Crocodile tears

POSTED: 08/12/15 4:17 PM

The outpouring of sympathy and support for police officer Gamali Benjamin has a dark side and it has nothing to do with the officer who so bravely did his job. It has to do with our community and with the way we tend to react to calamities and imminent disasters.

From the reactions we have seen so far – with the exception of the decisive action Justice Minister Richardson has announced – we figure that most people want to jump on the bandwagon to say something, but that it is best left to others to actually do something.

There are calls to write a plan to combat crime. That’s a nice one – as long as you keep people busy writing plans you don’t have to do anything and, more importantly, as long as others are writing those plans, it does not have to cost you a penny. Is this cynical or realistic?

We’d say that, based on prior events, this is realistic. Let’s look at all the talk about a surveillance camera system. How long has that been on and off the books? Five years? Ten? Fifteen? We don’t know for sure, but one thing is certain – a lot of words have been wasted on this issue, meetings have been held, research has been committed and at the end of the day bugger all has been achieved.

In June 2010 the Chamber of Commerce presented a comprehensive study about the St. Maarten Security System. People gathered at the Westin, so all this was done in style, for sure and those present received a clear presentation about what the system would look like.

All went well until the suggestion of a public-private partnership came up. That is when the meeting fell silent. National Alliance leader William Marlin was there to give the concept of the government’s support, but that was easy: he was talking about other people’s money. The private sector – after all the second player in a public-private partnership – did not step up to the plate, as soon as it realized where this was going – straight to their wallets.

The overall reaction after this meeting was one of disappointment. The brittle silence suggested that not one of the business community representatives at the meeting wanted to make a financial commitment. And without money, the security system was – and remains – dead in the water.

This is an excellent situation to subject to our rock solid formula I+A=R (Intention plus Action equals Result).

The Chamber of Commerce kick started the Intention part of this formula by commissioning a comprehensive study into the security system. Once that study was on the table, all the community had to do was take action to achieve the desired result.

We all know that, unlike figures, results do not lie. The result in this case is clear: a big fat zero.

Sure, there will be cameras here and there, but the comprehensive system that was on the mind of quite some people at the time never materialized.

What does this tell us? Well, people like whining, and complaining, just like they do in the current deplorable situation. Somebody has to do something, but don’t look at me – that seems to be the prevailing attitude. If we want “to move this country forward” (to use a favorite expression of local politicians) we need two things: ownership and action.

If we do not manage to put those two elements at work, we will still be talking about security cameras decades from now when cameras as such have become obsolete.

So who should take ownership? We’d say: the party that has the largest stake in security – the private sector. The Chamber of Commerce and the St. Maarten Hospitality and Trade Association are the two big players are representatives of the private sector.

They have to pull this cart because politicians obviously aren’t doing it, but that’s just the nature of the beast.

What kind of action should the owner of this problem bring about? Since we know what to do, we don’t need any more studies. What we need is money to put the whole caboodle in motion. So the owner will have to push the relevant authorities to get on the bandwagon.

Since safety and security is everybody’s problem – residents, business owners, and tourists alike – the owner should come up with a system that makes everybody contribute. Create a safety and security fund by charging for instance an additional penny on a liter of gasoline, a percentage on utility bills and an additional fee on top of the existing cruise head tax. Bam: there you have the money, now you can go to work.

What the flip are we waiting for? Will the Chamber wait for the SHTA to make a move, or will it be the other way around? Or, that’s also possible, will we wait until the next disaster and then spend some more crocodile tears?

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