Published On: Thu, Mar 7th, 2019

Minister De Weever: “We don’t need pressure from the Netherlands”

Minister Cornelius De Weever - 6 Mar 2019

PHILIPSBURG — The debate in the Central Committee on Wednesday about the situation at the Pointe Blanche Prison and the Police Force turned into a frontal attack on the Dutch government, the Progress Committee and financial supervisor Cft.

All this came on the heels of the question hour in the Dutch parliament on Tuesday where Minister Sander Dekker (Legal Protection) said that Justice Minister Cornelius de Weever frustrated offers to help from The Netherlands.

It didn’t help that Dekker saw fit to refer to the guarantee function in the Kingdom Charter: “If there is insufficient progress (with the conditions at the prison) the Netherlands is as the largest country in the Kingdom the designated party to intervene.” That inspired VVD-MP André Bosman to note: “I hear the cabinet say that it is time for an instruction.”

One day later, Minister De Weever was not impressed. “Maybe we could have found alternative ways to get the work done faster and run the risk of being labeled corrupt,” he said.

De Weever criticized The Daily Herald. “We have only one newspaper on the island with one-sided views on many issues and individuals. It is amazing how much front page coverage two MPs from the Netherlands get and when I respond to it, my statements end up as a letter to the editor.”

Dekker said on Tuesday that The Netherlands had offered St. Maarten expertise, advice and a project manager to help resolving the issues at the prison but that these offers had been refused. “We do not need the Netherlands to put pressure on us and we do not need their project manager,” De Weever told the Central Committee. “We have a project team. What we need are funds to complete our projects.” The minister noted that the World Bank-policy “does not permit the reconstruction or the building of the prison.”

Financial supervisor Cft limits our budget to 475 million, De Weever added. “The projects we need to do cannot be done as fast as we’d like.” He expressed his disappointment with The Netherlands for “its unwillingness to live up to its legal obligations as a signatory to the Human Rights Treaty.”

According to De Weever Minister Dekker advised him during a meeting in the Netherlands to look for a company that provides prison guards. Getting those guards from the Netherlands was not possible, Dekker reportedly said, due to a shortage, even though the country is closing down prisons.

At the beginning of the meeting, cabinet staff member Tjandra Lake gave an overview of the progress made so far with improving the conditions at the prison and the police station. For the long term, the ministry toys with the idea of a multi-functional facility that accommodates a House of Detention, a courthouse, a shooting range and a forensic lab, as well as an extension for youth detention.

MP Rolando Brison later noted that the draft 2019 budget contains a provision of 1.7 million guilders for the preparatory work for the construction of a new prison.

The Miss Lalie Center is waiting for a set of doors that will arrive from Europe by May 13. As soon as these doors have been installed, the center – that has been closed since September 2017 – will be ready to reopen, Lake said.

Repairs to the Pointe Blanche prison and the Justice Academy require an additional 2 million guilders so far, more than 2 million guilders have already been spent. This money came from the crime fund but according to Lake this fund is almost depleted. “We need alternative financing for the remaining projects.”

MP Frans Richardson criticized the highly critical Progress Committee report about the Pointe Blanche prison and the police force. “They are cherry-picking and never mention anything good,” he said.

Richardson also noted that financial supervisor Cft put St. Maarten “in a bad position by not allowing us to borrow money to fix our crumbling infrastructure.”

MP Claude Peterson asked why casino owner Francesco Corallo, who spent months in a police cell in extradition detention, had not been sent to Bonaire like United Democrats leader Theo Heyliger. “Who decides about who gets sent to Bonaire?”

MP Luc Mercelina spoke of the deplorable conditions at the country’s detention facilities. “I am very worried about the decision to send a citizen of this country to Bonaire based on the conditions at the police station. Is this a matter of class justice? If Heyliger was sent to Bonaire, what about the human rights of the other detainees?”

Mercelina urged Minister De Weever to stand up for the human rights of all citizens. “I want you to make sure that all other detainees are transferred to Bonaire as well.”

MP Christophe Emmanuel asked whether Minister De Weever could not have called the prison director to ask whether Pointe Blanche was able to accommodate MP Heyliger.

Minister De Weever said at the end of the meeting that he needs at least two weeks to prepare answers to the questions posed by MPs.

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