TODAY Newspaper, Opinions & Comments: 11/29/14
The conflict between the Sint Maarten Harbour Holding Company and Dock Maarten can¬not come as a surprise to anybody. In the past, parliamentarians have even wondered where the seat of government really is - at Clem Labega Square or in Pointe Blanche.
What we see is an attempt to crush a family enterprise that has been doing business on the waterfront since 1979 - that is 35 years and counting. That the harbor has plans may be so, but this government-owned company does not have a license to run over everyone that stands in its way.
A most remarkable element from yesterday's court case is that the harbor claims some sort of authority over decisions that are clearly the responsibility of the democratically elected government.
According to Dock Maarten's attorneys, the harbor is for instance of the opinion that building permits for projects in Great Bay need its approval. That is ridiculous by any standard. Dock Maarten obtained a building permit from the government - the Vromi-ministry to be exact - and there is no law that says it needs the harbor's approval. The only way out for the harbor would have been to file an objection against this permit, but that did not happen. Building permits are routinely put up for public review and any interested party is able to file an objection. The harbor did not do this - so it was sleeping at the wheel.
Another interesting aspect is the definition of the concession area for which the harbor is supposed to pay 5 million guilders a year. Already this year the harbor held back part of this fee, because the government had promised to pay a lot of money for the cruise conference. That this kind of bookkeeping is illegal does not seem to matter. But back to the concession area. We feel for the argument of Dock's attorneys that the government cannot grant concessions for something it does not wholly own. Such is of course the case with the water parcels to which Dock Maarten holds the right to long lease. Yet, the harbor claims that these parcels are also part of its concession area and that therefore the port rules there.
Dock Maarten is in the meantime well underway with the construction of its breakwater that in the future will facilitate its marina for mega-yachts. The harbor is pushing the envelope with a vague master plan that seems to include the construction of a futuristic hotel (though its attorney said it was going to be an office building).
There are many ways to skin a cat - our apologies for this rather animal-unfriendly expression - and the next move in this high stakes chess game is now up to the court. On December 5, both Dock Maarten and the harbor will get a better idea of where they stand in this unsavory argument between two neighbors..