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Richards urges elected representatives ‘to speak and act’ in interest of people

 page1a069Will now serve as member in the Council for law and order 

PHILIPSBURG--Outgoing Lt. Governor Franklyn Richards expressed hope in his farewell address that the welfare of the island's people will not be taken lightly as St. Maarten moves from Island Territory of the Netherlands Antilles to Country within the Dutch Kingdom. He retires from office after almost a decade.

Richards said on Wednesday, "Looking back at the past decade, I do so recognising a most fascinating period during which so many have played a crucial role in the development of St. Maarten. I am most grateful that I have had the opportunity and privilege to serve the island territory of St. Maarten for almost 10 years as 'Gezaghebber' [Lt. Governor]." He added that he leaves office at a time "great changes are taking place."

"Prior to 10-10-10 [date for country status], elections will, on September 17, be held for members of the island council, which is to be extended by 15 members [of the first parliament]. This [is] in view of the coming change in status," he continued.

"...I call upon members of this council and future members of parliament and council of ministers to speak and act in the general interest of the citizens of St. Maarten. I also called upon them as representatives of the people to promote good governance and transparency and participation of the people in the deliberation and decision-making of Government. The presence of proper checks and balances is an indispensable condition for the proper functioning of authorities. I trust that the preparations for the introduction of an ombudsman, General Auditing Bureau, a Code of Conduct are in its advanced stages, as anchored in the constitution for country St. Maarten," Richards said.

He chaired his final Island Council meeting on Wednesday morning in which he was praised and wished well in his future endeavours by Island Council and Executive Council members. He served as chairman of both councils until he was honourably discharged by decree of the Central Government over two months ago.

Commenting on this during his speech in the Island Council, Richards said, "To set the record straight, on September 12, 2000, I was appointed by Royal decree as Lt. Governor of the island territory of St. Maarten by Her Majesty Queen Beatrix, and as I approach retirement age I'll be consequently discharged by no other than Her Majesty the Queen on August 10, 2010." Richards will celebrate his 60th birthday on that day.

Although retired, Richards will serve as St. Maarten's representative on the Council for the Maintenance of Law and Order. This appointment was announced by Leader of Government Commissioner William Marlin in his address to the Island Council. Marlin said Richards had "humbly accepted" the position as a way to continue to serve St. Maarten. The council will be tasked with supervising the justice chain to ensure the laws are adhered to and are carried out accordingly in new Countries St. Maarten and Curaçao.

Speaking on behalf of the police, the former local chief of police said a well functioning police force is essential for the safety of St. Maarten and its people. "The image of the police force has not always been what it should be, and it is my expectation that the police organisation will continue to evolve and become what is should be. I wish the new chief of police, the rest of the police management team and all the police officers the very best in their endeavours."

Richards is the last in the line of Lt. Governors for St. Maarten as its constitutional state as an island territory of the Netherlands Antilles will cease to exist on 10-10-10 when it becomes a country within the Dutch Kingdom. Richards along with former Acting Lt. Governor Millicent Acuña Lopez-de Weever, Acting Lt. Governor Reynold Groeneveldt and second Acting Lt. Governor Nilda Arduin-Lynch are now part of this island's history not only for their service but for their place in the island's transition.

In Country St. Maarten, the Governor, the function that will replace that of Lt. Governor, will be a very ceremonial position as he/she will not chair parliament or meeting of the Council of Ministers as the Lt. Governor does in the Island Council and Executive Council.

Richards expects the introduction of the dualism - parliamentarians not allowed to also hold the post of minister and vice versa - which is to characterise government in the future, to have "a positive effect." In the present system, Island Council members can also serve as commissioner.

"I express the hope that there will be a constructive relation between Ministers and the Parliament and this will always manifest itself in working constructively with each other together, counting on the necessary support of parliament."

Giving a vote of thanks, Richards first honoured God and thanked the people, present and past members of the Executive and Island Councils. "Thank you for being my travelling companions along a large and important part of my way. I am forever grateful for your stimulating company and the enormous collection of shared experiences indelibly printed on my mind."

He expressed gratitude to officials of the public and private sector, colleagues, staff, family, friends, the media for "all they have contributed towards keeping my nose to the grind wheel during my career as Lt. Governor." He also thanked former Acting Lt. Governors Mathias Voges and Millicent Acuña Lopez-de Weever for their time, support, sincerity and trust.

"A special thank you goes out to the lovely first lady [Angela], my wife, my lover, my best friend, who has supported me through thick and thin and helped kept my ears to the ground during my tenure as Lt. Governor," Richards said.

"I've been asked what I'm going to do now. I'm going to do a lot of things and very few of them conform to the notion of retirement. I am going to read books that have been waiting on my "must read" list for years. I will set up a business, assist in building Country St. Maarten, learn new skills, travel to countries that I have never been before, enjoy being around friends," he said.

"And lastly, I leave you with this thought. There is only ever one of each of us: there's one Sarah Wescot-Williams, there's one William Marlin, there's one Theodore Heyliger. We are unique. We are neither better nor less than anybody else but rather the best or least of ourselves. I am still working on finding the best of me. It is an exciting on-going journey," Richards stated.

Police evacuate businesses for fear of ‘smoke bombs’

BUSH ROAD--Police evacuated two fast food restaurants and cordoned off part of the parking lot at the Le Grand Marché shopping plaza Tuesday following reports of pranksters tossing homemade bombs.

Someone had tossed a "crofty" bomb – a homemade explosive device that produces mostly smoke – onto the parking lot earlier, scaring customers and workers in the area.

Two fire fighters in hazardous material suits removed a quarter-full bottle labelled muriatic (hydrochloric) acid that a passer-by had noticed and thought suspicious from upstairs the Bush Road complex.

Officers told customers and workers at Burger King, Subway and the TelEm TelePoint to leave for their own safety while firemen checked whether the bottle was dangerous and inspected the rest of the area.

"I just heard a big bang like a gun went off," one man said about the crofty explosion.

Some of the acid splashed Subway's windows. The soda bottle that pranksters allegedly used for the crofty bomb was still on the ground in front of the fast food restaurant.

A large crowd of spectators gathered outside the stores to watch the firemen at work.

One young man joked that the disaster teams were overreacting to what he called a common teenage stunt. He thought authorities were unnecessarily "putting on a show" about finding the acid.

He joked that he and many of his peers had made the smoke bombs before. In about a minute, he explained how simple it was to obtain the ingredients to construct the bomb and use it. He laughed off fears that the acid, which chemists term strong for its corrosive properties and which cleaners use to scrub tiles and unclog drains, was dangerous.

"If it gets on you, you only itch for a while; maybe get a rash," he said, explaining that he had learned the technique in high school.

Senior Fire Officer Frans Nieuwenhoven denounced dangerous pranks, calling them trouble for many. "They don't think maybe when they throw it some people are walking there and it hits them," he said.

Lionfish invasion species spotted in shallow waters

COLE BAY--The invasion of the venomous lionfish in the local waters appears to be worsening with new types spotted by fishermen in shallow waters off the coast.

Nature Foundation has been busy responding to numerous calls after the first specimen was caught on July 24. Another specimen was captured on the Fu Sheng wreck on Monday while there have been three reports by fishermen in Little Bay and Simpson Bay Bridge.

"These are a little more alarming as they were reported in very shallow waters and can pose a threat to swimmers and bathers. They are also different species to the one captured on July 24," said Nature Foundation Manager Tadzio Bervoets.

The red lionfish, which is more aggressive and breeds much more prolifically than the black lionfish caught last week, are now being seen and efforts are being made to capture them.

Nature Foundation staff are attempting to collect the specimen reported at Little Bay and will continue to monitor them for additional specimens.

The public is urged to report any lionfish seen to Nature Foundation at 544-4267 or 527-0490, as well the activities they had been engaged in at the time, such as diving, fishing, or swimming.

"The main challenge we face now is the lack of legislation which would make controlling the infestation much easier. If we had the Marine Park Ordinance in place we would have more resources, including international help, to combat the infestation."

"But because we are lacking legal backing we have to struggle to control this matter, in additional to all other matters, which our marine eco-system is facing," concluded Bervoets.

Lionfish is native to the Indian Pacific oceanic region. This range extends from Western Australia and Malaysia east to French Polynesia and the Pitcairn Islands. It was introduced to this part of the world through the aquarium trade.

Fuel spill

page3a068Fuel spilled from a fuel holding tank at a SOL Antilles gas station on Tuesday, prompting the Fire Department to respond and try and clean-up before someone accidentally ignited it. At first it was reported the truck delivering the fuel belonged to SOL Antilles. However, David Antrobus of SOL clarified the fuel truck belonged to an independent contractor. In some cases, companies like SOL and Texaco outsource the delivery of fuel to independent drivers. So while the truck may not bare the companies' insignia and the drivers may not work directly for the company, he is usually compensated for delivering the fuel. The Fire Department scrubbed and hosed down the area and used absorbing materials in some of the nearby trenches where there was fuel.

Tripartite members boycott meeting with commissioner

PHILIPSBURG--Tripartite Committee TPC members are boycotting a meeting with Commissioner of Labour Hyacinth Richardson and new individuals that the Commissioner is reportedly trying to include in the committee. Before such a meeting happens, the current committee members have asked the Commissioner to meet with them first, as the committee is a legally-established body.

Their position has prompted Comprehensive Business Association (CBA) President Elco Rosario to dub their motives "a regretful tactic to delay deliberations and decision-making until after the upcoming elections."

Rosario, who is not currently part of the committee, is one of the persons the Commissioner had invited to a meeting of the committee on July 29, along with the Indian Merchants Association and others. The current committee members did not take these inclusions lightly and wished to address them under the agenda point "Restructuring of the Tripartite Committee" in the preliminary meeting requested.

Their letter to the Commissioner, from St. Maarten Hospitality and Trade Association (SHTA), Chamber of Commerce and Industry and UFA and WIFOL unions, reads in part: "Considering that the Tripartite Committee that was officially established through the recommendations of the Minister of Economy and Labour Bruney Elhage and confirmed by besluit [order-Ed.] 3993/06 on July 19, 2006, and also ratified in a letter from the Executive Council 1175/09 on April 2, 2009 [...]

"The committee as officially established comprises two representatives from labour, the UFA and the WIFOL, representing the island government, the Labour Department and a representative of the Minister. As such, the members of the committee are of the opinion that, before any initiative to be taken with regard to any changes to be brought to the present tripartite committee, a meeting should take place with the current members first."

Rosario said CBA had been "informed by reliable sources" that the initiative for the letter had come from a certain group within the membership of the business community that has two things in common: a desire to maintain the status quo regarding issues like the six-month contract and the minimum wage, and secondly "its massive support to a political party which they think shares their views."

"Those sources also informed us that said group managed to combine the aversion of some union members against us with their leaning towards that same political party to convince them to sign the letter, thereby ignoring and victimising the rightful desire to bring along the necessary changes in the minimum wage and the six-month contracts," Rosario said.

He added that, in his opinion, this would explain why the letter was discussed and drawn up at the last minute before the meeting, "without it even being discussed in the boards of all the respective signatories."

Rosario continued: "One member of the SHTA and one of the UFA were among those present at the opening time of the meeting and were completely unaware of the letter and flabbergasted at its contents. Another union member remarked that it "showed a total lack of respect, reason and responsibility," while a third person said that the signatories to the letter now owed an apology to the Commissioner and the St. Maarten people for exposing [their interest in] self above country at this crucial moment in their history."

Rosario explained that the Commissioner had announced, internally and externally, that he was eager to hear the opinion of the Tripartite Committee members about some very important labour and social issues, and also wanted to address the structure and composition of the committee which, "in the course of time, had lost the necessary clarity."

"While, for example, members of more unions than the two originally appointed by government had become involved with the committee, government itself lately has had no official representative in it. The Commissioner therefore had also invited some non-TPC members to the meeting, such as from the business community, the Indian Merchants Association and the undersigned president of the CBA, from the Union side, Claire Elshot of the WITU and Antonio Brown, and, on behalf of the Government, the lawyer Amador Muller."

He claimed that the Commissioner had only received the letter from the original members after waiting an hour for them to arrive at the meeting of July 29 and was "shocked by this revelation, as those members had received the invitation for the meeting more than a month ago without bringing up this demand beforehand."

Rosario said the only invitee at the meeting who never had been involved with the committee was himself, and therefore it appeared that the letter was a protest against his presence, "particularly because we had been opposed to last year's new employment-permit policy which they all had supported.

"We, however, do not see the possible aversion to our presence as the real reason behind the letter. If such were the case, we could have been asked to leave the meeting and we would have done so, as we would not have wanted our presence to delay the deliberations about the very urgent, pending issues," Rosario said.

Commissioner Richardson was not available for comment on Monday. Both the Chamber of Commerce and Industry and SHTA have maintained that the Commissioner should meet with original members first before any talk of expanding or including others.

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