Today’s predictions for the New Year: Still no waste-to-energy plant, no plastic bag-ban, no new hospital

POSTED: 01/5/15 2:37 PM

St. Maarten / By Hilbert Haar – “It seems almost too easy: predict what will and what will not happen in St. Maarten in any given year.” that was the first sentence of the article we published exactly a year ago about our predictions for the New Year – and it is still true. Our headline read “Emilio Wilson estate purchase but no waste-to-energy plant.” Needless to say, both predictions were on the mark.

The Today newspaper made its first predictions in 2010, when we looked ahead at 2011. Not too embarrassed to look for our own bloopers, we examined our bold statement a year later and found that most of them checked out. We built on that first year with a preview of 2012 combined with flashbacks to our 2011 predictions, a system we also followed inn 2013 and 2014. Now in its fifth year, we examine once again the events we highlighted last year and we add our comments for 2014. As usual there are also a couple of new projects in the mix.

Sadly, we have to begin with something we wrote back in December 2010, and the comments we added a year later.

The most urgent issue that has been screaming for a solution for several years is without any doubt the garbage dump on Pond Island. There is a plan, and a good one, to build a waste-to-energy waste disposal facility. Though the landfill is nearing the end of its life cycle, nothing much is happening with this project, reportedly because there is no funding available. Still, something will have to happen sooner or later, unless we want to drown in our own garbage. Our prediction: nothing will happen in 2011.

Comment: We were right, and nothing will happen in 2012 either.

Comment 2: We’re still right (unfortunately) and we predict that nothing will happen in 2013.

Comment 3: We were right again and despite rumblings that construction will begin this year, our prediction is that nothing will happen in 2014. We’d love to be wrong here, if only because our office is too close to the dump for comfort.

Comment 4: We were right for the fourth time in a row. In the meantime, the direct environment of the dump is suffering. Will something happen then, finally in 2015? That would be so cool, and even though the whole preparations for this project seem to be in their final stages, we predict that on December 31 we’ll still be looking at our steadily growing garbage dump, with no perspective that the waste-to-energy plant will materialize.

Okay, let’s move on to that huge sand pit that will one day be the by now infamous ring road. That road needs to be hard-surfaced, and the projected roundabouts need to be constructed. Again, sooner or later. Our prediction: nothing will happen in 2011.

Comment: We were right again, and nothing will happen in 2012 either.

Comment 2: We are still right, though part of the ring road has now been turned into a parking lot, while the severely contested initiatives to build a cricket stadium and a drag racing strip have been put on ice. In 2013, nothing will happen with the ring road.

Comment 3: Yep, right again, though we see now more people using the trajectory as if it were a real road. Maybe an idea to use it as the starting point for the next Paris-Dakar? But in 2014, nothing will happen here.

Comment 4: A no-brainer this one. Nothing happened in 2014, and nothing will change in 2015. The government is getting creative though: it has made the sandpit a more or less permanent parking lot and in December it made part of it a one-way dirt road parallel to the Pondfill. But a ring road it is not, nor will it be in 2015.

Right next to the projected location of the waste-to-energy facility sits the unfinished government administration building. Developer RGM has a 50-year contract, or so we hear, and since late 2007 it has been happily collecting $481,000 in rent every three months for a building that has never been used. After the endless delays this project has been suffering during the past couple of years our prediction is: nothing will happen in 2011.

Comment 1: We were right once more and nothing will happen in 2012 either.

Comment 2: We were slightly off the mark here, due to the fact that RGM took the government to court to force it to finish the project finally. The rubbish around the building has now been cleared up and leveled with sand – something we seem to have in endless supply. Our prediction: no government department will start working in this building in 2013.

Comment 3: Hmmm, half-right we’d say, though it is unclear what is really happening inside the building. When our reporters went there last year, the supervisor unceremoniously told them to take a hike. Now under threat of a severe penalty, the government has to move into the building by court order by November 26. We figure the government will find reasons to delay this. Something might happen, but don’t hold your breath.

Comment 4: Right again: November 26 came and went, and no department moved in. There are constant cars in front of the building, so it is not like nothing is happening. We’ll make a bold statement here: the new government has had enough of all the delays and it will make sure that the pension fund takes over the building and that by the end of this year, civil servants will sit behind their desks on Pond Island.

Things may look a bit brighter in the field of crime fighting. We have had few killings this year, and even though not all those crimes have been solved, we have noticed improvements at the police force, and those improvements will pay off in the New Year. Under the leadership of new Chief Commissioner Peter de Witte crime will definitely not disappear, but we expect that the percentage of solved crimes will go up.
Comment 1: We were right again; a large number of killings were solved this year and in other crimes perpetrators were found out due to improved forensic investigation methods.

Comment 2: The police kept up the good work in 2012. The crown in their work for 2012 was of course the quick arrest of the suspects in the Michael and Thelma King murders. In 2013 the police will further improve its track record.

Comment 3: The police kept improving in 2013, though currently we have no hard data available. There is a reason why we named the community police officers our people of the year – they brought about a real and sorely needed change.

Comment 4: There are no hard date available for 2014 yet, but the trend for 2013 was encouraging – a downward trend in crime figures across the board. We are eagerly awaiting the appointment of a successor for Chief Commissioner Peter de Witte – most likely this will be Commissioner Carl John. He will build on what his predecessor has set in motion: a better organized and result-oriented police force.

A related subject is violence in and around schools. The zero tolerance teams ought to keep up their controls of schools. It’s better to prevent weapons from entering the school grounds than to clean up the mess after another violent clash between students. To alter the mindset of students, schools ought to send them on regular visits to the Pointe Blanche prison for meetings with inmates. Our prediction: Education Minister Rhoda Arrindell will pick up this idea and put it into practice.

Comment 1: We were wrong; only Judge Keppels sent youngsters to Pointe Blanche but not for educational purposes.

Comment 2: Still wrong: Arrindell has left office and we have not heard from her successor Silveria Jacobs about this – a good reason to keep at least the idea alive. We think Jacobs will pick it up and do something with it.

Comment 3: We keep getting this wrong and by now Silveria Jacobs is gone too. Will Patricia Lourens pick up on this idea? It is possible, but we are not sure.

Comment 4: We’re quite stubborn, based on results, and still wrong. On the other hand, we now have the Miss Lalie youth care and rehabilitation Center. That’s positive but still, altering the mindset of students to prevent that they end up there still seems to be a good idea to us. A call to action for our new Minister of Education Rita Bourne-Gumbs.

A minor point we’d like to bring to the attention of the government  – again – is this one: the unpaid bills the hospital and other service providers have to deal with for cases that involve non-residents who are unable to pay. This is a recurring situation that has a simple solution. Since these debts are created by foreigners, those same foreigners ought to pay for it. Creating an emergency fund the hospital and other service providers can tap into would avoid embarrassing situation like the one of some years ago whereby a Spanish couple was barred from seeing their murdered son at a funeral home because they were unable to pay the bill.

Our prediction: charging all incoming visitors with an extra dollar to fund such an emergency fund is considered a good idea by everyone, but no one will take the initiative to establish it.

Comment: We were right again. Good idea, but no one around with the balls to make it happen.

Comment 2: Same old, same old: nobody dares to touch the cruise crowd. Whatever happened to independent MP Frans Richardson’s idea (dating back to 2007) to levy a small fee from cruise passengers for the creation of an environmental fund? Our prediction: Richardson would like to forget the whole idea and the government will not touch what it considers its chicken with the golden egg.

Comment 3: Sigh. No initiative in this field whatsoever. Sometimes it is no fun to be right.

Comment 4: Sigh again. With competition from Cuba around the corner, decision makers will think twice before burdening visitors with yet another charge. The hospital will have to find its own solution.

Let’s include a nice environmental issue: the badly needed ban on plastic grocery bags. We don’t have to get into the damage these bags do to our environment, or how they threaten our health when they are burned at the dump – everybody knows this, yet nobody does anything about it. But in the New Year finally somebody will take this issue and make headlines with it. Our prediction: Romain Laville, the self-proclaimed fresh Prince of Belair, will introduce draft legislation to ban those darn plastic bags.

Comment 1: Ah, how disappointed we are to be wrong here. Laville definitely did not introduce this draft legislation. It’s never too late to make amends though. So we’re gonna be bold here and predict that Laville will make up for this in 2012.

Comment 2: We were wrong and we were right: Laville did nothing with this golden opportunity to become the hero of environmentalists. Instead, Johan Leonard (UP) and independent MP Frans Richardson ran with that ball. The ban is now a work in progress, and if the initiators put some energy into it, we ought to see some sort of a result before the summer.

Comment 3: Arrgghh, how difficult can it be to bring a piece of legislation this simple to the parliament, get it approved and be done with it? As comment #2 shows, we were wrong – unfortunately. Let’s stay positive and predict that this time the legislation will go through parliament before the summer.

Comment 4: Readers who feel that works in progress – if left to politicians – is like  waiting for a train in Philipsburg. It will never arrive. So it is with the plastic grocery bags-ban. The word impotent comes to mind – not for individual MPs, but for the parliament as a whole. Indecisiveness – or worse, disinterest – rules. Will 2015 be any different? We keep an open mind here but we still dare to say that this ban will not become a reality this year.

Rereading all these prediction dating back to 201 may cause readers to lose faith in the future of our country. If things moved slowly, they would at least be moving, but on many issues there is a complete standstill.

Now last year we wrote that the causeway would be finished more or less on schedule, and that prediction turned out to be correct.

What we are left with right now are the zoning plans. They have a long history of going nowhere, but in 2012 things seemed to be going in overdrive when Vromi-Minister William Marlin announced that all zoning plans would be completed by June 2013. Needless to say, that did not happen. The planners simply upped their time frame from 12 to 24 months – indicating completion in August 2014.Did that happen? No, and it will not happen in 2015 either.

Ladst year we also wrote this: Will the government really pay $17 million to become the owner of all but 60,000 square meters of the Emilio Wilson Estate? We perceive that Vromi-minister Marlin’s intention to close the deal is genuine and straightforward, but that is not the same as closing the deal. We are a bit of two minds here, but we tend to the position that Henri Brookson and the Paas family will not become multi-millionaires from the deal in 2013, because the government will not be able to secure a loan for it. It is more likely that Rainforest Adventures will go to court again to claim its rights to develop an adventure park. We’re not saying that Rain Forest will get its way, but we foresee a bitter battle for what ought to become St. Maarten’s national park.

Comment 1: Right on target again, except for the bitter battle with Rain Forest. Whether the deal will go through in 2014 depends on the budget. If it is balanced, the government will be able to get the necessary loans. In that case, nothing will stand in the way of the estate becoming government property. Whether it will then be safe from future development is another question altogether.

Comment 2: The purchase of the Emilio Wilson Estate is in the bag. Now thew ficus is on this thorny question: what will the government do with it? Former Vromi-Minister Maurice Lake, now an MP for the UP, has said in an interview with this newspaper that the government should get at least some return on its investment. That means development – and development means most likely the return of Rain Forest Adventures. That will be the debate in 2015 – and the coalition has the numbers to push this plan through. Will it happen? Maybe not that fast, but the direction is clear – the estate will not remain pristine forever.

There was of course one last prediction last year – about the integrity investigations. As we predicted, they were both completed on schedule but the question “what will happen next” is still awaiting a clear answer. With a stretch of the imagination we could argue that our prediction that close to nothing would happen with the results in 2014 is on the mark. That would be touting our own horn a little bit too much.

We have had elections, there is a new parliament and the new cabinet has only just been sworn in. It makes sense that nothing much happened. We did record intentions though: UP-leader Theo Heyliger wants to look seriously at the recommendations from both reports (and from that published by the general audit chamber as well), Sarah Wescot-Williams – then prime minister, now a lone wolf in the opposition – has vented similar sentiments.

These reports contain however so many recommendations that they should keep consecutive governments well-occupied until at least 2025, if not longer. Our feeling is that the new government will indeed make a beginning with tackling the recommendations and implement concrete measures to improve integrity, but where they will begin, we honestly have no idea. Purely based on a gut feeling however, we predict that action will come from the cabinet, and not from the parliament.

Another point that is easily forgotten now that the elections are over is this promise from the United People’s party: a new hospital. Will the government get involved in the construction of a new hospital this year? we doubt this so much, that we predict this will not happen. Let’s not forget that the UP made the same promise in 2010 – and nothing came of it.

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Today’s predictions for the New Year: Still no waste-to-energy plant, no plastic bag-ban, no new hospital by

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