Published On: Sat, May 13th, 2023

Concerns about the future of Claude Wathey’s statue

PHILIPSBURG — The old Government Administration Building will finally be demolished by a company called Limitless Infrastructure at a cost of approximately 660,000 guilders ($368,715). A ceremony to “celebrate” the demolition is planned for May 17, 2023.

The demolition plans trigger an interesting question: what will happen with the statue of the legendary Claude Wathey that has been standing in front of the building for more than twenty years? The issue has also triggered questions about the statue’s ownership.

The statue was presented to then Commissioner Sarah Wescot-Williams on July 24, 2000, but is unclear whether she received it as the leader of the government or as the leader of the Democratic Party.

Word on the street is that the National Alliance-led government wants to get rid of the statue. Apparently, Claude triggers too many memories about the NA’s arch-rival the Democratic Party that was established by Wathey almost seventy years ago, in 1954.

The unauthorized official explanation is that the government wants to remove the statue to prevent damages during the demolition of the government administration building, or that it has to be moved to make space for the reconstruction that will follow the demolition. Protecting the statue against damages with a plywood box is another rumored option.

However, the strongest signal comes from sources saying that the government is hell-bent on getting rid of the statue and thereby eradicating Wathey’s legacy as the Father of St. Maarten.

If, as some sources claim, the statue was donated to the government, said government can do with the statue what it wants. If it belongs to the Wathey family, or by a foundation controlled by that family, it becomes a different story.

The expectation? Sources say that the government will send a letter to the Wathey-family asking permission to move the statue for safekeeping while the Limitless Infrastructure tears down the building. Afterwards, the government will claim that there is no proper location available elsewhere.

And what will be built on the prized location? In the past there have been plans to build a new parliament building on the location, complete with a sky bridge to the new government administration building on Soualiga Boulevard. There would also be space for a parking garage, commercial space and apartments At least, that idea circulated years ago in the Ad hoc Parliamentary Committee New Parliament Building.

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Minister of Public Housing, Urban Development, Environment and Infrastructure (VROMI) Egbert Doran has apparently different ideas. He announced the construction of 114 “affordable” apartments (described as quality residential units), a new government and parliament building, a parking garage and commercial space. The sky bridge is not mentioned anywhere in his announcement.

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The United Democrats, then led by MP Sarah Wescot-Williams, dismissed Doran’s announcement as being out of touch with reality. The party labeled the minister’s plans as “a multi-million dollar project,” noting that there is no detailed information available and that the funding of the project remains at best obscure.

Related article: UD: Minister Doran out of touch with reality

“You would think that elections are around the corner, the way the government is behaving,” the party stated in a press release. “Unveiling projects without details when government can’t even secure funds for its own immediate operations.”