Meyers’ brother Etienne. He succeeded Duncan as director/shareholder in 2002, and kept that position until June 19, 2006. On June 27 the end of his tenure was registered at the Chamber of Commerce.

Since then, Amibel Maduro, the director of a Curacao-based trust company is listed as Corporate Innovations’ director.

Registrations at the Chamber of Commerce do not necessarily reflect the true ownership of a company. It is not unusual for makers and shakers to use a front man. During an internal shareholder meeting this front man turns over the shares of the company to the beneficial owners. The minutes of such shareholder meetings are not part of public records.

In 2003, Corporate Innovations, that uses the trade name Axcess Caribbean since June 25 of that year, entered into an accounting arrangement with Smitcoms. In a document, dated February 24, 2003, the two parties agree about monthly fixed and mobile traffic from Corporate Innovations to Smitcoms, Telem, TelCell, and the now bankrupt ECC.

The arrangement, which was valid until the end of 2003, was signed for Corporate Innovations NV by Brenda Wathey, director, and for Smitcoms by its director Curtis K. Haynes.

Axcess Caribbean aims to operate communication and telecommunication companies as well as “the operation of one or more radio broadcasting stations, including the operation of a radio cable net.” Axcess also wants to design, establish, and operate networks for mobile and wireless phones and the sales and lease of equipment for these networks.

On May 4, 2007, the Antillean Minister of Traffic and Transportation turned down Axcess Caribbean’s a request for a concession to build, maintain and operate a mobile telecommunication infrastructure in St. Maarten. On June 7, Corporate Innovations filed an objection. On November 14, the Minister rejected the objection. One month later, the company appealed this decision, and on June 5, 2008, the Joint Court of Justice dealt with the case.

Mrs. Th. Aardenburg and R. Rijnberg, acting for Minister Maurice Adriaens, pointed during this hearing to an advice to and a decision by the Council of Ministers to keep a moratorium on mobile telecommunication concessions in place, and to documents that supported the decision.

However, the Minister declined to submit these documents to court. On June 17, the Minister asked the court not to reveal part of their contents to Corporate Innovations. The court considered this not justified and invited the Minister to submit all these documents. This met with another refusal on September 8, 2008.

On March 6, both parties were back in court to handle the dispute.

Corporate Innovations demanded the concession, because it had obtained a permit to establish the company from the island territory. The court rejected this argument, saying that telecommunication is an exclusive authority of the national government.

The Minister pointed to the decision to keep the moratorium in place, “anticipating it would soon be possible to submit a new national ordinance for telecommunication.”

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