Today’s predictions for the New Year

POSTED: 01/2/14 12:57 AM

Emilio Wilson Estate purchase but no waste-to-energy plant

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. The Today newspaper made its first predictions in 2010, when we looked ahead at 2011, the country’s first full year as an autonomous entity within the Dutch Kingdom. A year later, we scrutinized our bold statements and found that we were right on most counts. So we built on that first year with a preview of 2012 combined with flashbacks to the 2011-predictions –a system we also followed in 2013. Now in its fourth year, we examine once more the events we highlighted last year and we add our comments to it for 2014, plus a couple of new projects.

Let’s start with what 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.

In the same area we are looking at a 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, tight 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.

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.

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 new Chief Commissioner Peter de Witte crime will definitely not disappear, but we expect that the percentage of solved crimes will go up.
Comment: 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.

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: 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.

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.

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.

These were all the issues we brought up dating back to 2010; they represent an interesting picture of how fast or how slow things move in St. Maarten. Is there anything new to add to this list? We think that the causeway is one of those rare projects that will proceed on schedule and that will be completed by year’s end.

Comment: right on target.

A new hot issue is the zoning plans Vromi-Minister William Marlin announced in August of 2012. It was already clear at the beginning of last year that the original deadline of June 2013 would not be met; the planners switched to a 24-month time frame. This would put completion of all zoning plans in the neighborhood of August 2014. It is not going to happen this year, that’s for sure.

Comment: We were right as far as 2013 is concerned; we predict that August 2014 will come too early as well.

And, finally, 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: 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.

Oh, and before we forget: Justice Minister Roland Duncan’s Justice Park will go nowhere in 2013. The $100 million price tag and the reasonably insane idea to hit foreigners with a hefty annual fee for their residence permits will be the main obstacles. Price tag is also the key word for Minister Marlin’s tunnel-project. That won’t happen either, at least not in 2013.

Comment: That was almost too easy. The Justice Perk went nowhere but Minister Duncan did – he left politics. Will he make a comeback after the elections? Anything is possible but we’d consider that a bad idea for St. Maarten’s fragile integrity-profile.

Let’s add one hot potato to the mix: the integrity investigations. The way we see it, both projects will be completed this year – before the summer and according to schedule. More interesting is the question: what will happen next? Our gut feeling says that “close to nothing” is the best possible answer. That is because the investigators will come up with findings and with recommendations. Executing those recommendations is up to those who are currently the subject of the integrity-investigations. There is an interesting task for independent media to keep on top of this story.


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