Published On: Sun, Jul 14th, 2019

Smear campaign comes from fear and jealousy, Minister Lee says

Minister Emil Lee with Andrew Dick 20190712

PHILIPSBURG – “The Ministry of VSA rocks and I am very proud of my staff,” caretaker Minister Emil Lee said at the end of his candid interview with Andrew Dick. Lee dismissed allegations made against him and others on Bibi Shaw’s notorious blog SMN-News as ‘nonsense.’

The stories that appeared on the blog seem to be part of an orchestrated smear campaign against Lee that erupted after Parliament passed a motion of no confidence against him – presented by his coalition partner MP Luc Mercelina – with an 8 to 7 vote. “Seven out of eight coalition members were happy with Minister Lee,” Lee concluded in the interview.

Lee also addressed the motion of no confidence. “The reasons mentioned in the motion absolutely make no sense. I was following the governing program, I was doing what the coalition wanted me to do, so I wish the incoming minister good luck.”

The smear campaign against Lee, and to a lesser extent against SZV-director Glen Carty played out on the SMN-News blog. One story claimed that Carty got a new contract that paid him $28,000 per month. Lee:”That is completely wrong, it is nonsense, BS. It is much less and within normal guidelines. Everything I do is based on proper procedure.”

The allegation that he failed to make progress with fighting the abuse of 6-month contracts also seems to have no merit.

Said Lee: “The legislation to change the civil code was ready to go to parliament. But then an internal discussion in the party began about increasing maternity and paternity leave. That went back to the tri-partite and for advice to the Social Economic Council and then again back to the coalition. The next minister is ready to go with it. We did all the work but that is politics. What is good for St. Maarten, that is what really matters.”

How do you deal with the blogs? the rather amicable interviewer Dick asked. ‘If you respond to the nonsense you stimulate the conversation,” Lee responded. “In the past I have gone to the prosecutor and I am thinking about going to the prosecutor again because there are factual mistakes and my reputation is important to me. I have no problem anybody coming in and investigating me. I’ll open the books. I campaigned on open government. And listen, I have broad shoulders but when it gets personal and they are going after family members, I think it is too much.”

Lee furthermore dismissed stories that he – as Dick put it – “is wringing MP Tamara Leonard’s neck” to make her give up her seat in parliament for him. “After the motion of no confidence I have not seen MP Leonard, I have not called her or whatsapped her. When I resigned from parliament to become a minister I understood the risks. You depend on what the coalition wants to do – and I think that I have earned a break.”

Lee also said that Dr. Michel Petit’s position – that SZV is not allowed to invest money from the Old Age fund – is incorrect. “The AOV ordinance dates back to 1960. Legislation was to be drafted to regulate how AOV-funds have to be invested but that ordinance was never written.

“Besides, the idea that a pension fund cannot invest money is crazy. You have to invest because you want the fund to grow, otherwise it does not keep up with inflation. Money becomes worth less over time so you have to invest. The SZV Investment Committee was put in place in 2013, before my time as a minister. They assess whether investments are prudent.”

Another part of the smear campaign against Lee is the accusation that Atlas, his family’s construction company, has a piece of the action in the construction of the new hospital. Lee: “Atlas has never had anything to do with the hospital. It has never done and will never do any work for the new hospital. It is all nonsense.”

The outgoing minister does have a clear idea about the reasons for the attacks on his person. “It is coming from fear, and from jealousy. My 86-year old father told me: if you are going to make change, don’t expect to make any friends because people do not like change. The opposition is afraid to see the hospital project succeed and to see my reputation as a politician strengthen. That is why you see this social media campaign.”

During the interview, Lee also addressed criticism of the Italian construction company INSO – winner of the bid to design and build the new hospital – and the way the $25 million from the World Bank trust fund has been used: “Part of it was for the current SMMC and the remaining $17 million is to make the new hospital hurricane proof. The World Bank is involved and if anybody wants to mess with the process, it is not going to happen because the World Bank will stick to proper procedures.”

Lee pointed out that the SMMC signed the contract with INSO: “As a minister I have no authority over the project. I have had a facilitating role and I did not sign any of the contracts.”

Lee said that he could have saved himself from the motion of no confidence if he pulled INSO off the hospital project and if he would drop the plan for a national health insurance. “Coming to work doing something I do not believe in to save my position? No, that is not my style. I am not going to sell out my vision to save my job.”

United St. Maarten party MP Rolando Brison has accused Lee of tunnel vision and the outgoing minister was happy to acknowledge that during the interview. “He is right – if that is what you want to call it.”

But Lee had a good explanation for his focus on the new hospital and the national health insurance. “My ministry performs well and where people perform well I do not interfere. I put time and energy in projects that require a hands-on approach. The civil servants at labor affairs and social affairs know what they are doing. They just needed more money and my job was to get them that money.”

Video recording of the Late Night with Andrew Dick show:

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