In September 2021, the Honourable Minister of VROMI requested the Integrity Chamber for advice on a potential land issuance policy for the Department of Domain Affairs. Based on this request, the Integrity Chamber held meetings with relevant stakeholders within the Ministry of VROMI, to discuss the current procedures regarding the application for and the assignment of long lease land, as well as the underlying documents. This was done to determine the challenges and areas for improvement in the process, to ensure that any advice given is practical and effective. During this process, an early draft of the Land Issuance Policy (Beleid Uitgifte Domein Grond) was presented to the Integrity Chamber. As a result, the Integrity Chamber based its advice on this draft policy and submitted said advice in December 2021.
The Integrity Chamber applauds the efforts of the Ministry of VROMI to establish and implement a policy on the issuance of long lease land. Land on Sint Maarten is a scarce and valuable asset. A policy can ensure the minimization and prevention of possible integrity-related risks relating to the issuance of long lease land and avoid perceived arbitrariness in the procedure.
The draft policy contained several general conditions that applicants should meet to qualify for long lease land. Although these conditions are at the discretion of the Minister, the Integrity Chamber advised that the conditions are critically assessed, to ensure that they are not unnecessarily (dis)advantageous or creating biases within the process. The following examples were given:
- The condition that applicants must be employed full-time. This may unnecessarily disadvantage persons that are part-time or self-employed, with sufficient income.
- The minimum income requirement. A maximum income requirement would ensure that persons with a higher income are not at an advantage.
- The condition that applications older than 18 months will no longer be taken into consideration, can be regarded as unfair to persons who have previously applied, but have not received a response. To avoid this, the Integrity Chamber advised the Ministry to reach out to these persons, so that they can be given the opportunity to meet the new conditions.
The Integrity Chamber also gave key recommendations for internal procedures that ensures the effective implementation of the policy and avoids integrity risks and inconsistency in its interpretation. Some of the recommendations by the Integrity Chamber include:
- Checks-and-balances to ensure the proper execution of the policy. For example, the two-person principle, where at least two people are required for processes, to prevent misuse and errors.
- Rules for an alternative decision-making process when there is a perceived conflict of interest. This process can also be utilised during periods of political transition, to prevent perceived misuse of authority.
- A system where irregularities related to the issuance of long lease land can be reported.
- The protection of personal or sensitive information provided by applicants to prevent the misuse of this information by persons involved in this process.
The Integrity Chamber further advised the implementation of several general measures, such as a comprehensive land registry system which corresponds with the relevant information from the Ministry and other stakeholders, as well as a complaint procedure for persons that feel that the procedure was not properly executed, or whose application was denied. Both measures can provide valuable information that allows for the overall improvement of the policy and procedures.
The recommendations outlined above, as well as several others expressed in the advice of the Integrity Chamber are essential to safeguard against the many potential integrity risks related to the draft Long Lease Policy of the Ministry of VROMI. The Ministry of VROMI should take these factors into consideration to ensure the issuance of domain land in long lease is based on equality, transparency and accountability. The full advice can be found on the website of the Integrity Chamber at www.integritychamber.sx/publications, and will be published in the National Gazette.