Land dispute in parliament: From $100 to $5.5 million – how political perspectives change

POSTED: 07/1/14 1:34 AM

This afternoon the Parliament debates the initiative by Vromi-Minister Maurice Lake to buy land from to Vorst-family in Cay Hill for $5.5 million. The opposition National Alliance has requested the meeting, because it considers the price outrageous: close to $495 per square meter.

To understand what this is all about, we have to back up to November 2012, when Justice Minister Roland Duncan launched his plans for a Justice Park in Cay Hill, on the property that the government now wants to buy for the construction of affordable housing.

But first, let’s not forget that details of the current deal were ‘leaked’ to SMN, a website that has proven over time to be a mouthpiece for the National Alliance. The web site published a signed purchase agreement between the Vorst family and Minister Maurice Lake. This newspaper is not about coming to the minister’s rescue – he will defend himself this afternoon in Parliament. This newspaper is about presenting the facts to readers as they have emerged over the past one-and-a-half years.

What happened on November 2, 2012? Justice Minister Duncan – member of a National Alliance-led coalition with the Democratic Party – presented his $100-million Justice Park. It included a new courthouse, a house of detention, a youth detention center and correctional center, a justice administration complex, housing and an office for the community police for Cay Hill and Belair. All this on the property that the government now intends to buy from the Vorst-family.

Duncan’s plans in 2012 where controversial, to say the least, but he encountered hardly any resistance in Parliament. He wanted to make a deal with developer WP Carey Co.’s affiliate Corporate Property Associates (CPA:17), whereby this company would purchase the properties, establish contracts to construct all facilities and lease the whole caboodle at 10 percent of the value to the government. This venture would have cost the government $10 million a year in lease fees. After thirty years the government would become the owner of all buildings, though it is safe to assume that by 2142 these buildings would be heavily outdated and more of a headache than a pleasure to own. Over time, St. Maarten would have paid around $300 million for the buildings and the land. The purchase of the land was in 2012 seemingly included in the $100 million Minister Duncan mentioned.

But there was also another story about the land in Cay Hill that is now the subject of controversy; the government would lease the property for $8.5 million ($764 per square meter). At the end of the lease contract, the government would have to renew it – and pay even more for the land, or let it go.

To cover the cost of this lofty venture, Duncan wanted to impose heavy fees on residence permits.

Only UP-MP Dr. Ruth Douglass (who gave up her seat later to make place for party leader Theo Heyliger) vented her objections against the Justice Park in a letter to the editor.

In January 213, there was another central committee meeting about the Justice Part. Independent MP Romain Laville criticized the (then) opposition party UP for its objections to the plan. “It is a shame that some refuse to see the benefits of this project,” Laville said, adding that the government was paying rent for buildings “that belong to certain affiliates of political departments.”

Not only Laville, also Louie Laveist (National Alliance) and independent MP Patrick Illidge supported the Justice Park. UP-MP Johan Leonard said he was not against the plan, while DP-MP Leroy de Weever called the project Jurassic Park.

In March of last year, financial supervisor Cft expressed its doubts about the financing of the Justice Park and in April it brought down the hammer: it blocked the loan-construction Duncan had in mind, because it was five times as expensive as necessary. Corporate Property Associates (CPA:17) would buy multiple land parcels for $34.4 million and budget approximately $65.6 million for renovations and lease enhancements.

The Cft concluded that Duncan’s plan indicated that CPA:17 would charge 10 percent interest, while the rate for subscriptions to loans from the Netherlands were five times lower at the time – just 2 percent.

After that advice from the Cft the Justice Park died a slow and silent death. In doing do, it most likely saved St. Maarten from long-term financial disaster.

Now Minister Lake wants to buy the land parcels in Cay Hill for $5.5 million – a number that fits within his capital investment budget.



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