The year of Jules James

POSTED: 12/30/11 11:52 AM

St. Maarten / By Hilbert Haar – It has become a tradition at our newspaper not to bore our readers at the end of the year with pages upon pages about everything that happened in 2011. Instead, we look at the highs and the lows in politics, in crime and in life in general.
This first full calendar year in the existence of St. Maarten as an autonomous country will go down in history as the year of Jules James and as the year in which integrity had several near-death experiences.
That there was trouble on the horizon for United People’s party MP Jules James was already clear when it became apparent that he intended to keep his job as general manager at the former Pelican Resort (now Simpson Bay Resort) next to his job as parliamentarian. Already on January 4, the Wifol-union and opposition MP Louie Laveist attacked James about his double role. They pointed to the (potential) conflict of interest and Laveist even used the word corruption. Christopher Emmanuel, a candidate for the National Alliance in last year’s elections, said that James would have to choose between business and politics.
From the early going in January on, things would go from bad to worse. The Pelican Resort went bankrupt in December of last year, the old owners became the new owners through a questionable construction – at least a construction that was heavily questioned by many – and in the end 145 employees would find themselves out of a job.
Later in January there was a debate in parliament about the Pelican-saga. Parliament president Gracita Arrindell announced that James would not be able to participate in it. It is therefore remarkable that later in the year, when James had to endure another embarrassing parliament meeting wherein the opposition submitted a motion that put the blame for the situation on his shoulders, Arrindell allowed James to vote against it, and to vote in favor of a watered down version of the motion by the ruling coalition that did not refer to his role in a drama that so far has cost 145 employees their job.
The story did not go straightforward to its inevitable conclusion though. In late January, the Wifol signed an agreement with the resort that guaranteed the jobs for 145 of the 182 employees. The employees were outraged, because they did not want to leave 37 colleagues out in the cold. The agreement died, and the controversy continued with countless court cases.
On February 8, the union booked a victory, when Judge Thierry ruled that the resort had to abide by the collective labor agreement and to keep all employees on the payroll.
The resort threatened with closure – and closed indeed for all of ten days –and found relief on appeal. We purchased a property, but not the employees, was one of the resort’s arguments.
The employees were ecstatic when the court again ruled in their favor in early November, but it was a short-lived celebration. Soon afterwards, the appeals court overruled the lower court, and the resort was allowed to keep the 145 employees off the payroll.
During an emotional debate in parliament on November 16, it looked like the coalition would split over the issue. Faction-leader Romain Laville held a passionate speech in support of the former Pelican employees, but when it came to voting on a motion that would have condemned his fellow faction member James; he backed down and left the meeting without casting his vote.
December came and went and the ousted workers spent Christmas without any form of financial relief. To be continued in the New Year.
There were of course other stories that caught the attention. For instance the fraud with Brooks Tower Accord permits. Five people were arrested at the department that handled the permits for apparently fleecing applicants.
Newspaper readers also learned that former Public Health Minister Maria Buncamper-Molanus could receive $210,000 in salary over the next two years. Buncamper-Molanus was forced to step down in December 2010 after this newspaper revealed that she and her husband Claudius had sold the economic ownership of a parcel of government-owned land for $3 million to the bogus company Eco-Green N.V. a decision about a possible criminal investigation against the former minister is expected next month.
The Pointe Blanche prison proved to be a major headache for Justice Minister Roland Duncan. The prison is full, and the justice department has to juggle with space to keep the bad guys behind bars. Plans were floated to lease the Box in Cay Hill and turn it into a youth detention facility; other solutions ranged from turning part of the immigration detention center in Simpson Bay into a House of Detention, and to allocate fifteen cells at the police station for the same purpose.
In the meantime, two prisoner escaped; Omar Nelson was on the run for 162 days before he was recaptured. During his escape he was sentenced to 18 years for his involvement in several armed robberies; among them was a robbery in Mullet Bay that cost Wouter-Jan Romeijn his life.
Crime received a lot of attention in 2011. Politicians “addressed” it but did nothing meaningful; 17 people were killed this year – the worst record since 2006, when 15 people were killed. The second escapee was Anthony Spencer who spent 37 hours on the run after escaping on October 31 at 5:30 a.m. Spencer had been sentenced to 24 years imprisonment on October 12 for murdering Christian Lloyd.
On the upside, law enforcement arrested Sherwan Roberts and Curtley Allison Richards; in December they were sentenced to life imprisonment for three murders, a gang rape, ill-treatment and several violent robberies. Suspects in several other mostly drugs-related killings are behind bars and awaiting their trial.
A major blooper on this front was the Snowflake-investigation. The case is about the smuggling of 623 kilos of cocaine from St. Maarten to the Netherlands. The court threw the case out after declaring the prosecution inadmissible because a police report in the file had been deliberately antedated. Before the court took this decision the two main suspects – Hector Miguel and Rodolfo Arrindell – were both murdered.
The government made headlines when it fired its head of the finance department Bas Roorda per May 1. Roorda had filed a complaint at the prosecutor’s office about embezzlement at the Tourist Bureau. The same day he was fired. In December, the Court in First Instance ruled that this dismissal was unreasonable, but Roorda did not get his job back. The government got off with an order to pay Roorda 25,000 guilders in damages.
There was no good news about the economy. A report by the Central Bank projected weak or negative economic growth for the year, but politicians mainly ignored this information, saying that the Central Bank had been wrong before.
Justice Minister Roland Duncan has a pleasant characteristic: he speaks his mind. Thus it became clear during an interview with the now retired radioman Eddie Williams that the minister supports legalizing abortion, euthanasia and prostitution. Opinions in the parliament turned out to be divided, and it remains unclear whether Duncan will get sufficient support for his ideas that will have to be anchored in the new civil code.
Duncan also discovered, as a result of the investigation into the fraud with Brooks Tower Accord permits, that around 1,600 applicants had used bogus-employers. The ministry urged the real employers to come forward and threatened the bogus-ones with action – but so far nothing has come of this. Duncan did say that he had no plans to kick the 1,600 now undocumented applicants out of the country.
In September, Frans Richardson left the National Alliance after eight years to become the second independent member of parliament.
In October there was an extraordinary session of parliament to commemorate St. Maarten’s first anniversary as a country. It was not exactly a celebration due to critical remarks from the opposition benches. Economic Affairs Minister Franklin Meyers neatly summed up the sentiment that day: “It’s like a funeral in here.”
In November though, everybody united behind the visit of the royal family. H.M. Queen Beatrix, crown prince Willem Alexander and princess Maxima visited the island and they were received in style. The government went out of its way, for instance by repaving the badly maintained Sucker Garden Road. After all, this road was part of the route to the Westin Hotel where the royal family stayed. Hardly a month after the visit, the road returned to its well-known deplorable condition.
A final topic we’d like to add to this review is the government’s constant struggle with its budget. The processes are sluggish, deadlines are ignored, and procedures are not followed. The financial supervisor Cft wrote two highly critical reports about the situation. One remark concerned the trouble encountered by the compiler of the country’s annual accounts. On several occasions he was refused access to information at the receiver’s office. An evaluation of the state of affairs of the country’s financial administration was equally devastating. On 23 of 28 factors, the administration scored a D on a scale from A to D in a report by a Cft workgroup.
A pessimist would say: what a mess. As the optimists we are, we prefer to say that there is a lot of room for improvement.

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