Published On: Thu, Jun 30th, 2022

PFP: VROMI Minister is playing stalling tactics to avoid accountability

PHILIPSBURG – Party for Progress (PFP) Members of Parliament (MPs) Melissa Gumbs and Raeyhon Peterson are not surprised by the deliberate stalling tactics played by the Minister of Public Housing, Spatial Planning, Environment and Infrastructure (VROMI) Egbert J. Doran to avoid a motion of no confidence in Wednesday’s urgent public meeting.

MP Gumbs opened the first round of Wednesday’s public meeting by announcing that PFP will introduce a motion of no confidence against Minister Doran, citing the numerous missteps, questionable decisions, and outright legal violations that has accompanied Minister Doran’s two-year tenure as VROMI Minister. The latest has been detailed in the Sint Maarten Ombudsman’s final report into the tendering and awarding of garbage collection contracts for the period of 2021 – 2016. In this report, the Ombudsman concluded that the process was neither fair or transparent, and disproportionately advantaged some bidders over others.

At the end of the first round, Minister Doran told Parliament that he would need a minimum of 14 days to answer the small number of questions posed, which incited incredulous laughter by some MPs and prompted Parliament Chairperson Grisha Heyliger-Marten to rhetorically ask, “You need two weeks to answer 21 questions?”

The PFP MPs called out Minister Doran’s deliberate stalling tactics after Wednesday’s Parliament meeting, which finished shortly before 7:00pm.

“From the beginning of the day, the Minister said in the government’s press briefing that he wanted to postpone the meeting because he had a prior engagement. As if a photo op is more important than answering to the people of Sint Maarten about the serious findings in the Ombudsman’s report. Then he claims to need two weeks because of staff shortages in the Ministry, but he didn’t need two weeks to write a lengthy press release to denounce the Ombudsman’s findings as untrue. Parliament will go on recess this week, which means that he potentially will not have to face the motion until the middle of August when Parliament is back in session,” explained MP Gumbs.

“The PFP faction passed a motion of disapproval against this same Minister in October 2021. I had hoped that the Minister would take it as a lesson and correct his questionable actions in the Vineyard Heights scandal. But 9 months later and more scandals have come out, and the Minister has yet to rectify every point in the motion of disapproval passed against him. He has also not shown any humility after this current report was published on Tuesday either. Instead, he has gone on the defensive and has refused to admit that, ‘Maybe I made a mistake.’ This is just like his sexist letter to the Ombudsman last year. When you’re in a leadership position, you cannot be wrong and strong. It is this arrogance that gives me no confidence in the Minister ever doing the right thing, and his consistent attitude toward criticism is unproductive to the proper functioning of government and detrimental to serving the people of Sint Maarten, except for his inner circle,” said MP Peterson.

MP Peterson also called out the implausibility of Minister Doran’s excuse of needing to confer with the VROMI acting Secretary-General. “This is just a delay tactic. There is continuity in government, which means that all information should be within the Ministry, and not with specific individuals. This goes against transparency. Furthermore, this individual also committed questionable acts, as per the Ombudsman’s report, so why should we believe that he will put forward any more truthful information than the Minister himself. The Minister was quoted as being ‘intensely involved’ in the tender process. I have to wonder why he is not as intensely involved in providing answers to Parliament when his job is on the line,” said MP Peterson.

“As a Parliament, we have given the Minister many chances. But what have we gotten from giving him the benefit of doubt? A report that outlines how he had created the perfect atmosphere for bid-rigging in the garbage collection contracts,” added MP Peterson. “That is what the people need to realize. Claiming to fix a system is a cute distraction tactic when all you’re doing is manipulating the same status quo system in such a way that it benefits different people who are part of your circle, as opposed to other individual’s circles.”

MPs Gumbs and Peterson were also disappointed by the manner that some coalition MPs were trying to spin the Minister’s indefensible actions as outlined in the Ombudsman’s report.

“To me, it’s abundantly clear that the National Alliance (NA) is in favor of corruption and nepotism, once it’s one of their own in office, as there is no other way to call the deliberate advantage that some contractors gained over others. One of these contractors being the Minister’s neighbor and a close relative of another Minister,” said MP Gumbs. “So what status quo are we changing? Judging from the vague and sometimes wildly off-topic comments by the NA MPs, I cannot help but conclude that they are okay with corruption, and the people’s needs will be put in the backseat.”

PFP sincerely hopes that Minister Doran will, on his own initiative, return to Parliament in a timely manner, considering that he has yet to return for the public meeting related to the same motion of disapproval in 2021. When that meeting was called, coalition MPs walked out and did not give a quorum for the meeting.