Published On: Tue, Jan 31st, 2023

Many questions but no answers about destruction of Diamond Estate-ruins

PHILIPSBURG — The destruction of the historical ruins at Diamond Estate triggered a request for an urgent meeting of parliament. The meeting took place last Friday. MPs posed many questions but they did not receive any answers yet. The meeting was adjourned to give ministers Egbert Doran (Public Housing, Urban Planning, Environment and Infrastructure) and Rodolphe Samuel (Education, Culture, Youth and Sports) the time to prepare those answers.

Parliamentarians bemoaned the destruction of the ruins and asked the ministers about their plans to prevent similar events from happening again in the future. MP Rolando Brison (United People’s party) went beyond the heritage-aspect and asked the key question: who benefits from the destruction?

Brison discovered at the Cadastre that the Diamond Estate is listed under L.C. Fleming on behalf of his sister. “It is important to discover why this happened and who made it happen,” he said. “The only motive I can think of is profit. Who would profit from such destruction? A real estate agent that gets a commission and then develops it to get another commission?”

In his opening remarks, Minister Doran strongly condemned the destruction of the ruins. He immediately indicated what the potential problem could be: “The estate is not listed on the protected monument list.”

“Shocking,” was Minister Samuel’s comment. I could not believe that in 2023, when there is so much attention for cultural conservation people would destroy Diamond 26 in the middle of the night.”

Independent MP Solange Duncan who requested the meeting together with independent MP Grisha Heyliger-Marten and MP Melissa Gumbs (Party for Progress), noted that the Emilio Wilson Estate and the Diamond Estate would not have existed if they had been located on government land, “because we have been selling out our country forever.” Duncan asked when the national museum would become a reality. “All the museum needs is a building. We have the most neglected museum in the Dutch Caribbean.”

MP Heyliger-Marten asked about the criteria for enlisting properties as monuments and about the status of the Monument Council and the Monument Fund.

“What happened at Diamond Estate must never, ever happen again,” MP Angélique Roumou (National Alliance)  said. She pointed out that according to the national monument ordinance violators are punished with a maximum prison sentence of one year and a maximum fine of 5,000 guilders. “Is our culture not worth more than 5,000 guilders? Will such a punishment deter anyone from doing the same in the future?”

Roumou said that the punishment for similar violations in the Netherlands is €4,100  (around $4,430 or 7,930 guilders).

Independent MP Christophe Emmanuel wanted to know how many registered monuments there are. Referring to the courthouse (“I believe that is a monument”) he asked whether a permit was issued for the work that is currently done on the building. “What are the penalties for doing work on a monument without a permit?” he asked.

“We have done a terrible job of being stewards towards our historical legacy,” MP Melissa Gumbs said. She mentioned a few prime examples: what was done to the Great Salt Pond for decades, the pollution caused by the dump and the sale of Fort Amsterdam to a hotel branch.

Gumbs furthermore asked about the budget for the Monument Fund and about an inventory of historical sites, saying there is a lot of outrage about the destruction of the Diamond Estate site. “What is the plan of approach for both ministers (Doran and Samuel) to make sure that this does not happen again?”

MP George Pantophlet (National Alliance) attempted to protect the government. “It should not come across as if this government has been sitting there for decades and did nothing.”

Independent MP Ludmilla de Weever emphasized the need for inter-ministerial communication. “Where is the dialogue between the ministries? There has to be cross-communication.”

MP Sarah Wescot-Williams (United Democrats) asked about the status of a document about historical bridges produced by Elsje Bosch, archeologist Jay Haviser and Simarc. She also wanted to know what budget the museum has requested compared to the 100,000 guilders that are on the budget. “And why was the budget for the Monument Council reduced by 100,000 guilders?”

At the end of the meeting, MP Emmanuel asked (again) about the building permit and the monument permit for the renovation of the courthouse. Minister Doran said that he had not issued any permits, but Minister Samuel said that a permit was requested and that it is “in process,” even though the work at the courthouse is already underway.


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