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Gearing up to a new era of colonialism and nepotism

Dear Editor,

Lately, our representatives seem to worry a lot -and sometimes rightly so- about the Dutch (post) colonial powers. So far, the apogee of this independence rhetoric came to light when an MP was quoted as saying that he would rather “die on his feet than live on his knees”. The MP was quick to forget that Dutch PM Rutte already indicated that independence is just a phone call away.

So why so much noise? It is nothing more than putting up smokescreens in order to derive the attention from the real problem, namely the new era of (corporate) colonialism and nepotism which is upon us. And it is exactly this new colonial system which is embraced by the privileged few, including some -if not most- of our MP’s, who are primarily interested in the question: what is in it for me?

The three integrity reports by PwC, the Wit-Samson Committee and the General Audit Chamber painted a bleak picture about integrity breaches in Government, the dysfunctioning of Parliament and the weak institutional framework. These are precisely the kinds of characteristics that corporate interests are looking for. Corporate interests are able to essentially capture the government through economic pressure and (legalized) corruption, letting them game the system to gain an advantage. The possible advantages include; tax holidays, government contracts, weak law enforcement and Government land way below market value (e.g. Emilio Wilson Estate). Corporate interests have grown immensely wealthy.

For example, the cruise liner Carnival Corp. yearly’s revenue for 2014 is stated at US $15.884 billion. To put this in perspective, Carnival Corp. alone has a yearly revenue which is more than 10 times as much as the Gross Domestic Product of entire Country Sint Maarten. The privileged few encourage this system in order to get their piece of the cake. The not-so-bright individuals use illegal methods, risking a starring role in a special episode of Candid Camera. The craftier ones may opt for legalized -but equally harmful- corruption, such as controlling (tour bus) licenses, (security) contracts, (government) land and so on.

In order to sell this colonial system to the populace, the politicians like to play their favourite trump cards: job creation and economic development through foreign investment. Nobody in his right mind will oppose this, however, it needs to be real and sustainable. We are promised 400 jobs here and 100 jobs there, such as the 100+ jobs that former Minister of VROMI Lake promised when he bought the highly-overpriced Vorst property.

The development of the still half-empty Blue Mall (which also resulted in the conviction of a former VROMI head, who was sentenced for an attempt to squeeze a bribe out of the developer), would provide Sint Maarten with 500 full-time jobs. This led to the controversial remark of former Commissioner Hyacinth Richardson, after stressing the importance of employment for locals: “Bringing in foreign employment will get government support[i]. Bringing in foreign employment under certain circumstances is not a bad thing per se. However, as indicated by the Social Economic Council[ii], more emphasis should be placed on filling the gap between insufficiently skilled local employees and the positions offered, instead of putting up smokescreens like the Counterpart Policy. The corporate interests don’t need to care about social programs or education for the local population; they simply need enough bodies to facilitate their production and have no interest in the welfare of those who are too young or old to work. If the new colonial powers need skilled labour, they can simply hire people from other areas, thus removing the necessity of funding education.

The main investor behind Blue Mall (the Venezuelan billionaire Luis Velutini of Fondo de Valores) is currently one of the main investors in the major seafront project “Sint Maarten Quarter” along with some offshore private equity funds. This time, 400 full-time jobs after completion are promised, while most of the construction and design has already been awarded to foreign companies[iii], hence money pools offshore and labour will be imported. Meanwhile, the waterfront development has only cost local jobs. Bobby’s Marina recently announced its downsizing. The manager said the company had been very open and honest with its staffers about its decision. "We tried to be fair with everyone. It's not something that we want to do, but we can't keep doing something if it's not financially feasible". Remarkably enough, this happened just months after the purchase of the boatyard by the harbour for a skyrocketing USD 4.750,000, according to the harbour’s 2013 financial statements.

The energy sector is another example of cooperate colonial powers that effectively control Government, instead of the other way around. The supervisory board of NV GEBE apparently signed an MOU with oligopolist GB Group regarding the import of heavy fuel and the waste-to-energy plant. Details of the MOU are, however, not known since questions from Parliament remain unanswered[iv]. GB stands for the name of Haitian billionaire Gilbert Bigio, whose company was involved in a development aid scam in Haiti[v]. Home of Bigio’s business empire is the Haitian seaside shantytown of Cite Soleil, where people live in a noxious environment, while Bigio resided in a well-guarded, beautiful house in one of the few upscale neighbourhoods in Port-au-Prince[vi]. The comparison with Sint Maarten is easy to make.

These are just a few of many examples in order to illustrate the problem. The question is: can we turn the tide? A recent letter to the editor clearly demonstrated[vii] that we continue to vote, campaign and act based on the question: what is in it for me? This may be a contract -like in the case of the writer of the letter- , a piece of government land or simply hard cash[viii].

Furthermore, a lot of the voters seem to be more interested in free beer, chicken and T-shirts during a party rally than excellent public policy proposals in order to move this Country forward. Of course one must think about his own well-being. However, if we really want to be independent and avoid a new era of colonialism and nepotism, we do not only have to think about our own interest, but also have to ask what is in it for Sint Maarten?

Concluding, change is in nobody else’s hands but our own, or as eloquently expressed by U.S. President Obama: “change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.”

Name withheld at author's request.




[i] Blue Mall Cupecoy finally announces soft opening, Today, December 28, 2012

[ii] Letter of advice the implementation of Article 10 Counterpart, SER, October 22, 2013

[iii] Major seafront project ready to go ‘full steam’. The Daily Herald, March 6, 2015

[iv] Wescott-Williams accuses GEBE of disrespecting parliament, Today, February 23, 2015

[v] Haiti and the international aid scam, The Guardian, April 22, 2011 22,2013

[vi] Haiti’s few Jews hold on to history, Miami Herald, March 21, 2004

[vii] I voted for improvement yet nothing has changed, The Daily Herald, May 29, 2015

[viii] Vote buying case heads back to court — No proof of class justice, Today, May 7, 2015

 

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