Island Opinions

Island Opinions (732)

PHILIPSBURG, St. Maarten - The taking of almost 3 months to form a government (September 26 to December 20, 2016).This article looks first at the larger (2016) political landscape and context within which the September 26, 2016 Parliamentary election took place. More specifically, the article examines the reason(s) for the early 2016 Parliamentary election in light of a vote of no confidence in Government (by Parliament). Secondly, it provides further analysis of the determination of the election results or allotment of Parliamentary seats in the aftermath, of the election. Finally, the politically false presumption in the selection and appointment of Council of Ministers, lending to the stagnation of the formation of a government for 13 weeks after the election and the signing of 2 governing coalition agreements. In retrospect, what the future hold for the sustainable socio-political and development administration of the constituent state of Sint Maarten beyond 2016 appears to be quite uncertain. However, what is certain is that St. Maarten’s present political entangled path is unsustainable and needs to be changed – a change that needs to be legislatively substantive rather than superficial.

Political Context

It is no exaggeration to argue that the September 26, 2016 Parliamentary election in St. Maarten marked a significant benchmark in the political history of the constituent state (of the Kingdom of the Netherlands). Said election was mandated by the Governor in the aftermath of a vote of no confidence in the Council of Ministers motivated by “ship-jumping”. [A chronic practice where a member-elect or a member of parliament indiscriminately breaks ties with his/her elected party list, declare him or herself as an independent member of parliament, align him or herself with a different party list and render the premature fall of government.] Consequently, a new coalition government was formed to govern until the mandated September 26th election would be held, with the specific instruction to explore, formulate and pass legislation to “stop” and/or “avert” ship-jumping. Needless to say, this was not realized before the September 26, 2016 election, despite the Government having some 10 month to accomplish it.The election was notably highly contested with a record number of 9 parties taking part, while yielding no definitive results, as no one party garnered a majority of the seats in Parliament to presumptively take the lead in the formation of a coalition government. Respectfully, Party-list 2 and 9 equally garnered 5 seats, Party-list 3 garnered 3 seats and Party-list 8 garnered 2 seats.

The Election Ordinance that governs the Parliamentary Election has many strengths and weaknesses. Weaknesses that nurtures “ship-jumping” by not ensuring the confirmative of proportional representation within Government/ Parliament, in accordance with Article 47 Section 1 of the Constitution (and matters concerned therewith). The concept of proportional representation allows that – “the make-up of a parliament by allocating seats on the basis of the number votes each party received” which ensures that votes carry equal weight. In effect, if party A wins/ allotted 5 seats in parliament this should be maintained throughout the electoral or governing cycle. However, in the previous elections (in 2010 and again in 2014) this has not been the case, as parties have seen their allotted seats in Parliament diminished as a result of “ship-jumping.   As such, the wishes of the people, by democratic vote, are being disrespected and reallocated in the absence of clarity and key provisions in the narratives/ Article of the Election Ordinance where the apparent unconstitutional practice of “ship-jumping” is entertained. Consequently, the young constituent sate of St. Maarten has seen 5 governments in 6 years, hardly conducive to the further socio-political and developmental administration of the Island constituent state.

The alternative is electoral reform through proportional representation wherein any elected/selected candidate who attempts to ship-jump automatically loses his or her seat in Parliament, thereby guaranteeing each party the number of seats in Parliament in proportion to the number of votes received. See the proposed Draft Election Ordinance Amendment Legislation presented to Parliament March 7, 2016.

Allotment of Seats in Parliament

In the aftermath of the 2016 Parliamentary election other prudent concerns emerged which rightfully can be attributed to the “largest remainder (“rest-zetel”) method presently use in filling the seats, as a result of the election, in Parliament where the total number of valid votes cast is divided by the total number of seats to be allocated, referred to as the “electoral quota”. Next, the electoral quota is divided into the total votes each party list received with the party-list being allotted one seat for each electoral quota produced. After this allotment process is completed and there are remainder sets to be allotted then the total votes each party received is divided by the allotted seat(s) plus one fictitious seat. The party or parties with the highest average(s) is/are allotted the remaining seat(s). The latter calculation is repeated until all seats are allocated. As such 10 seats were allotted outright with 5 remaining seats. Party List 1, allotted zero seats; Party-list 2, allotted 4 seats with 1 remainder seat totaling 5 seats; Party-List 3, allotted 2 seats with 1 remainder seat totaling 3 seats; Party-List 4, 5, 6, and 7 zero seats; Party list 8, allotted 1 seat with 1 remainder seat totaling 2 seats; and Party-List 9, allotted 3 seats with 2 remainder seat totaling 5 seats.

The prudent concern with the allotment of the Parliamentary seats (by the largest remainder method) is the distorted allotment of 2 remainder seats to Party-list 9 over 1 remainder seat to Party-list 2, whilst Party-list 2 received more votes than Party-list 9, specifically, 4,130 votes compared to 3,778 respectfully. In effect, the largest remainder method, as used, rewarded Party-list 9 more seats, despite not winning a majority of the votes.

Another distortion is precipitated by Article 96.2 of the Electoral Ordinance which regulates that ‘if the total votes received by a party-list is less than the electoral quota, that party-list would not be permitted to participate in the seat allotment process. Consequently, Party-list 6 after receiving a significant 848 votes (99 votes less than the electoral quota of 947) was instrumentally omitted from the seat allotment process. Thus effectively leaving some 848 voters with no direct representation of their policy/ issue interests in the Parliament. Such distortions produce notably less proportional results in the Parliament.

An alternative is proportional allocated/ allotted seats based on the highest average method; the d’Hondt method, which is used worldwide including the Netherlands and considered to be the best proportional representation method. This requires the total number of votes for each party-list to be divided successively by 1, 2, 3 etc. up to the total number of Parliamentary seats (15). The seats are then allotted to parties with the highest resulting (15) averages.

Given the d’Hondt method, the allotment of seats in the 2016 Parliamentary election would be : 5 eats for Party-list 2; 3 seats for Party-list 3; 1 seat for Party-list 5; 2 seats for Party-list 8; and 4 seats for Party-list 9. In contrast to the largest remainder method in use which disenfranchised a block of 848 voters, the highest average method/ the d’Hondt method best allots seats to the parties who get the highest number of votes. As such Party-list 5 with a significant 848 votes would be allotted 1 seat in Parliament and Party-list 9 would not be allotted an extra seat with fewer votes/ the second highest number of votes.

Politically False Presumption

Perhaps most stunning of the changing political landscape is politically false presumptions that have been thrusted into the political system and society and which is being accepted (for now); Political correctness/ false presumptions that overrule or reject reality and replace them with beliefs that are fabricated out of thin air for political purposes and/ or expediency. A notable example is the present false presumption that “if one is good enough to run on a party-list one is good enough to be appointed as a Minster” or the notion that the Council of Ministers should be comprised of (unelected) party-list candidate who form Government (which was hailed by the press as a “good thing”) and by the virtue of getting more votes over the other the party-list candidate that form Government is enough of a reason to be first appointed to the Council of Ministers. Essentially, politically false presumptions at best rationalize emotional decisions

Truthfully, the rationale of the Council of Ministers is to appoint and bring competent professional persons, in their own right, into these Ministerial positions for the proper and good governance of Government not for the expediency of political appointments.

That is, for example, the political favor of appointing a “blacksmith” to the mistrial position of economic development with the obvious task of engaging in strategic economic development tasks, overseeing and managing related departments, formulating and proposing economic development policy/ legislation to which the necessary capacity is definitely not there.

Looking to the future

Will the (present) Government’s factions seek to address the changing political landscape of St. Maarten for the sake of sustainable social, political and economic development and good governance of the Island-state? Will the Red, White and Blue coalition joined by the sitting minority (in Parliament) to seriously embark on the elimination of the political anomaly of “ship-jumping”, and ensuring party-list representation in Parliament as voted for by the electorate - by redrawing proportional representation in the Electoral Ordinance? Will St. Maarten slide deeper into the abyss of political dysfunctionalism, personal politics among the notion where unsubstantiated personal beliefs tend to overrule reality or realize that governance is not based on individual consciences but on sound public policy and consensus building? Only time will tell what the next chapter in the evolution of St. Maarten holds. What is absolutely clear, however, is that political thought and reform is essential in St. Maarten.

PHILIPSBURG, St. Maarten - As a community spirited person, I am not here to criticize or pass the blame but to address the issues and come with solutions. NV GEBE needs to start thinking like a consumer and put themselves in the people’s position and address the issues as soon as possible with a permanent solution.

As we all know load shedding should be something of the past. This is why the new Board and Management have accepted the challenge and now is the time to turn our local company around with a strategic plan for the next 5 to 10 years.

I have gotten so many calls from local business persons, acquaintances about what’s the issue with this constant load shedding. Businesses are losing money with the constant power outages within the last week and some business people are so concerned about their equipment and freezers getting damage with the constant load shedding.

PHILIPSBURG, St. Maarten - A tsunami rocked our hide- out  when we learned of the results of the long awaited screening results. For many, the results did not come as a surprise as we went down that road some years ago when it comes to the leader of UPP. That he was closely related to Mr. Schotte should not come as a surprise nor should the Romain Laville saga. The Prosecutor throws a Monkey Wrench in the white and green coalition by issuing a damning report arising from the screening of to be Ministers.
As a consequence of this report, the two political parties had to go back to the drawing board and try to form a government now with the US Party, and the DP Party. The prosecutors report indicated that Theodore Heyliger and Franklyn Meyers failed to pass the screening process.The report mentioned that MP Heyliger is under investigation and unpaid taxes by Franklyn Meyers wife.

PHILIPSBURG, St. Maarten - As a former Member of Parliament, I must say that our ancestors must be turning over in their graves with the type of leadership and cooperation we displayed during our St. Martin Day Celebration by boycotting the people’s celebration.
France and Holland must be smiling to see the recent dispute between the French and Dutch local Government where they fighting over the border lines in which is documented and written in the Dutch Side cadastre registry. There is a court case decision on this.
The Captain Oliver dispute where the judge based on the French documents said that the water rights is owned by the Island Government of St. Maarten. The restaurant and marina are located on the Dutch side while the hotel is on the French side. The electricity is also provided by the French side. It is a very unique situation and I don’t see why the two governments can’t sit down and come to an agreement to upgrade the marina.
I would advise anyone who wants to know their local history that they must get in contact with the former Director of Cadaster Andre Patrick who has a wealth of knowledge and documents about this Captain Olivier situation and other historical land marks.

PHILIPSBURG, St. Maarten - The Attorney General’s Office together with the Kingdom Detectives Cooperation Team (RST) and DataExpert from the Netherlands will host the first Caribbean Cybercrime Conference in the Renaissance Hotel in Aruba on November 16, 2016.

The goal of the Caribbean Cybercrime Conference is to create awareness for the growing threat of cybercrime and the growing demand of digital investigations. The objective is also to explain what digital forensics and cybercrime is all about.

The last decade the use of electronic devices such as iPads, smartphones and laptops has grown exponentially, also among suspects in criminal cases. This has posed an extra challenge for law enforcement as well for the corporate industry. Due to constant technical innovations and the increase of cybercrime the complexity of criminal investigations is constantly rising.

PHILIPSBURG, St. Maarten - One should work in the best interest of the Country when the opportunity presents itself to serve.  I served as Minister of Tourism, Economic Affairs, Transport and Telecommunications (Ministry TEATT) as well as Minister of Public Housing, Spatial Planning, Environment and Infrastructure (Ministry VROMI) for the United People’s (UP) Party led coalition for the governing period December 2014 to November 2015.

During that short period, I had the opportunity to work on a number of very important initiatives.  Here are just a few I would like to share with you.

National Economic Summit - The National Development Plan of St. Maarten is built upon four pillars of sustainable development; namely: culture, environment and infrastructure, social and human development, and the economy. While no pillar is more vital than the other, the economy, as a pillar, is essential to realizing the greater mission of the National Development Plan and St. Maarten’s development as a country.

Economic planning is not a quickly executed task; while the process of shaping a national economic vision is not an easy one. This process requires foresight, inclusion and a keen understanding of the needs of all partners. The respective government departments within Ministry TEATT took the first steps by drafting a National Economic Framework.

A National Economic Summit was held to allow stakeholders to have an input and assist in building from the ground up a national economic framework.  A number of things were identified such as public-private partnerships; communication; improvement of the local workforce; public sector activities; data collection; Tax reform; Economic diversification; Ship and Aircraft registry just to mention a few.

Since the successful National Economic Summit of May 22 and the follow-up session of June 12, the Ministry has been actively expounding upon the National Economic Framework via the creation of strategic economic workgroups. These workgroups cover a range of thematic sectors, from telecommunication to marine, tourism to agriculture and environment to financial services.

This process is a very inclusive one and we believe it would have reaped great benefits and better relationships with our private sector partners. It was our intention to deliver at the end 2015 a National Economic Plan that outlines a shared vision for St. Maarten’s sustainable growth.

The development of Tourism is a collaborative undertaking between the Government of St. Maarten and stakeholders in the tourism industry. The combined expertise and resources would have been utilized to develop and design a comprehensive development plan, which will serve as the foundation for the creation of a facilitating environment for tourism development. The incorporation of the St. Maarten Tourism Authority Foundation (STA), in anticipation of the Tourism Authority to be established in an independent/autonomous public/administrative entity / “zelfstandig Bestuur Orgaan” (ZBO) was an undertaking aimed to create that conducive environment for tourism development, which was continued during my tenure.

Social Housing - With respect to promoting social housing, I worked with the St. Maarten General Pension Fund (APS) to develop affordable homes on a parcel of land in Cay Hill (formerly the Vorst property) for civil servants.  The minimum number of homes envisioned was estimated at 45. 

Chamber of Commerce and Government Economic Development Project - In order to promote the public interest of commerce and industry, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Government worked diligently to develop an “Economic Service Center” for Philipsburg aimed at overall economic development.  A parcel of land was identified for the location on which the center and other supporting business activities would be established.

Technological development and services - I was in the process to further expand services within our telecommunications sector.  As global telecommunications develop, new services are being added known as VAS (Value Added Services).  These services would provide improved access to information and information services, which offers a higher value experience to consumers of telecommunication services.

A strong economy is the foundation for all other factors that we want to achieve as a country.  Our economy is the life line that supports and maintains our very existence.

We cannot just grow our economy; we have to develop our economy. We must expand and increase the main elements of our economy.

 

Within the industries of our tourism driven economy we must continue to develop our infrastructure.  This is the reason why a new medical center is vital as it ensures that the main drivers “the people” of this country are taken care of right here on St. Maarten.

 

We have to also develop our ports of entry, in order to sustain our volatile.

 

We must develop our people, without the people expressing the proper spirit of what St Maarten is truly about will be like a ship adrift, a lost and visionless people.

 

We need to introduce programs aimed at building knowledge and awareness of the industry that our livelihoods depend on.

 

Furthermore, our neighborhoods must reflect the true meaning of community, we must build facilities that our children use for their development and further self-enhancement.

 

Our senior citizens should able to recreate in the neighborhoods that they have lived all of their lives.

 

This can be achieved by expanding on or building user friendly community centers and/or recreational centers in every neighborhood. 

 

Our educational system must be in balance to deal with the moving technological trends so that we can become an intelligent society. This can be achieved by designing and implementing school curricula to include technology as a learning enabler.

 

I believe in the St Maarten of our forefathers where neighborhoods help raised the children.

 

I believe in the St Maarten of today where that spirit still exist in persons who remain steadfast in their belief that St Maarten is still the greatest place on earth.

And I believe in the St Maarten to come.

 

I believe and love St Maarten and its people and that is why I have placed myself at your service, for a better and brighter St Maarten. My focus and vision have always been for the people of St Maarten.

 

I believe in my candidacy.  However, it is only with your mandate I can help shape St Maarten.  I therefore ask you that on September 26, that when you go out and vote, that you vote for leadership qualities, competence, dedication and commitment.  Vote for Claret Connor, your #8 candidate on the UP party slate. 

 

May God bless you and may God bless our beloved St Maarten.

 

Claret Connor, former Minister TEATT / VROMI

 

PHILIPSBURG, St. Maarten - The SMCU delivered a resolution to the Prime Minister dated August 24, 2016 requesting the reopening of the application for the CEO position of Telem. We also requested for him to appoint the required new members on the board of directors.

The reason that there is a need for the new board members is because the articles of incorporation indicates that the board must consist of a maximum seven or a minimum five members, whereas currently there are three members on the board.

PHILIPSBURG, St. Maarten - Dear Leaders and Candidates of the Political Parties contesting Election 2016.

We have analysed your party manifesto's and your public interventions on radio and television. On the issue of eradication of poverty the ususal statements presented is the same old story of poverty alleviation instead of poverty eradication as precribed by the United Nations.
 
On behalf of the SInt Maarten Anti-Poverty Platform we provide you hereby a draft which we want you to consider to inform the people of SInt Maarten and especially the voters of Sint Maarten of your commitment to eradicate poverty in Sint Maarten in dialogue with the Sint Maarten Anti-Poverty Platform.
 
You are free to make any adjustmjents to the draft to suit your party's stand on this issue.
 
We look forward to receive your party's written declaration on this important issue for the people in Sint Maarten ASAP, based on the details proivided in the draft prepared by our co-coordinators of the Anti-Poverty Platform
 
Kind regards
 
On behalf of the Sint Maarten Anti-Poverty Platform
the Co-coordinators
 
Claire Elshot-Aventurin         Raymond Jessurun         Alberto Bute
        W.I.C.L.U.                              S.M.S.P.A                        SUNFED
 

DECLARATION ON ERADICATION OF POVERTY IN ST MAARTEN

Considering that:

  1. 75% of the households in Sint Maarten live in poverty! One can read this in the Transparency International Report on integrity in Sint Maarten on page 22. The conclusions on this page are based upon census 2011 data of the Statistical  Department of Sint Maarten are furthermore that:, 
  • The GDP of Sint Maarten is USD 22.000 per capita, and despite this relatively high income per capita, St Maarten has an uneven distribution of income and its standard of living is high
  • 75% have an income of less than 4000 ANG a Month: a Minimum Reference Budget for households not to be in poverty determined by the Dutch NIBUD institute, which means that 3 of every 4 households live in poverty!
  • 22% of the population is without income, which means 1 of every 5 persons is not making a dime

In other words to survive here in this part of the Kingdom, all households need at least 2200 USD a month!

  1. Poverty is a violation of Human Rights!
  • Article 25 of the Universal declaration on Human Rights, and art 11 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights ratified by the Kingdom of the Netherlands (since 1979) define the following: Everyone / every citizen within the State, the Kingdom of the Netherlands is entitled to an adequate standard of living for the health and wellbeing of him/herself and his/her family.  
  • According to art 43.1 of the Charter of the Kingdom of the Netherlands human rights must be realized by every country in the Kingdom.  And according to art 43.2 to guarantee human rights, just as to guarantee good governance, is a Kingdom affair, in other words an obligation of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. 

In other words for the 75% of the households living in poverty,  their human right to an adequate standard of living has not been realized by the government of the former Netherlands Antilles, neither by the government of Sint Maarten, neither has their right been guaranteed by the Kingdom government 

  1. Public appeals about the poverty of the  Sint Maarten Anti-Poverty Platform, consisting  of the labour unions of Sint Maarten affiliated to the Windward Islands Chamber of Labor Unions, the Sint Maarten Seniors and Pensioners Association, and the Sint Maarten United NGO Federation, have been raised for the last two years, in defense of the human right of the workers, the seniors and their families and the general population of Sint Maarten.

We the undersigned hereby declare,

That on behalf of the  ...(name and abbreviation of the party) …. :

  1. We commit  to endeavor to eradicate poverty in Sint Maarten within the coming parliamentary period of 4 years, in compliance with the International Human Rights Treaties ratified by the Kingdom of the Netherlands and with art. 81 of the Constitution of Sint Maarten,
  1. We commit to engage in a structural dialogue with the Sint Maarten Anti-Poverty Platform and the social organizations in Sint Maarten, to discuss and achieve consensus on ways and means to eradicate the poverty in Sint Maarten
  1. Our parliamentarians and ministers, if elected, will undertake whatever is necessary to eradicate poverty in Sint Maarten
  1. Our party will have them include in the governing program to ensure that the Kingdom government live up to it's obligation to guarantee full implementation of human rights for all citizens,  equal social security and a social protection floor throughout the Kingdom of the Netherlands, if our party representatives are elected into Parliament or government.
  1. We commit to contribute, that Minimum Reference Budgets Not To Be In Poverty will be determined, in collaboration with the Sint Maarten Anti-Poverty Platform, with assistance of the NIBUD of the Netherlands, within 6 months after elections, with or without elected representatives of our party in Parliament.  
  1. We commit that every household in Sint Maarten must realize a minimum income of 2200 USD a month or at least the amount determined by the minimum reference budgets determined not to be in poverty.
  • Old Age Pensions maximum for the elderly must be equal or higher than the minimum reference budget for a senior citizen or a senior couple
  • Minimum wages must become living wages for all workers to be determined by the minimum reference budgets
  • Social Allowances must supplement any household income which because of the old age pension or wages earned and brought into the household is not enough to cover the minimum USD 2200 a month per household
  1. We commit to champion for creation of full employment and on the job and off the job training opportunities, so that a just and more evenly distribution of income can be realized  in Sint Maarten
  • By guaranteeing that everyone can contribute to a household income of UsD 2200 per month or more.
  • By stimulating the economy with proposals for government incentives 
  • By eliminating the abuse with the 6 months labour contracts
  • By revising the tax system in such a way that the TOT will be replaced by a fair sales tax system 
  • By increasing corporate citizens social responsibility and solidarity with the poor and the needy in Sint Maarten, to compensate for the reduction of premium contributions in the social and health insurance funds by employing less and less workers to maximize their profit
  1. We commit to champion to lower the cost of living in Sint Maarten to affordable pricing levels as provided by globalization and the internet commerce
  • By Expanding the basic basket for maximum price control from 40 to 100 items in SXM
  • By Lowering the food and nutrition prices as well as from all goods and services to price levels as for instance in Curacao
  • By eliminating the Fuel clause and generating green energy
  • By increasing social tariffs for water and electricity for the poor and the needy
  • By introducing social tariffs for phone and internet for the poor and the needy
  • By Replacing low speed and high priced internet with affordable high speed internet
  • By capping or setting limits to rents (for households and commercial)
  • By capping or setting limits to interest rates set by financial institutions
  1. We commit to guarantee the right to the highest attainable level of healthcare in the Kingdom of the Netherlands for all here in Sint Maarten
  • By introducing a National Health Insurance based on Universal Health Care coverage for all, with an equal basic package throughout the Kingdom and with equal affordable premiums for all 
  • By financing the health insurance, implementing the solidarity principle in the Kingdom, to expand the financing of the health and social security funds in Sint Maarten with income of a Social Protection Guarantee Fund for the Dutch Caribbean, guaranteed by the Kingdom government, to supplement Social Security Funds  in Sint Maarten to be sustainable
  1. We commit to guarantee the right to development of the people of Sint Maarten 
  • By eliminating balanced skeleton budgets and introducing balanced development budgets 
  • By Instructing the CFT Committee Financial Supervision to make the balancing of the budget to comply with the full realization of the Right to Development Of the people of Sint Maarten
  • By championing for the same human development index as the European part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands has, as outcome of the development process of Sint Maarten
  1. We commit to champion for more financial support for the Ombudsman , the Corporate Governance Council and The Sint Maarten Consumers Coalition offices, to be realized within one year of the coming Parliamentary period of 4 years, so that they can address the complaints concerning the quality and prices of goods and services of companies and institutions here in Sint Maarten 
  1. We commit to guarantee the equal job equal pay principle within the coming Parliamentary period of 4 years for all
  • By evaluating the salaries and secondary benefits of the governor, the parliamentarians and the ministers of Sint Maarten with the arrangements in the Other countries of the Kingdom  
  • By evaluating civil servants and teacher salaries with other countries in the Kingdom
  • By evaluating the wages and salaries in the private sector here in Sint Maarten with equal jobs elsewhere in the Kingdom
  • By maintaining the purchasing power of the wages and salaries when the cost of living has increased 

By signing this declaration our political party agrees

  • to provide at the latest October 30th, how our party proposes to implement these points
  • and for the media in Sint Maarten to publish the content of this declaration and to inform the public of our commitments to eradicate the poverty in Sint Maarten.

On behalf of  ...(name and abbreviation of the party) 

Political leader. 

Chairman of the board                                 Secretary of the board

 

PHILIPSBURG, St. Maarten - “Over the last couple of weeks, the hot topic has been the Pearl of China project”, stated Member of Parliament Frankie Meyers. “On one hand we have two Ministers outlining all what they expect from this project and on the other hand you have a large group of concerned citizens and long time visitors to the island wanting answers to relevant questions pertaining this project.

PHILIPSBURG, St. Maarten - On Saturday September 17th about 80 persons showed up on Belair Beach for a peaceful demonstration that was held against the groundbreaking of the Pearl Of China development Project.

Organizers Francine de Polo and Mercedes van der Waals-Wyatt indicated that the protest was about the manner in which government made the announcement to the people, being through a town-hall meeting on September 1st by the Minister of Finance Richard Gibson. This announcement was met with great surprise and amazement seeing that the ground breaking would take place exactly 17 days after this announcement.

The concerns of the organizers and the accumulated demonstrations were made known through many discussions held under a tent on the beach. Some of the concerns were: The lack of transparency about the project; The traffic congestion for that area; The needed studies for environment and social impact were not made available and the Draft Development Plan for Little Bay has still not been finalized to the final Development Plan.

Besides expressed concerns there were many questions like: Will the wetlands and the Little Bay pond be protected and preserved? What kind of sustainable jobs will be made available for the people of St. Maarten and will St Maarteners also have top managerial positions? Will the project obstruct the view of the residents living on the hill behind the project? What kind of effects of fumes and noise pollution will this project produce? Etc.

Emotions ran high at times of some of the demonstrators yet they remained very peaceful. Demonstrators walked around placards, of which one stated: ”We are not afraid of the Chinese, we are afraid of our own Politicians”. At one Point the demonstrators began singing the St. Martin Song as the Chinese delegation and the officials arrived at the ground breaking site. One of the protesters, Mr. Sjaoel Richardson, had with him a printout of an online petition against the project that over 850 persons signed and said that different actions and activities will continue until answers are given to the people of St. Maarten.

Protest leader Francine de Polo’s concern was mainly the secretive manner in which government rushed this project even though they had knowledge of this project months ago. “There is no transparency and there are too many unanswered questions concerning the best interest of the people of St. Maarten”, she said. Transparency and the handling of the project procedures are also a concern to her. The manner in which she got to see a document at VROMI and was told she was not able to receive a copy but could only take pictures, did not sit well with her. When she researched online the Government website, nothing was found with regards to the project. If I should object to this project more information and clarity is needed trying to understand how they go about this procedure and why the rush on this project?

The second protest leader Van der Waals Wyatt was also concerned about the protection of the St. Maarten workers that allegedly will be hired to execute the promised 400 jobs and what provisions have been put in place by Government to protect them in case the project would be hit by a natural disaster. Van der Waals-Wyatt further indicated that there was only a small delegation of invited guest to the groundbreaking and thought that was very strange and was wondering if Parliament, Tourism and environmental specialists were fully aware of this development project, since it was a project brought forward by Ministers and a project of this magnitude will have a big impact on St. Maarten’s development on all fronts.

The Chinese delegation invited the demonstrators to come and listen to what they had to say about the Pearl of China Project. The highlight of the demonstration was when Mercedes van der Waals-Wyatt , Francine de Polo and Mr. Sjaoel Richardson were given the chance to voice their concerns and questions to the head Chinese businessman of the Pearl of China project. Though the language was a barrier the interpreter was there to translate their concerns and questions. After the short meeting on the ground breaking site, the organisers received a card to able to contact the development Pearl of China representatives directly and the organizers agreed that they would be seeking a more formal meeting with them.

“It is indeed a miracle to see how a Chinese business man from the other side of the world took time to listen to the concerns and questions of the demonstrators of St. Maarten and our own government ignores the conecrns of its own St. Maarten people, environmental activists/foundations, and tourism associations”, the organizers said.

The general public will be kept abreast of the next action or activities that will be done with regards to receiving transparency from our government officials on this Pearl of China Project and answers to the questions and concerns of all stakeholders.

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