Published On: Sun, Aug 26th, 2018

Enemy of the people

Hilbert Haar - foto Milton PietersBy Hilbert Haar

A giant murderer, a toxic monster and we need immediate action. Minister Miklos Giterson used all these words in January and February of this year when he spoke about the dump. It is now August and everybody knows what happened: a great deal of nothing.

The dump has been catching fire time and time again and in spite of the minister’s announcement that the management company – Robelto and Sons – would be removed, nothing has happened in this sense either. Apparently, an amicable termination of the bad contract a previous government signed with Robelto is not as easy as he made us believe.

Remember: I + A = R; intention plus action is result. Promises without the required action – a specialty of many a politician – will do absolutely nothing to solve a problem.

It is therefore not surprising that citizens have finally turned to their ultimate weapon against the government. It is only surprising that this took so long. Citizen Barbara Cannegieter, attorney Camiel Koster and the law office of BZSE have joined forces in an attempt to get a court ruling that should force the government finally into action.

By now we all know what the problem is with the dump management. It is tempting to point to the contractor as the party to blame; but the government is the really guilty party. As MP Theo Heyliger has publicly pointed out, the previous contractor got 5 million guilders to manage the dump; Robelto got the contract for half that price – and nobody knows how much the company had to pay in kickbacks to get the job.

That’s why it is a good thing that the prosecutor’s office got involved in this mess. Investigators will be able to figure out what is really going on. The name of the head of infrastructure management, Claudius Buncamper, surfaced in a meeting of Parliament where former MP Tamara Leonard nailed him as the corrupt king of garbage collection in St. Maarten – as usual without mentioning his name but leaving no doubt about whom she was referring to.

To citizens who are suffering from the dump fires – like Cannegieter, Koster, the attorneys and staff members at BZSE and of course many others – it does not really matter who is guilty of what. They want action and they want to see a sustainable solution; rightly so.

But I have to wonder how a court ruling is going to kick government hacks into action. Ten years ago, the St. Maarten Pride Foundation also initiated a lawsuit against the government about the dump. It was, like the current lawsuit, a clear expression of people’s anger about the way the government is ignoring its people’s most basic needs. And ten years down the road, we see another lawsuit about the same issue.

The issues at hand are clear to everyone. The contractor does not get enough money to carry out all the tasks stipulated in the contract. There is not enough security, security cameras are lacking and the fixed amount of fill (400 yards per week) is one of those flaws in the contract that explains why there is not enough fill to cover all the garbage that enters the dump on a daily basis.

If money is all it takes to solve the problems, one may wonder why the government has not demanded to dip into the World Bank trust fund that is holding millions for the reconstruction of St. Maarten.

My thinking is that there is a lot going on behind the scenes; and that also has to do with money. Ever wondered why no government has ever been able to sign a decent contract for a waste-to-energy facility? Same story; there are people involved who demand a piece of the cake. Seldom will a huge contract be signed in St. Maarten without somebody getting an (illegal) piece of the action.

The pressure is now on the current government and in particular on the responsible minister, Miklos Giterson. He inherited the problem, but he does not seem to be too willing to cooperate with the parties that initiated the lawsuit. He refused to provide a copy of the Robelto contract, lying about the reasons for it by claiming that it would interfere with the investigation carried out by the prosecutor’s office.

From the petition Cannegieter et al filed at the court it quickly became clear that the prosecutor’s office was never approached by the minister or his staff about the request. Even better: the prosecutor’s office provided a copy of the contract to the plaintiffs.

All this does not make the government look good; not at all. The team led by Prime Minister Leona Romeo-Marlin promised a lot of good stuff when it entered office. Transparency and integrity were high on the agenda.

But when the prosecutor’s office obtained permission from the Common Court of Justice to prosecute MP Theo Heyliger, the prime minister saw fit to warn the prosecutors “not to make a case against the good MP where there is none.”

Politicians should stay far from interfering with the justice system. The prosecutor’s office is an independent entity that should be free of political interference. With her statement, the prime minister has crossed a line. If her colleague Mark Rutte would pull a stunt like that in the Netherlands, all hell would break loose. But in St. Maarten, governments usually don’t have anything to fear from the opposition.

With its approach towards these two issues – the dump and the prosecution of MP Heyliger – the government has now created a strong impression that it is not there for the people. On the contrary, the government seems to have become the enemy of the people.

I salute the plaintiffs who are taking the government to court in their attempt to get something done about the appalling state of the dump.

In the meantime, I understand that our ministers have gone to leadership training. Really?