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Sarah makes position as Parliament head available

page3d149PHILIPSBURG--President of Parliament Sarah Wescot-Williams has made her position as head of the legislature available to the United People's (UP) party-led coalition.

This move by Wescot-Williams comes a month and two days after she was appointed to the post on October 10. It also comes amidst her Democratic Party (DP) evaluating whether to continue supporting the current coalition.

"I believe I should make the position of President of Parliament available," she said. This declaration comes after DP Member of Parliament/caretaker Minister of Public Health, Social Development and Labour VSA Cornelius de Weever submitted his own nominations for two ministers in the new cabinet, one of whom is his uncle Leroy de Weever.

Although, the post was not part of the agreement DP had with the current coalition, Wescot-Williams believes "it is the right thing to do. ... In our opinion, even in politics there are or should be some ethics."

Wescot-Williams will continue as President of Parliament until her formal letter stating that she has made her position available has been booked into Parliament and is accepted by MPs.

After that, the coalition can appoint a new President of Parliament. If the coalition accepts her position, it is speculated that the person next in line for the post is UP Parliamentarian Dr. Lloyd Richardson.

Wescot-Williams made her announcement at a press conference held in the Prime Minister's office – a post she also holds – on Wednesday afternoon. The briefing to the press came after she informed her party's board and candidates who contested the August 29 parliamentary elections of her decision to make her position available and to try to obtain answers from formateur UP leader/Member of Parliament Theo Heyliger about the process followed.

As for the coalition, the continued support of DP will rely on Heyliger's answers. "Then my official position regarding the coalition will be taken ... a final decision on our support for the coalition will be taken and communicated to the formateur. For right now, he has been informed that I will be making the position of President of Parliament available."

De Weever factor

The DP will send Cornelius de Weever, who was its number two candidate, a letter calling on him to explain his position after he independently submitted nominees for the two minister posts. He submitted the names of his uncle, former MP Leroy de Weever, as minister candidate for VSA and M. Genevieve de Weever Primary School Principal Rita Bourne-Gumbs as candidate minister for the ministry of Education, Culture, Youth and Sports.

The letter to De Weever is in keeping with DP's articles of incorporation asking him to react on his nominations. His response will determine the party's next move regarding his membership.

De Weever's nominations were contrary to those submitted to Heyliger by Wescot-Williams "on behalf" of DP. DP's candidates were hotelier Emil Lee for VSA and Ministry of Education Exams Division head Yvette Halley for the Education Ministry. The name of current director for the Minister Plenipotentiary in The Hague Perry Geerlings was suggested by DP for ministership in The Hague.

De Weever "unannounced and unexpectedly" signed a governing declaration with the UP on October 3 giving UP a majority in Parliament. Following that, Wescot-Williams said she had had "several discussions" with the two De Weevers about "the DP as a whole" supporting the existing coalition of the UP's seven MPs and MP De Weever. Those discussions, Wescot-Williams said, led to the declaration she signed on behalf of DP with Heyliger as formateur.

It was "informally agreed" that with DP's support of the existing coalition, the party would nominate two ministers and the position of President of Parliament also would go to the party. Negotiations were ongoing for the post in The Hague.

Wescot-Williams said she originally had been told then by Leroy de Weever that DP was to nominate minister candidates for the Ministry of Tourism, Economic Affairs, Transport and Telecommunications, and the Ministry of VSA or Education.

Those allocations "seemed not to be true" after DP signed on. Heyliger informed DP that the party was allocated VSA and Education, because "in the word of the formateur 'DP joined the bandwagon late,'" said Wescot-Williams.

Break in communication

Following through on the allotted ministries and after discussions with Heyliger and the De Weevers, Wescot-Williams submitted the DP's three minister candidates to Heyliger and copied to Cornelius de Weever on October 28. This was followed by two weeks of silence from Heyliger, who did not respond to e-mails, phone calls or text messages, according to Wescot-Williams.

On November 10, Wescot-Williams received at her office a copy of a letter submitted by Cornelius de Weever to Heyliger outlining his minister candidates. In response to this, "several futile attempts" to contact Heyliger were made. Heyliger responded via e-mail on the night of November 11 saying, according Wescot-Williams, that Cornelius de Weever's submission was in line with the agreement of the original eight coalition partners.

Heyliger said he hoped that she and Cornelius de Weever could discuss the matter, she added.

Wescot-Williams said this scenario did not reflect what she had signed off on as the representative of DP with Heyliger. The agreement was for DP "to have a say in the direction of the country" and in the appointment of persons who would govern the country.

By supporting the existing coalition after it was formed, Wescot-Williams said, "My opinion is I somewhat compromised my own position and that of others." She said the party had faced much criticism for the move.

"I took it all in stride with the conviction that even with our small part as a party, we could co-steer our island as we face a multitude of challenges and when the need for men and women of good will and character is so great," she said.

It is time for DP "to take a step backwards to observe and analyse" the situation, she said.

Minister candidates submitted to governor

HARBOUR VIEW--The names of the minister candidates for the new cabinet were submitted to Governor Eugene Holiday by formateur United People's (UP) leader Theo Heyliger on Wednesday. The security and judicial screenings of the candidates for the post of prime minister, the six other ministers and minister plenipotentiary has commenced, according to the governor's cabinet.

Holiday and Heyliger met yesterday to discuss the progress of the formation process. Heyliger has to submit his final report on the formation process to the governor by November 30.

It is understood that the governor is following the established screening regulations of St. Maarten with some additional questions seeking more information from candidates.

In a separate press statement, Heyliger confirmed that his name had not been submitted as a candidate for the post of prime minister. It is tipped that veteran politician Marcel Gumbs has been nominated for the post of prime minister.

While neither the governor's statement nor Heyliger's gave the names of any candidate ministers, Democratic Party (DP) leader Member of Parliament Sarah Wescot-Williams told the press of two candidates submitted by MP Cornelius de Weever to Heyliger (see related story): former MP Leroy de Weever for Minister of Public Health and School Principal Rita Bourne-Gumbs for Minister of Education.

It is expected that former minister in the Netherlands Antilles Government Richard Gibson Sr. has been put forward as the possible candidate for Finance Minister while Justice Minister Dennis Richardson is expected to continue in his post.

Attorney-at-Law Peggy Ann Brandon is said to be the candidate for Minister of Public Housing, Spatial Planning, Environment and Infrastructure VROMI.

St. Maarten Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Claret Conner is said to be the candidate for Minister of Tourism, Economic Affairs, Transport and Telecommunication.

Current Deputy Minister Plenipotentiary in The Hague Josianne Artsen is said to be the candidate for the Minister Plenipotentiary.

Resident: Stop filling pond, protect Foga from flooding

FOGA/ PHILIPSBURG--Residents of Pendent Cactus Road in Foga were among those heavily affected by flooding following the recent storm, having experienced knee-height water. Not an uncommon occurrence, they are concerned that they have been, and will continue to be even more affected because of the filling of land nearby on the pond-side which is set to accommodate another 36 houses.

Many residents and businesses near the ponds in Philipsburg have been affected, and have also questioned the maintenance of the floodgates and pumps. Minister of Public Housing, Spatial Planning, Environment and Infrastructure VROMI Maurice Lake said in an invited comment that there had been problems experienced, repairs to the system are underway and the Great Salt Pond would be back to acceptable levels within a few days.

One Foga resident contacted Environmentalist Rueben Thompson and The Daily Herald out of concern. Another business owner near Zagersgut shared similar concerns.

Besides the filling in of land, the concrete gutter running behind the Foga residences, as well as the dirt gutter made as a back-up during construction, proved futile in channelling and containing the water. A wall built to protect the area from water was almost submerged, and a sewage tank is to-date overflowing into yards and the street, adding another hazardous element to the site already teeming with mosquitoes.

She is calling on Government and in particular VROMI to stop filling in the pond and to take care of the existing houses before new ones are built, particularly by elevating the housing lots above street level. A reporter of this newspaper observed that some housing lots are not just at street level, but in many spots under it, currently pooling stagnant water.

Sick of experiencing flooding, the resident who is in her senior years, was less affected than many neighbours because she took it upon herself to raise her lot above street level by adding sand. She has advised others to do the same but is calling on the Government for help.

She said management at the St. Maarten Housing Development Foundation (SMHDF) is relatively new and does not know as well as the residents what is going on, and is also seemingly not inclined to listen to their concerns. In the area for over 15 years, the resident experienced multiple incidents of flooding.

She expressed that the community should show more of a united front in order to stand up for its rights. "We cannot live like this, we are suffering here," she said. She feels the government is showing that they do not care for the residents, as no official has come by to check on them, although she added that the SMHDF passed by sometime after the recent rains to see if residents could stay in their homes or had somewhere else to go.

The business owner near Zagersgut told of the frustration of dealing with so many flooding events in a short period, as well as disbelief that maintenance of the floodgates and water pumps has been so poor over the years, with inadequate repairs.

The person said that floodgates on the Fresh Pond side in particular had not been repaired properly since 2008 after the passing of hurricane Omar. Although temporary measures were taken such as the placement of sand, the person expressed that there would have surely been enough time to plan proper repairs into the budget.

Thompson has been especially vocal about his repeated warnings of filling in the island's ponds and thereby reducing their water catchment and retention capacities, especially in the wake of recent weather conditions and subsequent flooding.

In an article issued in yesterday's edition of The Daily Herald, Thompson mentioned the extension of the Foga housing development in particular as an example of his advice ¬– echoed in government-commissioned international expert reports – being ignored. He also told this newspaper that the channels have been built too close to these homes.

In an invited comment, Minister Lake said the water pump near Suckergarden has damaged inner seals and liner that need to be replaced, and that needed parts are not currently available, but are expected to be received within a week. Two more pumps are currently operational and working non-stop. One of these had been damaged and parts for it had been ordered over a month ago by a United States manufacturer – this pump became operational again yesterday, he said.

Concerning the floodgates, Minister Lake said that 14 prefabricated elements for the water-passage will be placed within a few weeks. A floodgate has been ordered from the Netherlands and will hopefully arrive in January, when it can be installed. This will take a few weeks to finalise.

After the Great Salt Pond levels normalise in a few days, the Minister says that the Fresh Pond overflow into the Salt Pond would be closed off with sand, as the old floodgates "have been damaged beyond any form of repair."

Plasterk prefers cooperation to new instruction for St. Maarten

THE HAGUE--Issuing another instruction to St. Maarten, this time in the area of Justice, does not have the preference of Dutch Minister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Ronald Plasterk. He would rather strengthen St. Maarten's Justice System and improve integrity together with the local government, he told the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament on Wednesday.

"That doesn't have my preference," Plasterk replied to the question of Member of the Second Chamber Roelof van Laar of the Labour Party PvdA, who asked the minister whether a new instruction for St. Maarten was being planned, as it was clear to him that St. Maarten's politicians so far had not shown any effort to implement measures to fight corruption and to improve integrity.

Plasterk has been preparing an action plan to strengthen St. Maarten's Justice System, a plan he already announced in the Second Chamber on October 1. He confirmed that this action plan would be discussed by the Kingdom Council of Ministers soon, but did not mention a specific date.

The next meeting of the Kingdom Government takes place this Friday. The agenda of this meeting is never disclosed, but it is generally known that the action plan for St. Maarten will be discussed.

Plasterk was willing to give some pointers about his action plan, which is being drawn up on the request of the Kingdom Council of Ministers, during Wednesday's debate in the Second Chamber's Permanent Committee for Kingdom Relations. The general objective of this plan is to strengthen the Justice System on the island.

Part of the plan would be strengthening of the Prosecutor's Office in Philipsburg, the Kingdom Detective Team RST and the setting up of a special white-collar crime unit from the Netherlands to combat corruption and integrity violations. This unit also would encompass government-owned companies and the private sector, Plasterk said.

He expressed his desire to carry out the action plan in conjunction with the St. Maarten Government. He said St. Maarten needed to understand that having a Council of Ministers of which the members complied 100 per cent with the integrity and good governance requirements was to the benefit of the country and its people.

So far, the St. Maarten Government had not indicated its willingness to cooperate with the in-depth screening of the candidate ministers by the St. Maarten Governor ordered by the Kingdom Government on October 17.

"The government isn't too inclined," said Plasterk, adding that Curaçao had had the same reaction three years ago when it received an instruction to get its budget in order, but once the instruction was carried out, Curaçao had been proud of the accomplishment of having more stable finances.

"I have faith that we can do this in consensus with St. Maarten. Carrying out the action plan together with the new government has my strong preference," said Plasterk. He announced that staff of his ministry would be travelling to St. Maarten shortly to give content to the proposed action plan that the Kingdom Government will be handling soon.

Plasterk said steps being taken by St. Maarten to improve integrity would be included. He stressed that "something substantial had to happen" because the recent integrity reports had shown that the integrity violations were too serious to ignore.

Van Laar gave Plasterk the benefit of the doubt and supported his idea to try to execute the action plan together with Philipsburg, but urged the minister not to shy away from giving St. Maarten another instruction. Van Laar said he was not too hopeful that the island politicians would tackle the issue voluntarily. "I don't see even the start of such an undertaking," he said.

Van Laar was highly critical of St. Maarten's attitude to blame The Hague.

"Politicians have pointed their arrows in letters, motions and throbbing press releases at the true culprit: Dutch politics. As if we did it, as if we were enriching ourselves at the expense of the St. Maarten people. As if we sold permits to the highest bidder. As if we used the harbour company and the Central Bank to make money disappear. We are the cause of all misery if we were to believe the St. Maarten politicians," he said.

The PvdA, in any case, supported a new instruction if that proved to be necessary in the best interest of the people, said Van Laar. "The people deserve a solid government and decent representatives. A new instruction to tackle corruption and fraud along the lines described by the minister in the budget debate makes sense. The PvdA will in any case strongly support that instruction," he said.

Member of the Second Chamber André Bosman of the liberal democratic VVD party was critical of the response by St. Maarten's caretaker Prime Minister Sarah Wescot-Williams that the government would not cooperate with the extensive screening of the candidate ministers ordered by the Kingdom Council of Ministers.

"St. Maarten's current government doesn't feel the need to improve integrity or to implement more transparency. That much is clear from the response of the current government. We can appropriately conclude that the Kingdom Charter can go into the wastebasket, the shredder, if no follow-up is given to the instruction. In that case we have a new constitutional model," said Bosman, referring to his proposal for a commonwealth construction for the Dutch Caribbean countries.

Ronald van Raak of the Socialist Party (SP) pointed out that all parties in the Second Chamber agreed that the integrity violations in St. Maarten were unacceptable. He said this common thought should serve as a warning to the "wrong people" in St. Maarten with "sneaky plans."

According to Van Raak, an important point had been reached where the Kingdom Government had to decide whether to take the bull by the horns or to take a lackadaisical attitude as it had done for decades. "The question is whether we will do it or not," he said. He urged Minister Plasterk to "follow the bad money," as this would expose the roles of those who were involved in corruption and money-laundering.

Van Raak and Bosman said the recent developments in both Aruba and St. Maarten showed that the Charter had become untenable. "The Charter is no longer a squeezing corset, but it is about to burst," said Van Raak.

Bosman said it was clear that relations in the Kingdom were being increasingly "squeezed and scraped."

Plasterk said he had a dual approach where it came to the relations in the Kingdom: unbending and hopeful. He said he would be unbending in the area of good governance, but did not want to let go of the hope that it was possible to find common ground to cooperate and work on a better future for the people in the Kingdom.

The ministers and the Members of the Second Chamber present at Wednesday's meeting expressed compassion for the recent flooding in St. Maarten and wished the island much strength in restoring the damage that was done by both the flooding and Hurricane Gonzalo. Plasterk said he had called both Wescot-Williams and Governor Eugene Holiday over the weekend. He said the Dutch marines in St. Maarten remained available to provide assistance where needed.

Afoo shuts down Food Club due to economic constraints

DUTCH QUARTER--The Afoo Group of Companies has closed its Food Club Supermarket in Dutch Quarter after almost 15 years of operation in the area.

The supermarket closed its doors last Friday, November 7. A sign is posted on the door advising customers to visit the other supermarkets in the Afoo chain.

In an invited comment on the closure, Afoo representative Peter J. Gittens said the Afoo Group is undergoing an internal restructuring to facilitate changes in the economic landscape over the last few years. "These changes have not only required some downsizing, but also brought the closure of... Food Club... This closure brings to an end almost 15 years of serving the community of Dutch Quarter and surrounding areas," he said.

Gittens said the reasons for this closure were that the operational overhead of the establishment had climbed while sales continued to fall. "With a total of 12 employees, rising electrical cost and little to no help in terms of government zoning policies, just to name a few, all have made doing business extremely difficult overall," he said.

"Food Club has been the only supermarket in that area that has such a large staff of primarily local individuals, while the other dozen or so operate as a family business and hire perhaps one person at most while the family unit makes up the rest of the needed staff. When we started almost 15 years ago no one would have thought we would have so many smaller supermarkets in one area with no regard for the distance between them."

Gittens said the Afoo Group has made arrangements for either relocation or a pay-out for years of service with all but two of its employees to date and expects to have the matters with the two employees resolved soon. The Group thanked the employees who are no longer with the company due to the closure for their years of service and commitment to the Afoo Group.

He stressed that the location has not been sold to any other business or individuals and said it was too early to comment as to what will be done with the location now that it is closed. "Our outlook on business in general remains positive. We have been evaluating our other locations and made very subtle changes in terms of staff, but folks can expect to see upgrades/improvements in décor and equipment in early 2015 at our older locations. Business will continue as usual for now."

"We would also like to invite the public to our other location, The Fresh Market in Madame Estate. Here they will continue to get an even wider variety of fresh fruit and vegetables, specialty items such as organic, natural and gluten free products as well as a large selection of Dutch and other international products. We will also be running a few promotions to encourage residents of Belvedere and Dutch Quarter who were patrons of Food Club to pass by The Fresh Market," he said.

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