Today’s Opinion: Gypsy cab driver hunting

POSTED: 04/7/11 11:47 AM

That the authorities finally have gypsy cab drivers in the cross hairs became evident in the Court in First Instance  yesterday, but the question that remains is whether they chose the right man to make their point.

Sylvan Thomas Roberts, the gypsy on trial, celebrated his 75th birthday on February 18. In the run up to this milestone in his life, police stopped his gypsy cab three times. First on February 3, then on Valentine’s Day and then another time the next day – three days before his birthday.

That Roberts broke the law by providing taxi services without a proper permit is not the point of discussion here.

One may well wonder why there is a sudden crackdown on gypsy cab drivers while the public is anxiously awaiting proper investigations of the Maria Buncamper-Molanus scandal and of last year’s vote buying scandal. The first case involves a member of the party of Prime Minister Wescot-Williams, the second case is about vote-buying by the United People’s party of vice Prime Minister Theo Heyliger.

On January 23, a gypsy cab driver had an argument with a regular cab driver, who happened to be the president of the St. Maarten Taxi association, Bernard Hodge. The gypsy was dragged to court, where he was eventually acquitted, but shortly afterwards  the hunt for gypsy cab drivers got underway.

Lo and behold, on February 3 police stopped Sylvan Roberts, a pensioner nearing a milestone birthday, and found that he was taking money for transporting people from A to B. We’re not sure what happened, maybe the police told Roberts to give it up, but he did not get a fine. On February 14 police stopped Roberts gain. Same result. The next day they stopped him a third time, and in early March Roberts was stopped once more. This time, police impounded his car, only tom discover two days later that Roberts was back in business, this time with his son’s car.

Is this man stealing the bread from the regular cab drivers? He certainly operates without a license, so that is a no-no.

But wait, in court Roberts explained that he has to make do with a monthly pension of 162 guilders, or $90. A member of parliament has to work less than one-and-a-half hour for that kind of money. Roberts has to pay his rent, his utility bills and his groceries from it.

It does not take a rocket scientist to realize that this is impossible.

So what to do?

Roberts is perfectly willing to work on a boat – he is a licensed captain, but no employer seems to be interested in hiring a 75-year old.

Among the other options – stealing, robbing, embezzling, ponzi schemes, suicide and driving a gypsy cab – Roberts found the last choice the most honorable and the most attractive.

So he hit the road, making money by serving people who are unable to find a regular cab when they want to drive home from their work in the middle of the night when all bus drivers have gone to sleep.

Maybe he picked up the occasional passenger during the day as well, we don’t know.

But anyway, Roberts was getting by with his little side job, until the law came down on him. The court correctly saw no point hitting a man with a 162-guilders pension with a 750-guilders fine, and it was gracious enough to give him his car back.

The question is now: what’s next? Will politicians back up their cab driving friends and support the hunt for desperate gypsies? Or will they wake up one day and realize that they have a serious social problem on their hands and that they have to create provisions for citizens who are unable to survive on what little the state has to offer them in their twilight years?

We’re not at all for encouraging illegal business activities, and we wish our cab drivers all the business they are able to get their hands on. But for Pete’s sake, what kind of society are we when we let pensioners rot away on a meager allowance that is not even enough to cover their rent?


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