St. Maarten Parliamentarians believe gold rush root cause of crime problem

POSTED: 09/27/11 1:00 PM

St. Maarten – Lowering the amount of gold people can trade before it becomes an Unusual Financial Transaction was a feature point early in Parliament’s discussion with Justice Minister Roland Duncan on the crime situation on Monday. Members of Parliament (MPs) raised the point because they are concerned about the spike in gold snatching.

“The gold rush has the community concerned, with people snatching gold and purses. Is something being done to put an end to this gold snatching rush,” National Alliance faction leader William Marlin said in his opening remarks.

The opposition leader is also concerned about the spike in violent crimes and pressed the minister and his colleagues to “deal with what causes crime.”

Democratic Party faction leader Roy Marlin said they are also concerned about the spike in gold thefts and said the mandated institution to monitor transactions at jewelers and pawn shops is the Center for the reporting of Unusual Financial Transactions (MOT) and suggested that lowering the amount people can trade may lead to a reduction in a crime as the potential profits drop.

W. Marlin came back to the MOT later and asked the minister to report on the agency’s functioning, whether it had a director and staff, whether it was reporting or not. The same question was posed by R. Marlin who wanted to know if the agency could do controls and whether or not the implementation documents could not be changed to facilitate his idea of lowering the amount of gold people can cash in.

National Alliance Member of Parliament Louie Laveist asked Duncan to explain how he will address “the blatant, free flow of guns” and pressed the minister to give the various entities that fall under the Justice Ministry the tools they need for them to do their jobs. The latter call was a reaction to statements by the Head of Judicial Affairs Denise Jacobs who said there is still a great need for man power and equipment in the force.

“I have a problem hearing my professionals crying out for resources and we need to put our priorities in the right order. For example the cameras in Philipsburg. I don’t want to hear another word about this project until it’s done. In fact there should not be anymore multi-million dollar projects announced until the government deals with crime,” Laveist said.

Border security is also an issue for Laveist who said, “The influx of criminals has my head swollen like a pumpkin and I need to hear how you’re dealing with this.”

Fellow National Alliance MP Dr. Lloyd Richardson called the capacity within the force and the apparent lack of priority for the force concerning.

“I appeal to the executive branch to deal very expeditiously with the Justice Department so they can optimally do their work,” L. Richardson said.

The opposition MP is also concerned about the gold rush and about the sale of illegal items more generally and said the subliminal messaging of the advertisements of cash for gold are what makes people think they can off load illegal items here.

“Maybe we should take measures against some of these companies,” Dr. Richardson said.

He’s also suggested that the police spend time creating databases of who commits crime that include nationality, whether they are employed or not, what their function in society is, how long they’ve been unemployed and whether they are residing and working here legally or illegally.

Independent Member of Parliament Patrick Illidge wanted to know what arrangements the ministry was making to prevent criminals from other islands coming to St. Maarten. He also saluted the BAVPOL program as a means of recruiting more officers and stressed that crime is an “accumulation of aspects” and a “structural problem that will take time to solve.”

Illidge also offered several action points including making a link with the Civil Registry to find out if people are registered and living there and also beefing up controls on whether people are carrying an identification card.

“I think it’s time to take action on simple things like getting an i.d,” Illidge said.

He’d get concurrence on that point from R. Marlin who said that allowing gypsies to continue running, not having traffic controls and not having immigration controls had led to a growing sense that there is no law in the land.

“If we continue this way, society will continue to deteriorate. We don’t need any massive controls. All I’m saying is that we take a few hours per week so that we can change the feeling that there is a free for all here in St. Maarten,” the D.P faction leader said.

Though Illidge wants controls he’s thinking about the lack of space to place offenders and suggested that the government rent a boat or charter a plane to “drop them off” at their country of origin. That led him to ask what arrangements the government has with neighboring islands to share information on criminals, so they can be blocked from entering the country when they arrive at the country’s ports of entry. The Independent MP also told the police and prosecutor that people were afraid to give them information, because the tips they’d given had been misused in the past.

United People’s (UP) Party MP Jules James asked the minister and his team to spell out their steps for “cutting down on crime” and share some of their approaches. R. Marlin of the D.P. is also concerned about tactics and queried about the plans for the upcoming busy Christmas season.

James also queried if the Justice Ministry is focused more on preventing or combating crime and whether they’d identified any patterns and any hot spots that people should avoid.

“I suggest calling on retired officers or police from the BES Islands (Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba), Aruba, Curacao and even Suriname,” James said as he pressed for more to be done to fight crime.

Happy Officers

R. Marlin gets a strong impression that the best way to fight crime is to ensure that police officers are happy. He therefore questioned if it was true that the Justice Minister had given instructions that police officers could only work 30 hours of overtime per month and whether it was not better to rescind that order until the force reaches its minimum strength as stated in the plan of approach. He also pressed the minister to pay out secondary benefits and salary increases promised by the Government of the Netherlands Antilles and then recoup the funds when the Liquidation Committee finalized its work.

“We see that it took Aruba 25 years to get their final share, and I don’t think that it is fair to ask our officers wait that long,” R. Marlin said.

The DP faction leader also finds it unfair that local officers are being given the “runaround” to get rent allowance, while colleagues who come from the Netherlands are receiving it.

Marlin also said he believed that VKS officers in the BAVPOL program are being treated unfairly because they’ve already built up years of experience working with the police and should have become an officer with at least one stripe when the island transitioned to country status.

Collaboration

The need for collaboration topped the list of concerns from United People’s Party faction leader Romain Laville who called for cooperation between the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Youth and Sport and the Ministry of Public Health, Social Development and Labor. He justified that by stating he’d observed a spike in unemployment alongside the spike in crime. He also said that if young people had the chance to stay in school and complete their education or to get a second chance they’d be less likely to yield to crime.

Laville also questioned the status of the boot camp idea, why there was no link between Immigration, Police and Civil Registry to keep criminal elements out, what police check for after a break in, the status of building or identifying buildings to serve as substations, whether there were undercover police and why there aren’t more consistent controls.

“I commend our officers for serving and protecting, but I just also want to say that we won’t solve this problem of crime simply by beefing up the force or building cells,” Laville said.

United Front

United People’s (UP) Party Member of Parliament and Vice Chairman of the Permanent Committee on Justice Johan Leonard was happy to see all factions showing a united front and stating clearly that violence is unacceptable and that parliament collectively condemns violence. He also joined in calls for more blue in the street.

“Thinking that you may get caught takes away a lot of the attraction for doing something wrong,” he said.

He also pressed the minister to ensure that police were duly compensated for their overtime and could get promotions because of their good service. There was also a call for a crime think tank to be set up. That body would include police officers and lawyers.

“Also unemployment has a direct impact on crime so you must include the Ministry of Public Health, Social Development and Labor and the Ministry of Education, Culture, Youth and Sport. Churches, schools, parents and government must all attack this together with our children. We must also fight drugs,” Leonard said.

Frightening

Independent Member of Parliament Frans Richardson was frightened by the numbers as presented and requested an assurance from the minister and his delegation that they will do something to turn the present situation around. He also requested the age range of people committing crimes because he believes knowing the age group will catalyze a discussion on targeted interventions for that particular group.

The independent member also called for “physical cooperation” with Curacao and urged the minister to request officers from there be stationed here even for short stints. There were also a raft of questions about things like building substations, whether the current traffic law or penal code calls for breathalyzer tests, whether there’s money in the 2012 budget to provide the police and other units with tools to do their jobs. He also made parliament available to the minister and his team.

“We all live here and we all need to feel safe. You should use parliament to enact laws that will keep us all safe. We are feeling the breakdown of society and we must all come together to solve the problems. Also if we don’t feel safe, we can’t make the island safe for visitors,” F. Richardson said.

UP MP Dr. Ruth Douglas wrapped her concerns into a raft of questions including how inmates were being reformed, what the psychological and physiological impacts are of the police working too many hours, whether the officers had access to a psychologist and whether or not the BAVPOL was necessary for the VKS officers. The UP MP agreed with her faction leader that there should be a finger print database and also queried why there was not more expedience in dealing with crime.

“Are we going to wait until we get like Trinidad and Tobago and we have to issue a curfew,” Douglas asked.

The UP MP also asked if there is a tip line and for an update on domestic violence cases. She went on to state that many women are afraid to report domestic violence because of their status.

“A lot of the abused are foreigners and they are afraid that when they report the crime that they will be deported,” Douglas said.

National Alliance MP Hyacinth Richardson defined solving crime as being both simple and difficult and stressed that lack of cooperation between officers, as cited by F. Richardson, must be solved.

More generally H. Richardson remarked, “Crime did not hit us from one day to the next. The food prices are ridiculous and the labor issue needs to be handled. There is a need for sharing information between the Labor Ministry, the Immigration Department and the Justice Ministry. Also drugs must be eradicated off our streets.”

National Alliance MP George Pantophlet asked questions about the 62 killings that have taken place since 2006, whether a blacklist of people expelled from the island is still being maintained, whether the minister would instruct the police to do more consistent controls on crack houses, whether the ministry would meet its quota of officers for 2011 as stipulated in the Plan of Approach, the status of ratifying the Police Cooperation Treaty with the French side and for the latest information on the Crime Fund.

Advice

“My advice to the minister is to take care of our police force. I also want to assure the police that we support laws that protect our citizens,” Democratic Party MP Petrus Leroy de Weever said

After a short list of questions about the 20 officers that will be phased into the force beginning in September and how their rent allowance will be covered and a query on the minister’s position on the Law on Special Investigative Powers (BOB) de Weever clearly stated, “This type of crime is not what we are accustomed to. We also need to have a discussion on how these crimes are reported on because I believe that it must be done in a responsible manner.”

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