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St. Maarten restates objections to Rutte

THE HAGUE/PHILIPSBURG--The Government of St. Maarten has informed the Kingdom Council of Ministers that it will adopt many of the recommendations by the Wit-Samson Integrity Committee, but not without reiterating its objections to the way The Hague imposed an integrity audit via the governor of St. Maarten and the "continued blurring of norms on the Kingdom level."

In the letter dated August 21, 2014, St. Maarten Prime Minister Sarah Wescot-Williams and Justice Minister Dennis Richardson informed Chairman of the Kingdom Council of Ministers, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte of the position of the St. Maarten Council of Ministers on the report of the Wit-Samson Committee. The letter was also addressed to President of the Parliament of St. Maarten Gracita Arrindell and St. Maarten Governor Eugene Holiday.

Wescot-Williams and Richardson reiterated St. Maarten's position on the decision of the Kingdom Council of Ministers to order an independent integrity audit by Kingdom Decree of September 30, 2013. According to Wescot-Williams and Richardson, that decision was "untimely, imprudent and disproportionate." The governor sent the audit report in question to the Kingdom government on Monday.

The chosen method to order this audit via the Regulation of the Governor was also "unconstitutional and illegitimate," stated Wescot-Williams and Richardson. The course of action remained regrettable since the governor of Aruba, in July this year, had to order an investigation of Aruba's 2014 budget via the "same illegitimate construction."

Wescot-Williams and Richardson stressed that, together with the Dutch Caribbean partners in the Kingdom, St. Maarten would keep trying to realise an independent form of dispute resolution within the Kingdom. So far, The Hague has not cooperated to realise such. The three Dutch Caribbean Parliaments recently agreed to join forces on this matter.

About the stance of The Hague, Wescot-Williams and Richardson stated: "This continued blurring of norms on Kingdom level has to stop to avert a possible complete hollowing out of the autonomy of the countries and the weakening of the solidarity of the countries in the Kingdom."

Wescot-Williams and Richardson warned that St. Maarten will appeal to the Governments of Aruba and Curaçao to object in any legal way against measures and decisions of the Kingdom government taken in an unlawful manner, and to declare these null and void as long as no dispute arrangement has been established.

The governors should not execute illegitimate decisions of the Kingdom Council of Ministers. "St. Maarten is willing to give the governors all support that they need and will appeal to [the Governments of – Ed.] Aruba and Curaçao to declare to do the same."

Regarding the report of the Wit-Samson Committee "Doing the Right Things Right," Wescot-Williams and Richardson announced that a plan of approach will be drafted to further work out and implement a number of recommendations of the committee. A progress committee will be established that will supervise the process and inform government.

In the letter, Wescot-Williams and Richardson elaborated on the lack of capacity at the National Detectives, which was one of the committee's findings. The committee pointed out that the support of The Hague in the further strengthening of the justice sector and help from outside was essential, but that this demanded a "positive attitude" of both St. Maarten and the Netherlands to cooperate.

"The Council of Ministers agrees with this and has already confirmed the partners in the Kingdom several times that this will for cooperation exists. The Council is thankful for the assistance from the Netherlands by the Royal Marechaussee and the assistance from Aruba for the National Detectives. The St. Maarten Police Force has assisted Saba and St. Eustatius several times in 2014."

Wescot-Williams and Richardson did call it "incomprehensible" that requests for operational assistance for the National Detectives and the Prosecutor's Office were dragged for a long time, especially in light of the critique of The Hague where it came to integrity.

The cooperation with the Netherlands in this aspect has not been flawless, stated the ministers. Requests for temporary additional personnel support for the operations of the National Detectives so far have not led to results. "This process has been ongoing for more than eight months – this in contrast to the immediate support that St. Maarten gave to the Caribbean Netherlands and Curaçao. Aruba has offered it immediate operational support where possible."

It was announced that the capacity of the National Detectives in St. Maarten would be strengthened with four additional detectives this year and another four next year, which would bring the capacity to 17 full-time units. The ideal capacity has been put at 20 full-time units.

US Party candidates call voters ‘to make a change’

page1a085CUL DE SAC--Voters were urged to head to the polls on Friday and make a change by voting for the United St. Maarten Party, headed by independent Member of Parliament Frans Richardson. The party leader and thirteen other candidates shared first final messages of campaign for Parliament at the party's final public meeting at the party's headquarters on Tuesday.

Richardson told supporters, "We are ready for change in this country." He called on voters "to send a message" to the "expired politicians" that the "time has come to get out of office."

He criticised the plans of the United People's (UP) party to build a new hospital as expensive and burdensome for the people as it will cost about US $300 million. It would be better to work with the existing hospital upgrading plans.

Voters should be weary of plans to dollarize the economy as indicated by UP and the Democratic Party (DP), because this will only increase cost of living further, Richardson.

He also called for better cooperation with the French side, saying that some of the politicians who have election posters on that side of the island are the very ones "who have been stopping progress" on the French side.

Other political parties are "going after the heads" of young St. Maarteners such as the heads of the Harbour Group of Companies, St. Maarten Housing Development Foundation and Postal Services St. Maarten, said Richardson. This will not be stand for by the US Party thus the needs for "a change" of the other parties from Parliament.

The party's number two candidate Leona Romeo-Marlin started her speech with a moment of silence as a stance "to end political victimization." She said many people are "scared to expressed who they want to back" fearing for their jobs. She called on them to "stand out and promote the people you want." Policy wise, she said US Party will change whole tax system to better the country.

Education is "an injustice" to the country's children, because it allows them to graduate too early and without being properly equipped for the world, said Anna Rabess-Richardson (#3). She is keen on tackling poverty, other social ills of the country and the establishment of a military academy, paid for by the Dutch Government, for youngsters. The US party, she said, is "the new opportunity for St. Maarten."

Rueben Thompson (#4) asked the voters to look around the country and take in the state of the roads, sewage running on the streets, the filling-in of Great Salt Pond and ever-growing landfill. With that picture is asked voters to question if they have "truly benefited from tourism-based economy." He said the present and past government have been destroying natural beauty of the country that tourists come to see.

Lisa Alexander (#5) said there is "massive corruption" in government caused by the way the Constitution is written. She plans to champion changes to the constitution. "The laws have failed us, time to rewrite them." She wants government-owned companies to be privatized and sold in shares to residents.

Harlec Doran (#6) said UP promised jobs and only delivered a bridge, "but people can't eat a bridge." US Party "guarantees" voters that government-owned companies will no longer "make millions on the back of the people."

Richinel Burg (#7) said the president government has "failed us, because of the people living in poverty" and no poverty line study has been executed to guide and fix the promises.

Fernando Clark (#8), who was also the meeting's master of ceremonies, said the UP leader "was condemned by court for wrongdoing" this week. He was referring to the so-called vote buying case that was thrown out by the court. He told supporter UP will approach them "to buy your vote" and they should not sell their vote. "UP leader is not a leader, he's a briber," Clark said.

Earl Duzong (#9) said there is a need for a "cultural arts facilities," sports facilities in every district and a new multi-purpose facility to boost sports tourism. He told supporters: "We need you, just like you need us."

Myrna Richardson (#10) said the pre-election polls are "only there to distract" voters and should not be paid attention. The US party has "been ready for four years" to govern the country. Her message to the people of Saba and St. Eustatius who can vote here was that if they didn't vote for the US Party, their "lives will not be good ... you will suffer."

Sergio Bryson (#11), said voters deserved a government who will listen to the people.

Curtis Thomas (#12) said people "can't afford bread, sardine or corned beef" in St. Maarten and people are in need of jobs.

Jeanine Espacia (#13) said job creation is a priority for the US Party as are a youth-to-employment programme, and the upgrade of educational level to make St. Maarten "the most educated country in the Caribbean."

Lloyd Paul (#15) said the party will ensure there is no tax levied on pensioners, will bring relief "to the lower class people," and tax breaks for small businesses.

Roberto Hunt (#14) was not at the public meeting. He had been missing from the candidates' line up for several meetings now. No mention was made at the meeting about the reason for his absence. There has been talk in the community about him leaving the party, but there has been no formal statement from Hunt and the talk of him abandoning the party has been dismissed by people close to the party.

Van Raak, Bosman shocked by ruling in vote-buying case

THE HAGUE--Members of the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament André Bosman of the liberal democratic VVD party and Ronald van Raak of the Socialist Party (SP) said on Tuesday that they were shocked by the decision of the Court in St. Maarten's vote-buying case.

The Court of First Instance on Monday declared inadmissible the Prosecutor's Office's cases against five persons who were allegedly involved in the selling and buying of votes on behalf of the United People's (UP) party in the September 2010 election.

"I am truly shocked by the Court's decision," Van Raak told The Daily Herald in a reaction. "A shame for the Kingdom," responded Bosman. Van Raak has submitted written questions to Dutch Minister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Ronald Plasterk in an effort to get clarity as to the non-prosecution of what he termed "mass election fraud" in St. Maarten.

Van Raak and Bosman were especially shocked by the Judge's finding that the Prosecutor's Office had decided to prosecute only five suspects and that it had failed to investigate the roles of UP and its leadership in the scheme. According to the Prosecution, the investigation had focused on the five suspects due to the National Detectives' lack of capacity.

"I find it incomprehensible that the Prosecutor's Office didn't carry out a broader investigation to include the UP top. Especially since the Judge found that the case file itself contained sufficient indications warranting such an investigation," said Bosman.

The Judge did consider it proven that four suspects had sold their votes in exchange for money and that the UP-representative had offered money in exchange for their votes. "The Judge was very clear on that aspect," said Bosman.

Both Bosman and Van Raak were concerned that the true culprits in this case would get away scot-free. "This is a high profile case covering four years and now it is slipping through our fingers because the Prosecution didn't do a proper job. This is a shame for the Kingdom," said Bosman.

"There are many plans and reports to improve integrity in St. Maarten, but in the meantime it appears that some politicians are getting away with everything. Theo Heyliger has also been mentioned in the Bada Bing bribery case. We should be careful that some people don't end up above the law," said Van Raak.

According to Van Raak, the Kingdom Government and by extension the Dutch Government has a responsibility to assist the St. Maarten justice sector in solving the problem of manpower. "If the Kingdom is responsible for good governance, than we should ensure sufficient capacity to make this happen. If we say that tackling corruption in St. Maarten is important, than we should also make sure that investigations can be duly carried out," he said.

In the written questions that he posed to Plasterk, Van Raak asked whether the minister agreed with the Judge in St. Maarten that the Prosecution was guilty of "class justice" for not investigating the top of the UP party.

Van Raak wanted to know whether it was correct that Heyliger had donated US $3 million to his party for the previous elections in 2010. "Is my calculation correct that with an electorate of some 20,000 persons, this reflects some 150 dollars per voter?"

The Member of Parliament (MP) further asked whether it was correct that in 2010 people were standing in line in front of UP's campaign building to receive money and that the party has its own registration system to check that people would indeed cast their vote.

"Do you share my concerns that this same Mr. Heyliger will be re-elected into the Parliament of St. Maarten this Friday without a proper investigation of election fraud having taken place?" Van Raak asked Plasterk.

Van Raak and Bosman are worried about the elections this Friday. "I hope that the people will think very hard when they make their choice," said Bosman, who added that he would keep the pressure on St. Maarten until issues like vote-buying and corruption had been properly tackled.

UP’s case to obtain copy of voting register thrown out

PHILIPSBURG--The Court on Tuesday declared United People's (UP) Party Association and its chairperson and Member of Parliament (MP) Sylvia Meyers-Olivacce inadmissible in the injunction it had filed to obtain a copy of the voting register.

Upon hearing the Judge's decision, UP's lawyers Peggy-Ann Brandon and Brenda Brooks announced they would immediately file a new and similar injunction against Country St. Maarten, which may already be heard as early as today, Wednesday.

The initial injunction was filed against the Minister of General Affairs and the Government of St. Maarten, but as the Judge said, these official "entities" should not have been subjected to the injunction, but Country St. Maarten.

Prime Minister and Minister of General Affairs Sarah Wescot-Williams nor any other cabinet member was present at Tuesday's hearing. The defendants were being represented by policy worker at the Department of Legal Affairs and Legislation Lineke Haandrikman and attorney-at-law Richard Gibson Jr.

In the litigation, UP is seeking a court order to provide the party with a copy of the voting register within three hours after a judgement, against payment of a fine in case of non-compliance.

UP said it had requested a copy of the voting register for the parliamentary election of Friday, August 29, with the Minister of General Affairs on August 13, but had not received a response.

In the Election Ordinance it is stipulated that the Minister of General Affairs is responsible for the registration of eligible voters with the Civil Registry.

The Minister is obligated to provide information about the voting register free of charge to any (authorised) person to enable persons to ascertain whether his or her personal information in the register is correct.

Under Netherlands Antilles' law, copies of the register were also made available to political parties, but this stipulation was not adopted in the Election Ordinance of Country St. Maarten.

UP's lawyers said the party wanted a copy of the voting register, because it needed to ascertain whether information in the register was correct and to be able to reach and inform voters. UP also needed the information to meet its legal obligation to verify if party donors were indeed eligible voters, it was added.

The party rejected objections that making copies of the register available would be in violation of the right to protection of personal information.

"Voting cards are being openly distributed without an envelope and dropped in roadside mailboxes," said Brandon in response.

Government's lawyer recommended the Court to throw out the case and reject the injunction, because government is only allowed to provide information on the voting register in individual cases.

"Government cannot make the full register available to political parties. The privacy of voters is the basic principle," said Gibson.

According to Brandon, UP was not at an equal footing with other parties. She pointed to the fact that Prime Minister Wescot-Williams, who is the number one candidate on the Democratic Party slate, and Head of the Civil Registry Leona Marlin-Romeo, the number two on the United St. Maarten (US) party list, by virtue of their position would both have easy access to the voting register.

"We requested an updated version of the register from the Census Office, but we did not get it. It is my right as president of the party to obtain this information. We have proof that other persons from other political parties had access. We want this as well," Meyers told the Judge.

UP: DP being judge, jury before a harbour verdict

PHILIPSBURG--The board of the United People's Party (UP) has taken note of the position of Democratic Party (DP) on the lawsuit initiated by Zebec NV against St. Maarten Harbour Group of Companies and Chief Executive Officer Mark Mingo.

The board said in a press statement: "It is very unfortunate that the DP is ready to tear down a local government-owned company which is managed by a local young professional. DP is at it again, the same thing they did with Postal Services St. Maarten (PSS), firing a young professional who served as the Managing Director, and took him to court four times after he fought for his rights. In the end the young professional that once managed PSS was vindicated when the judgment came in his favour.

"Now the DP is out to get the young professional who has spearheaded the development of Port St. Maarten. We find this very unfortunate with the DP making this matter a political issue only for short-sighted political mileage. The DP is being judge and jury if you read their story in the newspaper today where the DP says: 'How could the CEO of the harbour, knowing that the company entered into a legally binding development contract with a third party, not uphold the rights of the third party?'

"This statement alone tells you even before a court ruling that the DP Party has already convicted the harbour management and supervisory board of directors. To add on top of that, the DP Party is placing investor relations at risk as well, all for political mileage," the board said.

"The ranting of the DP Party will have serious consequences for the investment climate of the country. Investors are monitoring what is going on in the country and without a doubt they have taken note of this one-sided position taken by the DP Party where it concerns the interests of the country.

"Allow the legal process to take its course rather than jumping on the bandwagon to cut down local people for the DP's own self-interests. The DP Party position on this matter totally demonstrates that they are not getting it right and shows that they are not ready," the board said.

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