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William: Lake should be held liable for ‘wrongdoing’ in Vorst land deal

PHILIPSBURG--National Alliance NA says Minister of Public Housing, Environment, Spatial Planning and Infrastructure VROMI Maurice Lake should be held liable for his "wrongdoings" in the Vorst Estate "land deal" and "for putting the people of St. Maarten in unnecessary expense of having to pay for the significantly overpriced property."

NA Leader William Marlin pointed to statements made by the judge in his verdict last week indicating that Parliament could call Minister Lake to account for an irresponsible purchase and that Lake could be held personally liable for damages incurred, if these were caused deliberately or by grave neglect.

"It is wrong what Minister Lake did. The people of St. Maarten will now be forced to pay for Minister Lake's wrongdoing, but there is a provision in the law and the minister should be held responsible for the wrong that he has done," Marlin said in a press release on Sunday.

Marlin said NA had been "flabbergasted: by Lake's "jolly and celebratory" reaction to the court verdict in which government was ordered to make the payment for the property, which Marlin contends had been part of a secret deal between Lake and members of the Vorst family. "I have never seen a case where government loses a case in court and a minister runs to the press to say that he is happy to have lost the case because in four days government has to find US $3 million to pay as a down payment for 11,200 square metres of land. That is highway robbery," Marlin said in the release.

He said too that the minister will now be solely responsible for the skyrocketing of the price of land in St. Maarten, which will follow as a result of the land being sold for way above the market price.

The NA leader said the court case showed that the minister had signed multiple agreements with the Vorst family, "some of them signed in secret without the knowledge of the Council of Ministers. Even the court found it incomprehensible that Lake had signed so many agreements. Persons who own a piece of land are probably smiling now because they are looking on at this case and saying that they too can sell land for a high price. This has serious consequences."

Marlin added: "The Minister now wants to hide behind the verdict because he can say I told you so, but the verdict is not saying that it's a good deal - the verdict is only saying that government has to pay for Lake signing not one, not two, not three, but from all indications, for signing four agreements with the Vorst family. The judge isn't looking at the consequences of the purchase price and the effects this will have on the price of real estate that will now skyrocket."

The party leader said the way this issue played out shows that the minister "had made a secret deal with one of his friends, signed the agreement in private and then told the friend to take him to court to force payment for the land."

"This verdict is sending a message that persons can become a minister, find a family or a friend, sign a deal with him or her, hide the deal from your colleagues in the Council of Ministers and then make a deal with your friends for them to take you to court for payment."

Marlin alluded to the agreement he had made for the purchase of a portion of the Emilio Wilson Estate for US $45- a square metre, more than ten times less than what Lake has committed government for paying for the Vorst Estate. "The minister should be held fully liable for this," Marlin said in the release.

DP calls for Central Bank to assess claim against Harbour

PHILIPSBURG--Democratic Party (DP) Member of Parliament Roy Marlin says his party wants Finance Minister Martin Hassink to get the Central Bank of Curaçao and St. Maarten to assess the risk for St. Maarten Harbour Group of Companies as a result of a US $100 million claim against the company and its Chief Executive Officer Mark Mingo by Zebec NV.

"The risks associated with this claim can pose a serious threat to the survivability of this group of companies. When a company like the harbour has litigation claims pending against it, its bond holders, which includes the Central Bank of Curaçao and St. Maarten, should be utterly concerned," Marlin said in a press release.

This pending litigation claim could also have an effect on the harbour's external financiers such as Royal Caribbean Cruise Line (RCCL) and Carnival Corporation.

"How could the CEO of the harbour knowing that the company entered into a legally binding development contract with a third party not uphold the rights of the third party. We need to get to the bottom of this as soon as possible," said Marlin.

Marlin also questioned why the harbour group purchased a piece of land that used to be part of Bobby's Boatyard and then erect a sign to seek a developer. He said this points to the company having no vision for the land.

Marlin, on behalf of DP, warns the harbour's supervisory board of directors and management "to rethink this strategy" and do whatever is necessary to avoid claims such as the one by Zebec NV becoming a threat to not only the harbour group, but to Government and the people of St. Maarten. "The Harbour Group of Companies must sit at the table with this party, just like they must have done in coming to the agreement in the first place."

The MP hopes all information on the claim will be made available, so that the shareholder (government and people of St. Maarten) can assess the long term effects of this litigation on the company and the government.

Harbour: Zebec legal claim ‘without merit’

POINTE BLANCHE--The St. Maarten Harbour Group of Companies (SHGC) has said that it considers the legal claim by Zebec Development N.V. – which is taking SHGC and its Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Mark Mingo to court for over US $100 million – to be "wholly without merit," adding that Zebec's published claims were "blatant misrepresentation of facts" that aimed to shift the blame of the failed project on the Harbour.

The reaction comes after Zebec announced that it was taking the Harbour to court over alleged breaches to the contract, having filed the claim on August 20. "The claim stems from the Harbour's repeated failure to meet its contractual obligations as defined under various agreements." The story was published in The Daily Herald the following day.

A SHGC press release issued on Sunday announced that the Harbour plans to defend the case vigorously before the Court, and that it "has complete confidence in the positive outcome of these proceedings."

According to SHGC, "the Harbour never failed to honour signed agreements between the parties. On the contrary, the Harbour has repeatedly given Zebec the opportunity to proceed with the project...Zebec, however, has not been able to progress beyond the initial phase of the project even though some two-and-a-half years have passed since the signing of the development agreement."

The press release went on to say that Zebec recently took the position "that it would not pursue the project anymore unless previously agreed conditions, as laid down in signed agreements, would be altered in its favour.

"When the Harbour maintained the position that the project should be completed in accordance with the signed agreements, Zebec chose to abandon the project and issue a frivolous lawsuit, in an obvious attempt to shift the blame of the project's collapse towards the Harbour," the Harbour's legal team was quoted as saying in the press release.

The Harbour said that it regretted that Zebec abandoned the project after SHGC invested "significant time and funds, inter alia for preparing the development land for the project." It added that it will now "seek alternative opportunities to develop the land for the benefit of St. Maarten, its economy and its people," and look into options of recovering damages from Zebec.

Zebec management could not be reached for comment on Sunday.

Pantophlet resigns as PSS board chairman

PHILIPSBURG--Vice Chairman Stuart Johnson has been appointed Interim Head of the Supervisory Board at Postal Services St. Maarten N.V. (PSS), after Chairman of the Board Hubert Pantophlet officially resigned from his position. His resignation is connected to an ongoing court case between PSS, the Government of St. Maarten, and former PSS Director Denicio Richardson.

Pantophlet is said to have stepped aside due to his direct involvement with the case. Prime Minister Sarah Wescot-Williams, who is PSS shareholder representative, accepted his resignation in a letter on July 26, after he had initially submitted his resignation on July 9.

The PM, who met with board members recently, along with her legal advisor Hensley Plantijn, stated that she would appoint a new Chairman.

Pantophlet, however, is still a member of the board, along with Johnson and Julien Lake.

Post Office completes delivery of voting cards

PHILIPSBURG--Postal Services St. Maarten (PSS) says it has completed delivery of voting cards for the August 29 Parliamentary elections. Of the 24,053 voting cards presented to the Post Office for delivery, 1,276 have been returned to the Civil Registry (commonly called the Census Office) on Pond Island.

The total number of voting cards received by PSS far exceeds the number of registered voters. That number stands at 21,457. Attempts to obtain an explanation about the discrepancy in the number of voting cards yielded incomplete results.

PSS officials said the figure of 24,053 was derived from the tally of the three batches of voting cards received from the Civil Registry. That figure was duly noted in the paperwork PSS received and signed off on from the Civil Registry.

When this newspaper asked the Civil Registry about the total from PSS, officials there said the PSS figure was incorrect, as only approximately 21,457 voting cards had been delivered to the Post Office. The figure is approximate because it did not include the cards for prisoners and cards collected by voters at the Civil Registry.

Voters who have not received their voting cards via Post Office delivery can collect them from the Civil Registry on presentation of a valid form of identification: Dutch passport, driver's licence or ID card.

PSS urges voters who have not yet received voting cards to contact the Civil Registry as soon as possible, as PSS has executed its contractual obligation to deliver voting cards to postal addresses as provided within the contractually specified time frame.

"We consider our delivery of voting cards as a major success, considering the many challenges faced by postal staff when making deliveries to addresses without a post box for receiving mail, or to addresses where persons no longer live. In such cases, we have to rely on the experience and knowledge of our postal delivery staff, who exercise their own initiatives in the field to connect customers with their delivered mail," PSS stated in a press release.

PSS urged residents to make sure their house/apartment has a mailbox and to ensure changes of address are known to the Civil Registry, banks and all other companies from which regular statements and/or billing invoices are expected. "Cooperation in these areas will greatly assist PSS N.V. to operate a more complete delivery service island-wide," it said.

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