Opinion: On our way to an illegal prison?

POSTED: 06/26/11 9:26 PM

Illegal construction activities on our beaches are, well, illegal. Anybody who build something without a permit will get the inspection department on his back (when they are found out, that is), and then several things might happen.

The inspection department might conclude that the construction is not illegal at all. End of story.

The department might also conclude that the construction is totally illegal. End of construction.

The third possibility is that the department rules that the construction activities are a little bit illegal. That’s when trouble starts.

But even in the totally illegal category things are not as simple as many people think they ought to be. When the inspection department issues a building stop, the contractor has no other option than to down all tools. But when the department also issues a demolition order, it is quite possible that nothing will happen for quite some time.

This is because the initiator of the illegal construction has the option to object to the department’s decision. He has the possibility to go to court, argue his case and get a ruling that could go either way. But as long as the case is in court, demolition orders are not executed.

This is what is now happening with the illegal construction activities near the Karakter Bar on the Simpson Bay Beach. Construction has stopped, but nothing has been demolished yet. A bit further down the beach, Tango’s Beach Bar (under construction) has quickly removed an illegal deck from the beach after it was ordered to do so by the inspection department.

What will happen with the also under construction main building is up for debate. By our observation, this structure stands within the fifty-meter zone from the high-water line and it should therefore not be allowed.

The builder however, may have a few arguments in his favor: right next to his location is a small condo complex; it also stands within the fifty-meter zone. At a stone throw’s distance another building stands practically on the high-water line.

Now let’s move away from the beach a bit for a peek-a-boo in Cay Hill. There we see Samir Andrawos’ concrete box. It’s built without proper permits, and the National Alliance government ruled last year that Andrawos would not be granted a variance on his faulty building permit. That seemed to be the end of the story, but the government has changed, and Vice Prime Minister Theo Heyliger is in the driver’s www.mindanews.com/buy-effexor/ seat for this kind of stuff.

Last summer, Heyliger took a unique initiative in the Island Council when he suddenly declared that he had a minority position in the Executive Council. While this was formally not possible (the Executive Council was one, and took its decisions by majority vote) Heyliger made it clear that he favored granting Andrawos his variance.

Enter Justice Minister Roland Duncan, our Minister charged with the interesting challenge to find a solution for the shortage of prison cells. Duncan wants to expropriate the box and turn it into a holding facility for people who don’t know right from wrong.

Interestingly, when this procedure goes through, the government will find itself the owner of a building for which it does not have proper permits. From people who know what they are talking about, we understood that the government does not have the authority to ignore this situation, nor does it have the power to simply write a permit that makes what is now illegal legal.

The subdivision plan for the location allowed initially only construction for residential purposes. After the concrete box with its warehouse facilities came into being, the subdivision plan was mysteriously adjusted. That inspired auditors of the government accountants’ bureau Soab who investigated the sector ROB of the Vrom-department in 2009, to write in their report about irregularities with building permits: “What is the point of issuing a subdivision plan if people do not comply with it? The primary objective of subdivision plans is, in this case, nullified completely because an area that apparently was designed for residential use is now also used for commercial purposes.”

What indeed. We hear that the zoning plan for the area will have to be adjusted to make it possible to turn the box into a prison. After all, it is a bit awkward for the government to house people who broke the law in an illegal prison.

But to alter the zoning plan, the government will have to consult with the population. All this will take time, and nobody knows how far neighborhood residents are ready to go to keep St. Maarten’s second prison out of their back yard.

The outcome of all this is predictable. The box will become our second prison. We’re rather curious to learn how the government will take the legal hurdles that stand in the way of their ambitions


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