“I doubt that Tourism Minister understands his role” – UP-leader Theo Heyliger takes government to task

POSTED: 11/12/12 1:30 PM

St. Maarten – A tunnel from St. Peters to Cole Bay would cost around $200 million and the government would have to bring up $1.6 million a year to cover these costs, United People’s party-leader Theo Heyliger said in a TV-broadcast of Oral Gibbes Live last week.

The former Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Public Housing, Urban Planning, Environment and Infrastructure was highly critical of the current coalition-government, saying that he doubts whether Tourism and Economic Affairs Minister Romeo Pantophlet understands what his role is, and suggesting that Harbor Group of Companies Mark Mingo had been “told by someone he must have been scared off” to move sand from Great Bay into the Great Salt Pond for the construction of a drag racing strip.

Questioned about the fall of his coalition government during the calypso coup in April, Heyliger said that “no one has been able to explain the reason why the coalition broke.”

“There were different rumors in the beginning. I gave contracts to this one and that one, and to family members. Show me where those contracts were given out – there are none. The reasons why people left the party cannot be evaluated,” Heyliger said without naming the former faction leader of his UP-party who was instrumental to the government’s fall when he decided to become an independent MP and withdraw his support from the UP/DP-coalition.

Heyliger noted that the new coalition has not brought anything new: “Many of the projects that were done by the former coalition are the only things that are going on in government. Nothing new, nothing substantial has come out, other than some very strange and new ideas. None of them I can see coming to reality.”

The former vice prime minister showed pride in the progress of the causeway-project. “Yes, the bridge to nowhere as they call it is moving along very fast. It will be finished according to the contract on December 15, 2013. Then people will see how this will work out. It will be a beautiful bridge of which we can all be proud.”

Heyliger said that fiber optic lights will light up the bridge at night. “and not only in my color green, but also in red and blue and a few other colors,” he said. “I think it will be an icon for St. Maarten.”

The UP-leader said that projects ought to be preceded by “a lot of feasibility-studies,” and that one of the options that has been studied as an alternative for the causeway now under construction is a tunnel. “The causeway is a project of about $42 million. The cost of building a tunnel would have been triple that, around $120 million.”

Referring to the tunnel-project proposed by his successor William Marlin, Heyliger estimated that such a project would cost around $200 million. “If you have a $200 million loan at 5.5 percent over fifteen years you’re talking about paying back $1.6 million a year,” he said. “If you want to charge people a toll – based on 15,000 registered cars – they would all have to cross that tunnel four times a day to make it feasible. Or you would have to give up the whole budget of country St. Maarten for a year – and I am not taking onto account the maintenance and operational costs of such a project.”

Heyliger said that he deliberately kept very quiet after the fall of his government. After more than fifteen years in politics, he noted that he had been “the bashing board of everyone for too long.”

“With every program we did I have been criticized – Front Street, Back street, the Boardwalk – but guess what: today we are ranked number 1 in the Caribbean in terms of cruise passenger spending, and we all rank high in customer satisfaction. Now everything is haphazard.”

Heyliger especially targeted Minister Romeo Pantophlet in his criticism. “You have a minister of Tourism and Economic Affairs of whim I doubt that he understands what his role is. You’re talking about investing half a million dollars in Tempo and up to today we don’t even know the artists they are going to bring down, or what kind of advertising is going on in the United States.”

The Summerfest that was organized years ago was “St. Maarten’s very own,” Heyliger said. “When we invested in that project there were big complaints from those who are now in the government. They have no clue what this program with Tempo is going to bring for St. Maarten. They should have invested that money with the airlines, to bring visitors from other destinations to St. Maarten, after hurricane Sandy we don’t even know where the tourists will be coming from this season.”

Heyliger said that there is “no cohesion” in the current government. “You basically have three factions: the National Alliance, the Democratic Party and the Independent MPs. The prime minister is doing her best, but the government is held hostage by the three amigos.” That last term is a reference to independent MPs Frans Richardson, Patrick Illidge and Romain Laville.

Heyliger took the government to task for the ill-fated plan to build a drag racing strip in the Great Salt Pond. “There is no plan for that race track, there is no engineering. The harbor dredged sand in the Great Bay area for no reason. That cost $4.95 million – and no bidding went out. And nobody asks questions why dredging was needed there.”

Heyliger said he’d heard rumors that big ships from Panama would come to St. Maarten after the renovation of the Panama Canal. “That is all nonsense,” he said. “Those ships are the size of our harbor. You’ll never get those max-ships to come here. The cranes we have hardly fit those ships.”

The dredging, Heyliger concluded, was therefore done to fill in the Great Salt Pond. “You have heard our prime minister say that she has no clue who gave the permission to do this. Note there is no plan for a race track, no money to build it, no plan who would manage it, no planning whatsoever. I have been in government since 1995. And having no clue who gave permission? That is not possible. You cannot fill in the Great Salt Pond and nobody knows what is going on. They are pushing it under the carpet now like it never happened. It is amazing that nobody seems to know how that sand showed up in the Great Salt Pond.”

Heyliger said that there was no permission to dredge sand at the bottom of the bay.  “That sand belongs to the government. The harbor has to have permission and somebody must have given it. I don’t think that Mark Mingo (CEO of the Harbor Group of Companies – ed.) considers himself the Supreme Being in St. Maarten. He must have been told by someone that he just be scared off to move that sand.”

Heyliger also questioned the money that was paid for the dredging. “They spent $4.95 million on the dredging alone. That is nearly triple the price for dredging that was done before. Add to that, say, $1.5 million for moving the sand – I don’t know those costs exactly. That was in no way part of the budget of the harbor, but I think I know where that money came from.”

Heyliger said that part of the causeway contract was an amount of $5 million for the upgrading of the Union Road in Cole Bay – from the French border to the roundabout that will connect the road coming from the causeway to Union Road. “That project has not started so I think they moved that money towards the cost of dredging.”

Heyliger said that the dredging in the bay was not a maintenance operation: “That would have cost at most $200,000, not $5 million.”

The UP-leader criticized Minister Pantophlet for firing two board members on the harbor’s supervisory board – Kevin Bloyden and Mike Alexander – last week Friday. “all this just because they questioned whether proper procedures were followed. But no procedures are followed, no advice is being sought. And nobody questions why the rules are not being followed. It is amazing to see the things that are going on right now on our beautiful island.”

Later on in the broadcast, Heyliger said that his coalition was broken up by “some unscrupulous politicians,” without naming the main players in this event: the independent MPs Richardson, Laville and Illidge. “So okay, I’m in the opposition now, but I am not going to cry about it,” Heyliger concluded.



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“I doubt that Tourism Minister understands his role” - UP-leader Theo Heyliger takes government to task by

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