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MPs to discuss surveillance cameras to combat crime

PHILIPSBURG--A closed-circuit camera surveillance system to combat crime in the country will be discussed by Justice Minister Dennis Richardson with Members of Parliament (MPs) in a meeting of the Permanent Committee for Justice in Parliament House on Thursday starting at 9:00am.

A camera surveillance system has long been talked about by government and the private sector as a means of crime deterrent and to create a sense of safety in heavily populated areas.

The possibility of such a system originally was presented by then-local chief of police Lt. Governor Franklyn Richards and Police Deputy Chief Commissioner Richard Panneflek to the Central Committee of the then-Island Council on December 8, 2008, as a pilot project. Richards briefed committee members about the project, including the need to review and amend laws and treaties on privacy and human rights to allow the cameras' use when installed to operate within the confines of the law.

It was envisioned that a review of the project would be carried out on completion of the pilot phase. Terms of reference (TOR) were to be drafted for the complete project to be advertised for public tender.

The 2008 project, which never came to fruition, specifically was to cover Boardwalk Boulevard and several streets and alleyways in Philipsburg.

The renovation and upgrade of Captain Hodge Wharf even took into consideration the implementation of a camera surveillance system for Philipsburg. The top level of the wharf building is designed as a "watch tower" for the police and can be used to house the camera surveillance system.

A number of then-Island Council members who were in the December 2008 meeting on the camera system are now MPs and will be in Thursday's meeting.

Serving in the Island Council in 2008 and in attendance at the camera meeting that year were then-commissioners, now MPs Sarah Wescot-Williams (Democratic Party (DP)) and Theo Heyliger (United People's party), and then-Island Councilmen, now MPs Frans Richardson (United St. Maarten party) and George Pantophlet (National Alliance (NA)). Wescot-Williams and Heyliger were both DP members in those days. Richardson and Pantophlet were members of NA.

Not many details of the now-defunct camera project were made public, as meetings of the Central Committee of the Island Council were not open to the public as meetings of the Central Committee of Parliament are now.

Residents can attend the session in Parliament House on Thursday. It also will be live on St. Maarten Cable TV Channel 120, Pearl Radio FM 98.1, and via the Internet at

www.pearlfmradio.com and

www.sxmparliament.org .

The St. Maarten Chamber of Commerce and Industry announced in June 2009 that it had hired consultants in November 2008 to devise a comprehensive safety and security plan for the then-Island Territory. The firm Liberty Consulting had foreseen at least three more months of research to complete what was termed a "St. Maarten Security System."

The Chamber wanted at that time to obtain "political blessing" from government before taking the NAf. 144,000 study to the business community, security firms, tourism reps and port services. It already had paid 10 per cent of the cost to complete the study.

Then-Chamber President Glen Carty told reporters at a press conference on June 15, 2009, that the Chamber had chosen to look for a "structured approach" to tackle crime.

Network security firm Zenitel Caribbean N.V. had demonstrated its wireless camera surveillance project to police, Customs representatives and businesses approximately two weeks prior to the press conference.

Liberty representative and former St. Maarten prosecutor Johan de Vrieze had said the study would examine areas at risk and suggest solutions.

SZV Board short 3 persons, filling positions a priority

PHILIPSBURG--The Supervisory Board of Directors of Social Health Care Insurance SZV has been operating with three persons short of a full board for several months.

A full board comprises seven persons, but only four persons are currently sitting on the board: Chairperson Dr. Michel Petit, Vice Chairperson Antonio "Tony" Rogers and new members businesswomen/accountants Ludmilla de Weever and Sandy Mourinnon Sandiford. The two women on the board were appointed late last year. Petit's term was up in May last year and he had been reappointed in November.

In an invited comment on the situation, SZV Chief Operations Officer Reginald Willemsberg said the current situation occurred after several board members' term was up within a short time span last year and it was difficult to get new members in such a short span. He said the current board is "doing its utmost" to find replacements.

Any new proposed board members have to fit the profile set of which one is that of a legal expert. The names would have to be recommended to the Minister of Health for approval. Governor Eugene Holiday would also have to sign off on the proposal before it could become effective. Willemsberg said while there are three openings on the board, at least six or more names would have to be proposed so that the minister can have a choice.

"There was a full board of seven persons up to May last year and then persons began falling out and coming back in. For about the last six to eight months, we haven't had a full board," the Deputy Director said.

The board supervises SZV management and also advises management and the Health Minister.

When asked about the possible impacts this will have on SZV, Willemsberg said: "There would not be any impact on the day-to-day operations of SZV, and although the position of a legal expert on the board is not filled as yet, the board still functions at a level that they can give good advice to management regarding strategy, health care and policy. They might not have a full supervisory board, but they function fully because the supervisory board members come from different sections of society of which they have their own area of expertise."

Willemsberg said he is cognisant that the current board led by Petit "wants a full board as soon as possible," and is working on this as a priority.

Ratification of police cooperation treaty ‘imminent’ Préfet discloses

page1b233MARIGOT--The long-awaited ratification of the police cooperation treaty between The Netherlands and France is "imminent," Préfet Philippe Chopin disclosed in a press release on Monday in answer to merchant's concerns over security, increase of violence and random assaults on tourists in St. Martin.

The cooperation treaty, signed already by the Dutch, was one item of good news presented to a delegation of merchants at a closed meeting in the Préfecture following the march earlier in Marigot to protest the crime situation.

The Préfecture's Chef de Cabinet Emmanuel Effantin further confirmed ratification will be completed "before the end of the year" and that MP Daniel Gibbs is the "rapporteur" for the ratification process. Gibbs could not be immediately contacted last night for further information.

The merchant's collective presented a list of concerns and propositions to the Préfet who described the meeting as "constructive." Prior to the start of the meeting he insisted, in the release, on "removing all ambiguity on the subject by not having any correlation, from a statistical point of view, between immigration and delinquency."

Ratification of the treaty, he said, will permit a better and more efficient cooperation with the Dutch side in the fight against crime, regardless of border issues, indicating so called "hot pursuits" will no longer need to stop at the border.

Other measures to improve security include the arrival shortly of a specialised unit of judicial police to investigate and resolve crimes. In addition the Préfet noted he has asked the Gendarmerie to have a greater presence in the territory with more patrols, including plain-clothed Gendarmes, in tourist frequented areas, and to have patrols in closer contact with merchants.

It was understood by both parties in the meeting that punishment is not the sole solution to crime. Work on prevention, education and civic responsibilities of citizens equally contribute to fighting delinquency more efficiently.

March organiser Jean Canet described the one hour meeting as "very positive."

"We are pleased to have had a very positive reaction to our concerns from the Préfet," Canet told reporters afterwards. "Naturally we are not going to see changes over night, and Gendarmes cannot be everywhere and behind every citizen. But what we have heard today from him is a good basis to go forward from.

"He was very receptive and genuinely concerned. He understood the importance of protecting tourists. I am also calling for the population to assist the police and Gendarmes by reporting crime and wrongdoings because the security of St. Martin is a matter and responsibility for each citizen if we want to get the friendly island image back. Parents also have to control their children more. Maintaining security is a joint effort."

The peaceful march with about 80-100 participants started around 9:30am and made its way silently to the Préfecture. Ironically, there was a strong presence of Gendarmes accompanying the march and at the Préfecture but no sign of Territorial Police or elected officials who often join in these protests.

Local St. Martiners were also conspicuously absent from the march, prompting one merchant to say: "They should be supporting this march. If it gets really bad (crime), we as French or foreigners can leave at any time but for the locals this is their island and they have nowhere else to go and will be left to deal with the situation."

Indian merchants were seen in the march but none from the Chinese community; Chinese grocery stores often being the target of armed robberies.

"Every few years we get to realise we might be going down a road we can't get back from unless we make a strong point," commented Indian Merchants Association President Peter Sadarangani. "When crime affects tourism it will only get worse and worse so we have to keep reminding the officials to step up. I think Gendarmes can do more with a stop and search policy. If they stop and search constantly we could see some improvement.

"But the punishments have to fit the crime as well. If the law is too weak, resources are lacking, or no space for offenders in prison then the situation becomes redundant again."

While a proper prison in St. Martin seems increasingly unlikely to materialise, Canet says a type of remand institution to house petty criminals is needed instead of these offenders being sent to Guadeloupe where the prisons are already full, and each time a transfer is done it requires an escort of Gendarmes and additional paperwork to be completed.

"The Gendarmerie could also benefit from integrating Antilleans into the force to improve the harmony with the local population," he suggested. "Almost all of the Gendarmes we see are coming from France."

Prosecutors publish guidelines for equal sentencing on islands

PHILIPSBURG--The Attorney-General stated yesterday via a press release that it is important that set guidelines are in existence, setting out the length of sentences demanded by prosecutors, so these are equal and similar for St. Maarten, Curaçao and the Caribbean Netherlands (Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba).

This means, for instance, that if the guidelines state that the recommended punishment for a particular offence is five years imprisonment, prosecutors in each of the islands demand a similar sentence as per those guidelines.

"It is the desire of the Attorney-General that the prosecution policy in and between the Prosecutor's Offices of Curaçao, St. Maarten and the Caribbean Netherlands are, as far as possible, unambiguous," the press release stated.

Each of the Prosecutor's Offices should exact similar punishments for similar offences and circumstances, regardless of the assessor, time and place the crime has taken place, the press release clarified.

"The Attorney-General seeks unanimity between the criminal policies of the various Prosecutor's Offices with obviously room for the local situation and problems of each country or region," it continued.

"Furthermore, the Office of the Attorney-General, in the context of transparency, with immediate effect will provide insight into the principles that apply to Prosecutors in the formulation of the sentencing guidelines by publishing these."

St. Maarten Prosecutor's Office spokeswoman Tineke Kamps added, "On the different islands, there were different guidelines, and under supervision of the Attorney-General we are now working towards having equal guidelines and policies. As soon as joint policies have been determined for the islands they will be published on the Website

www.openbaarministerie.org

which has a link for St. Maarten, followed by a link for publications."

At this time, there is a joint guideline about possession of firearms and ammunition (see related article) that has been published on the Website. The guidelines are published in Dutch, and apply to St. Maarten, Curaçao and the Caribbean Netherlands, Kamps said.

She added: "As 'local' Prosecutor's Office we applaud joint guidelines such as these, because they ensure the demands for sentencing are the same. It shouldn't matter in itself on which island a person is caught with a firearm."

In addition, the guideline has space for deviation; for instance, as a result of specific local problems. This means that people in St. Maarten still have the opportunity to repeat successful projects such as Stop, Drop and Go, or something similar.

After such local action there is still the possibility of making a demand for a higher sentence than stated in the guideline and to explain this to the court when the case is heard.

When asked whether there had been an issue in the past with different sentences having been given for similar offences on different islands, Kamps responded that she was not aware of there having been any distinct differences. "But that doesn't take away the fact that the Prosecutor's Office aims towards equality, clarity and transparency," she concluded.

SER calls for better use of existing labour regulations

~ 'Strongly' advocates revision of counterpart policy ~

PHILIPSBURG--The Social Economic Council SER "strongly advocates" the revision of the much touted counterpart policy government plans to implement later this year as a means of lowering the unemployment rate in the country. The council called on government to instead better apply the existing Labour Regulations.

The SER advice was sent to government in October 2014, after receiving the advice request in July and studying the ordinance and other factors. The advice was duly published at the end of January this year in the National Gazette (Landscourant).

"Surely, compliance with current law is the very first fundamental right that can be demanded of every country and while the SER is well aware that the Executive Order on Foreign Labour is already applicable law, the SER strongly advocates revising this Article 10," SER stated in its advice.

Pointing to non-nationals holding positions within top organisations, businesses, yet having a minimum of secondary academic education, as the reason to affect the counterpart article "appears to be the wrong policy to solve this problem."

In view of short-term solutions, SER proposes to create a tax-break for employers who take on unskilled local youngsters who are not adequately prepared to enter the job market and provide them with on-the-job training.

The execution of Article 10 will "drastically harm especially small businesses" through double labour expenses: having to pay two people (the foreign employee and the counterpart) two salaries for doing the same job.

Also, execution of this policy by the Labour Department will have "a random effect" on businesses. For some positions held by foreigners, counterparts will be available, but in many cases, there will be no counterpart, as the (unemployed) local candidates are simply too small in number compared to the number of foreigners employed.

"This will cause the counterpart policy to have an unpredictable effect on the cost of doing business, while it will most certainly lead to unfair competition between businesses. Consequently, this will negatively and unpredictably affect a business' profit margin and could easily cause companies in St. Maarten to go out of business, thus damaging our economy," said SER.

Brain drain?

SER said, "If there is no qualified, local, Dutch national to fulfil a certain vacancy, this confirms that St. Maarten is facing challenges in educating its nationals to fulfil certain positions or St. Maarten suffers from a brain drain. In both cases, one cannot expect employers to bear the additional costs, especially not when this is a consequence of an omission on the part of the Government of St. Maarten."

If it appears that the supply on the local labour market does not meet the demand, "positive measures (education, training) should be taken to fill in the gap between insufficiently skilled, local employees and the positions offered."

A work permit is only given after it has been established that no suitable local candidate is available. "In other words, managing the influx of foreign labour can be done prior to issuing a work permit," said SER.

After examining the ordinance, SER concluded that proper implementation and enforcement of this law, without the counterpart Article 10, "provides adequate safeguards to achieve its intended purpose."

If, in reality, locals do not get a fair chance for job opportunities, as it is stated in the advice request, SER suggested increased enforcement of the already existing regulations, since the success of any legal framework depends on the effectiveness of controls on compliance with the rules it lays down.

A "thorough investigation" is necessary to solve the employment problem.

To start, all surveys ever done on unemployment were executed based on gender, age and place of birth. So, it has never been clear what percentage of (youth) unemployment concerns Dutch nationals, or what the demand is for employees in terms of type of profession, required education and skills, and the extent to which local employees can fulfil the demand.

SER's opinion is that as long as a thorough research has not been executed, it is "unwise to implement additional legislation."

SER "unanimously advises" government "to revise Article 10 of the Executive Order on Foreign Labour and not execute this Article 10." That article, as it is currently formulated, is "detrimental for an economy like St. Maarten's, where the labour supply is strongly dependent on immigration."

Tackling unemployment

Statistical information from the Department of Statistics in 2014 indicated an unemployment rate of 11.5 per cent with youth unemployment (ages 15-24) at 27.7 per cent. The Ministry of Public Health, Social Development and Labour has made different strategic changes to address the unemployment figure, many of which were initiatives originated from the "SEI Employability Thru Training" project and various new processes within the Labour Department. Ongoing efforts also include an adult training programme where unemployed Dutch citizens residing in St. Maarten are being educated through direct job skills training.

The Labour Department also recognises the dynamic mechanisms within the work permit section, where strong statistical data points to a labour market force consisting of non-nationals holding positions within top organisations, businesses, yet having a minimal of secondary academic education.

Placement of Dutch nationals has been improving, according to the Labour Department, yet further partnership with businesses is required. As such, the Labour Department requested the immediate implementation of Article 10 of the Executive Order on Foreign Labour and this led to the SER advice.

Criteria for permit

An employment permit for a foreigner will only be granted if a Dutch national residing in St. Maarten will be made available by the Labour Department as a counterpart to the position for which the work permit has been granted. A training plan must be presented and may not exceed a maximum of three years (training cost to be borne by the employer), and the counterpart must be compensated according to acceptable standards.

Further, a request for renewal will be denied if the employer dismisses the counterpart without the prior approval of the Labour Department or to the discretion of the Labour Department the employer fails to sufficiently train the counterpart.

The department will provide a thorough assessment of the suitable candidate, a job coach and job placement officer to ensure suitability and matching of the counterpart with the desired career path, and will monitor training monthly.

The National Ordinance on Foreign Labour went into effect in 2002. The ordinance lays down rules relating to employment by foreigners and formulates a restrictive admissions policy for migrant workers by determining that a foreigner is only eligible for a job in St. Maarten when there is no skilled local candidate available.

To ensure proper enforcement of the ordinance, specific policy measures are needed to counter the negative effects of the migrant workers compared to Dutch nationals residing in St. Maarten.

In 2003, these policy measures were drafted and laid down in the Executive Order on Foreign Labour.

In 2009, a new article, the so-called "counterpart article," was added to this Executive Order on Foreign Labour.

A counterpart is a local employee who will be placed next to the foreign employee and who has the potential to be trained in a certain job in order to replace the foreigner within three years.

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