~ Ombudsman refutes allegation ~
PHILIPSBURG--“I have no choice but to question if you have a conflict of interest in this matter,” Minister of Public Housing, Spatial Planning, Environment and Infrastructure VROMI Egbert Doran writes in a letter to the Ombudsman, referring to questions asked about the issuing of government land on Vineyard Heights to a group of civil servants.
With the “very sudden request for clarification”, by letter from the Ombudsman dated September 9, 2021, and a follow-up letter on September 16, “threatening a systemic investigation into the reallocation of the parcels of land”, Minister Doran feels compelled to ask Ombudsman Gwendolyn Mossell if she perceives and acknowledges a conflict of interest in this matter.
Taking into account how the Ombudsman has previously interacted with his ministry, Doran wrote on Tuesday to Mossell that he considers her actions a bit perplexing.
“In previous correspondences to the Ministry of VROMI, you would refer to a complaint filed and/or a situation where you were requested to assist in a civilian and/or legal entity (‘rechtspersoon’) with getting a follow-up or feedback from this ministry. In said previous correspondences, your actions seem to be in line with the complaint procedure in Article 15 and further of the National Ordinance Ombudsman; meaning on the basis of a complaint which you also would have informed me of (including name, etc.) so that I could properly follow up and inform you accordingly.”
Doran further stated: “While I completely understand and realise that you are authorised to start an investigation without a formal complaint, the law states that you must have a suspicion (‘vermoeden’) that actions of the governing body (‘bestuursorgaan’) are unbecoming (‘niet behoorlijk zijn’). In your letters referenced, you do not indicate if and what you consider to be unbecoming behaviour, yet you are requesting clarification on the Vineyard Heights/Over the Bank issue.”
The minister argued: “These properties and the allocations of same that you are seeking clarification on are directly tied to a person that you were/are legally and/or physically involved with. These properties that you claim were allotted via draft decrees would have been signed by the then Minister of VROMI, Angel Meyers. You were married to Mr. Meyers and have children with Mr. Meyers.”
According to Doran, the “constitutionally expected and required independence” that comes with the function of Ombudsman is “in jeopardy”. “With you not indicating if and who filed a complaint, yet providing a one-sided breakdown of the history of these properties, which you also do not indicate when and how you were made aware of said history, I have no choice but to question if you have a conflict of interest.”
Doran continued: “I also question if you do not also have additional conflicts of interest in this matter. You are currently married to and/or romantically involved with another former Minister of VROMI, Maurice Lake. Based on initial findings of this ministry, he was also one to preliminarily indicate to persons that they may be entitled to lots of the Vineyard Heights/Over the Bank properties. Mr. Lake was also in Parliament when Mr. Meyers was suggested and appointed as Minister of VROMI. Furthermore, as preliminary findings are indicating, one of the persons that supposedly comes forward as a preliminary recipient of these properties is the brother of Mr. Lake.”
On behalf of the Ombudsman, Secretary General Randolf Duggins wrote to Minister Doran on Wednesday, in reply to his letter from the day before: “Please note that there is no conflict of interest. For the sake of completeness, I refer you to the explanatory notes of the National Ordinance Ombudsman in reference to ‘own motion’ investigations. Pursuant to the fifth paragraph, the Ombudsman may also not conduct inquiries on his own initiative. An ex-officio inquiry may be at issue if the Ombudsman suspects that a particular administrative task is structurally not being carried out properly. Or if, from his own observation or on the basis of statements from society, he becomes aware of government action which, for whatever reason, has not or has not yet led to the lodging of a complaint with the Ombudsman.”
The Ombudsman still awaits clarification from VROMI Minister Doran, as requested by letter of September 9.