St. Maarten Justice Ministry fighting crime while building foundation

POSTED: 09/27/11 1:08 PM

“There’s a lack of everything”

St. Maarten – Justice Minister Roland Duncan has told parliament his ministry will continue to focus on construction in the year 2012 as it also continues to deal with the crime situation and its other responsibilities. The remark is part of answers provided during a debate on the crime situation that began on Monday morning and will continue at 4:00 p.m. today.

“My ministry’s main focus is construction. There’s a lack of everything. We need means and buildings. We’re also trying to deal with crime, but without facilities, we won’t be able to solve problems. Without a foundation in place we won’t get anywhere. We are also busy formulating plans to combat crime on the short, medium and long term,” Duncan said.

The minister was clear that while he wants to keep building up the ministry and provide more personnel and equipment, he remains challenged by a lack of financial resources.

“I can wish to have as much in 2012 as I did in 2011. We will not be able to splurge and we will have a challenge recruiting as the budget is an accumulation of scarce resources. We will continue to be challenged with salaries for positions required under the Plans of Approach, but the police must come to their minimum strength,” Duncan said.

One injection that will help carry the ministry next year is an agreement for St. Maarten to get two million guilders from the Crime Fund. The agreement for the money to be transferred was signed with Curacao’s Minister of Justice Elmer “Kade” Wilsoe who came to St. Maarten on a working visit. Though he’s signed for the disbursement Duncan is not happy with the amount.

“It bothers me to give in but we need the funds,” Duncan said.

Government will also use 9.5 million guilders in financing from USONA in 2012 to execute projects that are part of the Safety Plan St. Maarten. The projects include finishing the upgrades at the Simpson Bay Police Station, which is now almost complete, financing the creation of training center for uniformed services, repairing the Pointe Blanche Prison, creating community police and doing integrity training for several of the uniformed services.

In terms of adding personnel Duncan is banking on the people who are part of the BAVPOL program – for which he already has 30 applicants for a new course that begins in January -, the trainees in the basic police training program and the 20 officers who will begin arriving in November. Some 15 of those officers will serve as patrol officers and the other five will be detectives. They will receive salaries equal to their local counterparts and they will also get financing from the Netherlands in the form of a rent allowance and for moving costs.

The minister also defended the fact that officers from the Voluntary Korps St. Maarten who have worked along with the police are taking part in the BAVPOL.

“Yes they used to assist the police, but it was not their job. We’re now offering them a career so they are not on loan anymore and we’re also giving them better training, so they can move up the ladder of the service that they choose,” Duncan said.

The minister has also announced that he’s held off on conducting immigration raids until the Brooks Tower Accord Project had been finalized. Once it is, the minister intends to begin the controls again so people who are living here without the required documents are expelled. Those who are caught will be housed in the Simpson Bay Police Station until they are expelled.

Financial and personnel challenges not withstanding Duncan has said that his ministry’s services are coming along “slowly but surely.” Another way he plans to deal with his personnel shortage is to recall retired police officers to serve as advisors within the ministry. There are also efforts to ensure that resources are optimized because the police are focusing on their core task of crime detection and maintaining public order.

Overtime/Benefits

Duncan also told parliament that while the last Antillean Justice Minister Magali Jacoba had signed and published a national resolution that police could only work 30 hours of overtime per month, it had not yet taken effect. He plans to make an amendment when he publishes the decree that will make the national resolution effective.

The minister also made it clear that Country St. Maarten does not have the finances to carry promises made by Jacoba in terms of secondary benefits. He also pointed out that the Netherlands Antilles had not finished the promised clean up of the claims by the police and other uniformed services.

“There’s a committee on Curacao finishing the process of handling all the justice claims. We just don’t have the funding and the Minister of Finance has so far not been convinced to advance the money because it could be a large amount to which we have no real insight at this time,” Duncan said.

The minister also said that he’s working to clean up the situation with the payment of rent allowance especially in light of a disagreement over how official the payments are. At the moment some officers do not have signed agreements, but Duncan still thinks they should be honored.

Patrols/Controls

Without offering specifics Duncan announced that the police will continue with the Soualiga Patrol. The special team will focus on high traffic areas like Philipsburg, Simpson Bay and Maho. This will include both foot and bike patrols. There are also plans to reinstitute the all hands on deck program used last Christmas during the upcoming holiday season. This means that officers will be out “full force” for as long as the available funds allow.

The minister also assured MPs that the Zero Tolerance Team still exists, but that they are focused in a different direction.

Substations

Duncan also announced that he continues to work with the Labega family and the St. Maarten Housing Development Foundation on arrangements for police substations in Cul de Sac and Belvedere. There are also ongoing talks for a location in Cole Bay. Duncan’s preferred model is that the construction is pre-financed and then government pays back for the buildings over a 15 to 20 year period and eventually becomes the owner of the building. Having the buildings pre-financed is necessary because the government does not currently have enough money to enter lease agreements.

Law Changes

There’s also a raft of law changes coming from the Ministry of Justice within short. One of the actions is amending the traffic ordinance so that fines for infractions of the environmental law, immigration laws and the traffic ordinance are administrative fines, which are easier to levy and collect. This will require a further bolstering of the Office of the Public Prosecutor.

Duncan also reiterated his position that parliament has the discretion to decide whether penalties as laid down in the new penal code suit their liking. Unlike Aruba, St. Maarten has increased sentences almost across the board.

The minister has also announced that he wants to come to parliament with legislation that gives police the authority to conduct breathalyzer exams on people they suspect of drinking under the influence of alcohol.

Duncan was not afraid to say that as a lawyer he does not agree with the Law on Special Investigative Powers (BOB) as it infringes on the right to privacy. As Minister of Justice he sees the necessity.

“It is a valuable instrument to combat crime and if we don’t do it we’ll be seen as shirking our responsibility in the eyes of the international community even though privacy is diminished,” the minister said.

Duncan also announced that the new penal code includes specific articles that criminalize human trafficking and smuggling and human slavery.

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Comments (1)

 

  1. Denise Christie says:

    Good day,

    I have been trying to get in touch with the ministry of Justice in St. Martin for the past 8 weeks. Is there any chance of you having a contact/fax number/email address for them?

    Best regards,