Letter: Terminal reflections from Statia

POSTED: 02/14/12 3:35 PM

“If the law supposes that,” said Mr. Bumble, “the law is an ass!” Such were the inimitable words spoken by that colorful and hypocritical character from Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist. As the world celebrates 200 years of this literary genius, a lucid thought may be spared to the court proceedings that took place last Friday on Statia.
The case of the Monuments Foundation and fellow plaintiffs against the local government is a rare glimpse of how the style of court proceedings may be presented by government in the future. The substance of the case was an appeal against the possibility within the Spatial Development Plan for an expansion of NuStar’s oil storage terminal in the area known as The Farm. At stake was the protection of seventeenth century plantation buildings, slave burials and a plantation cemetery that embraces over 300 years of history on the island.
Many years ago, my fond former Human Resources director once uttered an English translation of a Dutch expression during an international meeting. “There comes the monkey out the sleeve!” He observed. For those participants unable to share the obscure genius of the remark, this graphic statement is translated into the Anglo Saxon vernacular as ‘The cat is out the bag!”
Fond readers of this media will be curious to recognize the features of this primate or feline manifestation. I shall explain. Barristers for the government and the multinational presented the case for the defense. Their legal wrangling was marred by abusive and personal remarks that betrayed the very nature of collusion. Monkeys were everywhere!
But first, those abusive remarks. Representing the plaintiffs was a volunteer. Whereas NuStar can afford to pay for top dollar barristers, we the people have to rely on volunteers albeit excellently equipped to argue our position. But the NuStar barrister was not having any of that. His allusion to ‘that man in a toga’ and ‘a trainee’ were discourteous at best and highly offensive at worst.
An unfortunate slip of the tongue? A forgivable twinge of emotional frustration in the heat of a judicial moment?
I think not.
It reflected the disrespect and insensitivity that NuStar shares for the local community. And the monkey antics continued. He asserted that the remains of the Statians buried on the site should be ‘put in boxes!’
Heritage is a sensitive issue especially on an island that treasures and honors its past. Slaves were not the architects of their colonial fate but their toil and work have earned the respect and interest of visitors and historians the world over. Their heritage lives on and it has a very serious almost religious attachment.
Law courts have all the trappings of a theater. Robes, roles and rhetoric intermingle upon a stage where human needs and frailties are examined. But our learned colleague from the government who we pay through our hard earned taxes and the NuStar legal eagle had no ear for the people’s need to object. Their argument that the Foundation and fellow plaintiffs were not stakeholders in the Spatial Plan and therefore had no right to legal objection was objectionable in itself.
They sang or rather warbled from the same hymn sheet. Even Puccini’s Madam Butterfly could not reproduce such eloquent betrayal. But from wherefore this synchronized duet? I shall tell you but it is not an honest tale.
For many months the Dutch and local government under Clyde Van Putten conspired to bamboozle its citizens into thinking their opinion counts. The Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and Environment even published a glowing environmental report that left out all the tricky questions and expanded the economic benefits. So much for their interest in the safety of local lives, land, sea and shores!
A second report compiled in schoolboy Dutch by the Vijn Consultancy was also scribbled and published. Commissioned by NuStar as a supposedly independent report, its omissions and false statements were significant. It was on the basis of this report dated January 27 that the governor signed off the NuStar expansion on January 19.
Wait a moment! How is that possible? Either telepathy or back-dating were involved. There are many other examples where telepathy, maladministration and failure to communicate correctly with the people of Statia are surfacing daily. And the Chimpanzee Tea Party has just begun. Monkeys are jumping out of many sleeves including those of the governor.
The people of Statia are now rightly angry at this conspiracy to fool them and ignore their voice. To quote local spokesman Joshua Spanner, “The people of Statia are the government!”
This might smack of Rousseau more than Puccini but the new incoming government had better wake up to the fact that there is wide-scale emotional opposition to the expansion on the Farm.
People of Statia can still deliver their objections to the Executive Council Office before next Thursday.
To complete my court reporting I leave you with yet another gem of legalistic logic from our esteemed government barrister. “The government’s will is greater than that of special interest.”
But what if the government’s will is the same as that of one particular special interest, NuStar?
“If the law really supposes that,” says Mr. Russell, “the law is an ass!”

James Russell
Tel.: 588-4390

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