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Frustrated prison guards want meeting with Rohan, Dennis

~ Concerned about safety, security ~

PHILIPSBURG--The Pointe Blanche prison operated with what workers called a "skeletal staff" Monday as frustrated prison guards assembled at the Windward Islands Civil Servants Union/Private Sector Union (WICSU/PSU) during work hours to demand an audience with Prison Director Edward Rohan and Justice Minister Dennis Richardson on their safety and security following the recent violent incident at the prison.

WICSU/PSU official William Reed said members are prepared to continue meeting at the union's office until the director and minister decide to meet with them about their concerns. The union sent an email to Rohan and Richardson early yesterday requesting a meeting.

However, in an invited comment Rohan told The Daily Herald that while he planned to meet with the workers this week, he is unable to do so before Wednesday because the situation at the prison is still very volatile and his presence is required there. "I don't have any time to go and sit with the union today [Monday – Ed.], there is still a lot of tension at the prison," Rohan said. "But I will sit and talk with all of them because we have to work together. This situation happened last Thursday. On Friday we did searches and today [yesterday – Ed.] is Monday, I was busy talking with inmates, but I will meet with the workers this week for sure."

Reed said prison guards were frustrated and unhappy that the director hadn't addressed them since last Thursday's violent incident at the prison. An inmate was seriously injured and a number of weapons including two guns were discovered in the prison in a subsequent search. Prison guards said this had been the first time guns had been found in the prison and they were concerned about their safety on the job.

Reed said prison guards want a clear plan of action put in place to address security and safety concerns at the facility. Prison guards were very critical of the management of the penal institution, saying that ever since Rohan took up the helm at the prison, "things have only gotten worse." They accused the management team of being a lame duck and the director unable to firmly address the issues facing the facility. "He [Rohan – Ed.] has shown that he cannot handle the situation at the prison," Reed contends. "And if he cannot handle the situation then he should do the honourable thing."

"The workers feel as if they are on their own. There is a high degree of trauma among the workers who are faced with a very dangerous situation," Reed added. "They want the prison director to talk to them. They are demanding change and this has to start today."

Weapons

The finding of two firearms at the prison is one of the primary reasons why guards feel that their safety is at risk. Reed said 99 per cent of the prison guards were worried that one of their colleagues was possibly responsible for smuggling the guns into the prison and felt as though this jeopardized the safety of everyone.

Some said that it could not be ruled out that security officers from the private security firm that guards sections of the facility were involved in getting the items to inmates.

Rohan believes that there is no question as to how the weapons got into the prison. "How did the guns get in there? I don't think the prisoners went outside and got them. I don't think it came by mail. They had to get in there somewhere or the other," he said.

Resolution

The frustration amongst prison guards was evident during the meeting as several of them expressed their dissatisfaction with what has been taking place at the facility. The guards believe that their concerns to prison management have been falling on deaf ears. Reed as well as several prison guards said numerous suggestions have been made on bolstering the manpower at the prison to increase safety and security.

Suggestions included seeking temporary manpower assistance from the Netherlands and using the services of Voluntary Corps St. Maarten VKS officers who are currently unemployed to man key sections of the prison that are currently guarded by unarmed workers from a local security company. The prison guards said it was not ideal for the main entrance of the prison as well as the lookout tower to be manned by unarmed security officers from a private firm.

Rohan said he has been working on trying to get assistance from the Netherlands since 2012, but noted that getting workers from the Netherlands to quit their jobs to come to St. Maarten to work would be costly as these persons would have to be provided with a proper salary and housing, none of which the prison can afford. "If we don't have the money to employ someone here on the island, how will we be able to bring in nine to 20 people from Holland? Even a little child can understand this. The prison needs funds and we need to improve the situation by starting to pay prison guards here more salary," Rohan said adding that bringing in guards from the Netherlands is no guarantee that the security issues will be resolved.

The Prison Director said too that many VKS officers have second jobs and told him they were unwilling to work at the prison. "The VKS officers said if they work in the prison, the prison guards will still go to sleep (call in sick). We already have some VKS officers at the prison and they are the ones working and the prison staff who are supposed to work, are reporting sick."

Preference for inmates

Another concern of prison guards is what they see as preference for inmates. One guard spoke of an incident in which an inmate shoved a guard and instead of being immediately taken into solitary confinement as punishment, the inmate was allowed to finish up his errands before he was placed in confinement and the guard whom he allegedly attacked was asked if they had been "ok" with this measure. Rohan said he was not aware of this incident.

Another guard said it was difficult for prison guards to conduct their duties to, for example, check the cells of inmates as prisoners were allowed to hang sheets and cloths blocking the entrance of their cells as well as around their beds. The prison guard said this was not just an impediment to their executing their duties, it was also a dangerous situation as they had to resort to climbing on top of something to peer over the cloths covering the entrance of cells to see if the inmate was in their cells during patrols, while having their weapons on them. The guard said the sheets would be removed one day and given back to the inmate the next day.

Rohan said it was the duty of the prison guards to remove items that inmates use to block their cells. "They are talking about being unable to see the prisoner in their cells because the prisoners are tying up sheets, but they are the ones who are supposed to take them down not me," Rohan said. "They can go to the union and say these things, but who are supposed to take them down. They have to do their work. I always say that I would like cell inspections done three times a week."

Rohan said prison guards were creating their own problems due to the high level of absenteeism due to sick leave, which he said was a major problem at the penal institution.

"It is a challenging situation, but it can be real simple if everyone just do their jobs and do what they have to do."

Reed, however, said that the "easiest thing" for prison guards who are concerned about their safety to do is call in sick. He said too that it was not just at the prison that workers go on sick leave. "The Director doesn't want to hear that people are on sick leave, but in every work environment you will find that people are sick occasionally," Reed said. "Every time there is an accusation, it is the workers fault, but we believe that the Director also has to take responsibility as he is considered the father of the prison."

Rohan said many of the workers who attended the meeting at the union office were out sick just last week. "Every single day there are people calling in sick; when I walk into the prison at 6:45am, the workers look at me and say this one has called in sick and that one has called in sick. If we need seven staff members to start morning shift and three call in sick and two have to go to the doctor before they go on the job, then they are creating problems for themselves. It's the same routine every day and this short staff didn't start yesterday and didn't start in 2012 it started in 2003 and 2004. I am busy trying to get persons to work in the prison, but to work here you need to go to school."

No effects

In the meantime, Rohan said the current action by prison guards to hold meetings at their union has not affected the facility as inmates have been in their cells on "lockdown" since last week's incident for the safety of inmates and prison guards.

He said he has an open door policy and can be approached with any issue, but the union said its members' suggestions are disregarded and their calls for Rohan to experience what prison guards go through by, amongst other things, going to the back of the prison, are fruitless. "The staff can always come to me, but they like to talk behind my back, but no one comes in," Rohan said.

Nicole de Weever behind the scenes at Swizz Beatz party

5aNEW YORK--Professional Broadway dancer Nicole de Weever, best known for her role as Art Saves Lives (ASL) Founder and St. Maarten Cultural Ambassador, worked with R&B singer-songwriter Alicia Augello-Cook, better known as Alicia Keys and Artistic Director Luam Keflezgy in throwing a surprise "Coming to America" themed birthday party for Keys' husband, hip-hop artiste Kasseem "Swizz Beatz" Dean in New York on September 12.

De Weever acted as an assistant to Luamky Productions Artistic Director and Choreographer Luam Keflezgy, who also taught hip-hop for ASL in the summer of 2014. De Weever was involved in costume design, as well as casting of the dancers, drummers and choreographer Abdel Salaam, who is the Director of the 'Forces of Nature Dance Theatre.'

The dance troupe gave an energetic West African performance to live drumming, in costumes complete with body paint and feathered head pieces. They cleared a path on the floor for Keys' grand entrance as she walked up to Dean, who sat on a red and gold coloured throne.

"It was a dream come true for me, working behind the scenes which is a process I really enjoy, as well as making the impossible possible and providing opportunities for others," De Weever said.

"Forces of Nature was the first dance company I toured with. I performed a 23-city tour with this company, it was one of my first jobs out of college. Life just works full circle." She added that it was great to be in a place in her life and career where she could provide an opportunity of a lifetime to people who had once done the same for her.

"I am extremely grateful to Alicia Keys and Luam Keflezgy for trusting in my talent." This is De Weever's second time working for both women, but she described it as "a whole other artistic level." She called it an honour to have worked with them, who she called "inspirational" and "brilliant, both on and off stage."

The star studded party, covered by major news outlets, was held at the Capitale venue. The African theme was based on the classic 1988 Eddie Murphy film "Coming to America." It was Dean's 36th birthday celebration, and Keys is currently around six months pregnant with the couple's second child.

Marlin on track to report to governor on Sept. 24

PHILIPSBURG--National Alliance (NA) Member of Parliament William Marlin expects to complete his tasks of forming a new government by September 24, according to a press statement.

Marlin, who was appointed Formateur by Governor Eugene Holiday, has met three times with the governor to update him on the progress made since his appointment earlier this month.

The governing programme for 2014-2018 should be completed before the swearing-in of the new Parliament on October 10 and the Council of Ministers on the following day.

A team of nine people – three each from the United St. Maarten Party, Democratic Party (DP) and NA – have been working on the governing programme. A team from governmental consultancy firm Bearing Point is supporting the team.

All candidate-ministers have been identified by the three coalition partners. Marlin will start to interview the candidates this week.

All candidate-ministers will have to present information required by the National Ordinance regulating the screening of ministers, including an integrity declaration and the questionnaire on their background, activities, financial and tax position and interests. Each candidate must also submit a declaration from the Inspectorate of Taxes and the Receiver’s Office indicating their compliance with their tax obligations.

All completed forms will be submitted by Marlin with a request for screening of all candidate-ministers by the Prosecutor’s Office for the judicial background check and the National Security Service for the security check.

Marlin will present his final report on the formation of the new government following the August 29 Parliamentary Elections with the governing programme to the governor after he has all the completed forms, including tax declarations and the screening results for the candidate-ministers.

With competition spending millions, Mingo stresses cruise re-invention

PHILIPSBURG--With news over the weekend of Antigua's intention to construct a multi-million-dollar cruise facility, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Port of St. Maarten Mark Mingo used the opportunity to re-iterate a position he has championed on numerous occasions: the importance of St. Maarten re-inventing itself as a cruise destination.

Local online news outlet Soualiga Newsday

(www. soualiganewsday.com) reported on Friday that the Antigua Port Authority announced a US $200 million redevelopment of its current facilities that serve cruise passengers.

This redevelopment includes a new cruise terminal; cargo/container facility; a logistics park; warehousing; distribution and fulfilment services; and bunkering facilities. The project is forecast, according to Antiguan port authorities, to get off the ground early 2015 and take 36 months to complete. Financing for the US $200 million project is expected to come from the Chinese.

Invited for his reaction by The Daily Herald, Mingo said that after hitting 50 years of cruising in 2014, Port St. Maarten has reached the crossroads in its cruise development and is now considered a mature destination. "As a cruise destination, we now have to reinvent ourselves.

"If we keep looking in the past, we will not move forward. The competition is fierce in the cruise business. St. Maarten as a cruise destination has to look at where we go from here. We don't have any time to waste, because our competitors are moving forward," he said.

"We have competitors at our doorstep, such as the Federations of St. Kitts and Nevis, Antigua and Barbuda, as well as the US Virgin Islands and the British Virgin Islands. They are all working on expanding their cruise facilities and securing millions of dollars to do so, because they also want to be on top," he added.

Mingo explained that, at the moment, St. Maarten is focused on coastal blue tourism, where the emphasis is on anything and everything related to the sea, sun and sand. All services and products mostly cater to the cruise passenger and are primarily beach-related. This, he stressed, must be complemented with more.

"We need to transition from this area and add something else as part of reinventing cruise tourism. Blue coastal tourism will always be there. We now need to add urban heritage grey tourism to our tourism mix, which looks at cultural/heritage and environmental/green tourism. The development of the aforementioned will give an impetus in economic development, environmental conservation, enhancement of heritage and cultural sites, which in turn will increase the identity and well-being of our community," he explained.

Mingo said the 21st FCCA Cruise Convention and Exhibition being hosted by destination St. Maarten will allow the port to bring all stakeholders together at one location. Insight will be provided into current trends and developments in the cruise sector and where things will be in five to 10 years from now.

He added that the formation of the St. Maarten Tourism Authority is also very essential in reinventing our tourism product, and Port of St. Maarten has played an important role in getting this moving in collaboration with the minister of tourism and other stakeholders.

"The continued innovation and development of shore excursions is necessary to keep the cruise sector alive and vibrant. New excursions mean new entrepreneurs are in business, which also translates into job creation. We also need additional brand-named hotels as well as cruise conversions. The latter is very important because, when there is a dip in cruise, we can offset with stay-over visitors and vice versa.

"St. Maarten's cruise sector is worth more than US $350 million annually and employs directly and indirectly thousands of people. This is a sector that we cannot fool around with, and we have to plan in a strategic manner to protect the sector by reinventing cruise St. Maarten in order to maintain the economic input into our economy and protect existing jobs and create more jobs for our people," CEO Mark Mingo said on Sunday.

Man shot in chest in drive-by shooting

page1b101CUL DE SAC--A 25-year-old man from French Quarter was brought into the hospital by friends on Sunday morning after having been shot in the chest, a source confirmed.

K.L.B. had been a passenger in a grey Kia Picanto, which had come from St. Peters and was approaching the roundabout near Le Grand Marché in Cul de Sac in the left lane, preparing to turn left towards Philipsburg.

Another vehicle pulled up next to the vehicle in the right-hand lane, and at least one shot was fired into the Kia, hitting L.B. in the upper left chest. The vehicle then sped off in the direction of Cole Bay.

L.B. is believed to have been in the car with two other men. The driver continued directly to the hospital, where L.B. was admitted in a critical condition. Detectives attended the hospital, along with forensic investigators who examined the Kia in which L.B. had been taken to the hospital.

A source at the hospital confirmed that L.B. had been brought in with a gunshot wound to the chest, and that he was initially in critical condition. However, he has since stabilised and is expected to survive the shooting.

It is unclear at this stage if the shooting is linked to any of the recent murders. The police were unable to comment, but are expecting to be able to give more information today, Monday.

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