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Police hold nine teenagers after school bus shooting

page4a216CUL DE SAC--Police held nine teens and seized a revolver after a gang clash in Cul de Sac that led to a shooting from a school bus Friday afternoon.

A gang from the district allegedly attacked the school bus near Cake House bakery and supermarket. A passenger retaliated, firing at least one gunshot from the bus window, police said. Witnesses remember hearing two gunshots. One didn’t come from the bus.

A stray bullet struck a car’s windshield and lodged in its headrest.

Witnesses told police that young men on L.B. Scott Road had barraged the bus with bottles. The driver decided to keep driving to Philipsburg “to avoid the worst,” police spokesman Inspector Ricardo Henson said in police statement Friday.

Police intercepted the school bus on Bush Road near Save-A-Lot home supplies, escorted all of its teenage passengers out of the bus and searched them. Officers found a .38-caliber Smith & Wesson revolver in a girl’s schoolbag stuffed next to books and other school supplies.

G.D.’s bag was hidden under the school bus seat, Henson said. The gun had five bullets and one spent shell in the chamber.

Police confiscated the gun, along with two machetes and three knives they found on the bus.

Police are investigating.

Dollison, Buncamper dismiss SOAB’s report as ‘revolting’

page1b216~ Issue 20-page1a216page document in own defence ~

PHILIPSBURG--ROB Sector Director Joseph Dollison and New Works and Maintenance head Claudius Buncamper eviscerated the SOAB concept report in October 2009 that outlined alleged wrongdoings at the department and concluded that both should be dismissed from their functions for mismanagement of the department and possibly should face criminal charges.

In their 20-page response to the concept report, which they sent to SOAB in October 2009, Dollison and Buncamper addressed the allegations in the report point for point and told SOAB its concept report was suggestive, filled with non-factual statements, lacked understanding of the functioning of ROB and VROM, misinterpreted a number of procedures, and was based on hearsay from the convicted former head of VROM.

Based on his and Buncamper’s explanations and clarifications, Dollison urged SOAB to adjust the “revolting quality” of its concept report before submitting it to the Executive Council.

He told SOAB he would hold the organisation and the investigators personally liable for the unjustified manner in which it branded civil servants with 25 years of service as “unqualified” and “unable” to run the department, particularly if most of it was based on comments from an emotional former civil servant.

Despite answering the charges against them, Dollison and Buncamper never received a response from SOAB on its concept report. SOAB issued its final report to the Executive Council in November 2009 with the same and additional allegations against Buncamper and Dollison, including the advice to dismiss them and the charge that they were not capable of running the departments for which they are responsible.

Dollison and Buncamper responded to the Executive Council this month, along with additional defence statements. They also presented several documents to their legal team to corroborate their defence in a court of law should it ever go that far.

They said SOAB, through its report, had failed to meet the objective of presenting an improvement plan for the department, one of the main requests of the Executive Council. Buncamper also contended that SOAB’s own statement that no certainty could be attached to the accuracy of certain things in its report undermined the report’s validity.

He said the use of words like “probable” and “expect” and statements like “we could not determine” rendered the report completely absurd and the charges against personnel undeserved. He said it was unthinkable that the Executive Council would identify any punishable acts based on a “hearsay” report.

Furthermore, Dollison said that based on the non-factual statements and SOAB’s irresponsible handling of the report, he could only conclude that SOAB had already drawn its conclusions about the departments before the investigation was carried out. Dollison did not deny that administrative errors could have taken place because of a shortage of staff and by his predecessor at VROM.

He said he had assumed responsibility for VROM in late 2005 and problems outlined in the SOAB report from 2005 to 2009 were similar to those before 2005, and thus could be placed on the shoulders of the former head of VROM.

Also, Buncamper said he had deputised for Dollison on very few occasions and could not be held responsible for a number of allegations laid out by SOAB. Additionally, Buncamper was not the only senior civil servant at the department to have deputised for Dollison and approved signed permits. However, this other civil servant was not mentioned in the SOAB report.

Dollison provided detailed descriptions of the various departments, staffing upgrades, the measures that had been taken to improve the departments, the cooperation with the Legal Affairs Department and the cabinet of the Lt. Governor in amending old legislation, and explanations for many of the permit processes for several projects SOAB had tagged as inappropriate or unclear.

He said SOAB’s “hearsay” conclusions that had led to its stringent advice to the Executive Council were not appropriate, as they were based on rumours and innuendos. Wherever shortcomings were discovered and could be substantiated, immediate actions had been taken to address those shortcomings. During the course of 2009, he said, more positive things than negative ones had occurred at the department.

He dismissed SOAB’s allegation that he had had civil servants make drawings for his personal projects as “completely untrue.” Dollison said his personal projects had been drawn up by independent architects. He said that during the construction of his projects, he had requested inspectors to check and double-check that all was in order and being carried out in accordance with the law.

Dollison also challenged SOAB to provide examples of its suggestion that ROB management had pressured personnel or signed documents before proper reports were made or signed off by the relevant department head.

He said permits for one reason or the other took months or longer to be processed in some instances. In those instances (some of which appeared in the media), he said, personnel would be instructed to pay added attention, as the process obviously was hitting a snag somewhere.

He said that in one case, a simple letter from the Executive Council had taken six months to reach the developer of a project and the former head of VROM had misplaced the documents for this project twice. Dollison said he often received deadlines from the Island Secretary with which he had to work.

Buncamper said the impression the report created of permits being issued before a request or without a proper request or payment was farcical and not possible. He said payment was made at the Island Receiver’s Office on presentation of a payment order issued by the building permits section of the department and signed by Dollison and/or his deputy. The building permit number is then placed on the receipt of payment.

If through administrative misplacement these payment orders could not be located by SOAB, Buncamper contended, this did not give SOAB the right to make suggestive statements that people requesting the permits had paid a particular price before a payment order was issued.

Addressing SOAB’s claim that department personnel were not qualified to execute complex projects, Buncamper said this assertion was not correct, as three qualified section heads of the department had been assigned to every mega-project over the last two years.

SOAB’s charge that the relevant laws were not followed and in some cases totally ignored was based on an interview with one civil servant and unproven, Buncamper said. He said it was public knowledge that the building code ordinance was outdated and did not consider modern construction methods that could be misinterpreted.

He said that despite many requests to have the ordinance amended, Sector ROB was still waiting on approval from the Executive Council to spearhead the amending of said ordinance.

Buncamper said there was nothing illegal or strange about his signing a permit for one of Dollison’s projects in Dollison’s presence. He said it was an old arrangement that stipulated that no one might sign a permit that referred to personal or family projects. The same principle is in place for the Executive Council when it approves building permits for family members of Executive Council members. The council member does not sign, but the decision is taken in his or her presence

Buncamper said SOAB had made serious accusations in its concept report, some of which had been fabricated by SOAB. He said the opinion that a civil servant who might have done something wrong in the past was incapable of stopping was disappointing and questioned the integrity of every civil servant, especially in the cases where SOAB could not base any of its findings on facts.

Dollison and Buncamper are awaiting the decision of the Executive Council. Both men’s legal representatives have made it quite clear that should the Executive Council attempt to punish their clients, they will take the fight to a court of law.

“The draft report contained various incorrect statements. The investigative method was questionable, to put it mildly, and did not reflect the requisite objectivity needed to conduct an impartial investigation and make a proper report. Our clients presented SOAB with a 20-page well-documented response on the draft report, outlining all the factual misrepresentations, the unfounded and even suggestive conclusions that were, preliminary, drawn in that report,” the attorneys said.

Authorities to ship contaminated container back to Puerto Rico

page6b216page6c216POINTE BLANCHE--Local authorities plan to send a container full of animal feed, drinks and paint buckets back to Puerto Rico, believing the items to be contaminated.

Firemen clothed in hazardous material suits on Friday removed dozens of cans of old paint and paint thinner from 34 barrels that were in a container sent from Puerto Rico recently.

The container was destined for French St. Martin, but the consignee could not pay, The Daily Herald understands, and it was turned over to another shipping company.

“We’ve been back and forth with Puerto Rico [for a while],” said a representative of the Dutch St. Maarten cargo service that contacted local authorities. The container had started to smell and they worried about its contents.

Customs and government’s Hygiene and Inspection Departments watched as fire fighters, in two teams of two, uncovered the barrels, revealing smaller buckets of paint stacked three or more to each barrel.

The buckets were deemed to be for disposal purposes: metal, rust-covered lids fused to the old containers, which seemed soaked in dried paint. Fire-hazard warnings on the buckets were faded.

Firemen pried the barrels open one at a time, to verify the contents. Old paint and paint thinner were in the buckets.

According to persons in the shipping industry who saw it, the consignment form was incorrect. It did not indicate that there were chemicals in the container and did not suggest that there was possibly contaminated food.

Workers revealed a dangerous mingling of waste chemicals with human food, chicken feed, malted drinks and matches.

Senior Fire Officer Frans Nieuwenhoven condemned what authorities think was an attempt to slip used chemicals in St. Maarten/St. Martin for illegal disposal.

“We are not a dumping place for other countries,” Nieuwenhoven said.

Most paints are polymeric combinations of natural oils or synthetic polymers. The binding agent in paint can be dangerous to the environment and additives for texture or composition can be hazardous to human health.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) does not list the reagents in paint as substantial environmental hazards. However, disposing of these substances should be done in a safe manner.

Flaws in health sector raised at PMIA lecture

page3b216PHILIPSBURG--The need for more medical specialists in St. Maarten, staff shortages at St. Maarten Medical Center (SMMC) and the black market sale of medicinal products on the streets were some of the issues raised during the Philipsburg Mutual Improvement Association’s (PMIA’s) eight annual Lionel Bernard Scott Lecture Thursday evening.

Panellists agreed that a clear vision was needed for health care, as St. Maarten moves towards her new status as country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

Health Commissioner Hyacinth Richardson, who addressed the audience at the end of the over three-hour long lively discussion, said the issues raised had the attention of government and had his concern.

Medical specialists

Some members of the three-man panel spoke of the chronic shortage of medical specialists in St. Maarten, as well as the impeding crisis in the delivery of women’s health care, when two of the three existing gynaecologists stop operating by year end.

Gynaecologist Dr. Michel Petit, one of the panellists, will be retiring this year, while Dr. Tjon Kon Fat is expected to leave this year. This will mean that gynaecologist/obstetrician Dr. Randall Friday will be the sole gynaecologist to serve St. Maarten along with midwife Regina Janga.

The commissioner said the pending shortage of gynaecologist is being addressed, and another gynaecologist is expected to be recruited in a few months. He said, also, that government will be asking Dr. Tjon Kon Fat and Dr. Petit to remain a bit longer.

Panellist Dr. Glen Bryson, who runs his own clinic in Dutch Quarter and who has been operating as a general practitioner in St. Maarten for the past two decades, was very frank in his opening remarks. He painted a grim picture of the situation as it related to the delivery of medical care. He said health care needed more attention. Authorities who should be addressing the issues in health care, Bryson noted, appeared to be “happy,” “complacent” and satisfied with the status quo.

Bryson argued that while there are about 20 general practitioners operating here, the island territory “desperately needed” more: an eye specialist, urologist, neurologist, cardiologist, oncologist, gynaecologist, surgeon and midwives.

However, one of the medical doctors at American University of the Caribbean (AUC) School of Medicine, who said he attended the session to get an idea of the health care system on island, questioned whether it was feasible for St. Maarten to have a medical specialist in every area. He questioned whether this was justifiable given the island’s population. He also queried whether it would not be more practical and feasible for the French and Dutch sides to cooperate and make use of each other’s medical practitioners and services.

Panellists and moderator Eugene Holiday said the issue is a political one. While the French and Dutch sides have close ties historically, each side is governed by different laws.

Panellists also spoke of the difficulties encountered in attracting medical specialists to St. Maarten. Alluding to the difficulties encountered by Dr. Friday when he returned to St. Maarten to operate, Petit said certain issues were making it less attractive to start up here.

Richardson said he had been assured by SMMC General Director Dr. George Scot that medical specialists would be recruited for St. Maarten. He said Scot had indicated that this will be done in collaboration with a medical institution in the Netherlands. “I can tell you that we will be able to bring the specialists here,” said the commissioner.

Care at SMMC

The working environment at SMMC was one of the issues that drew much reaction from the audience.

While Petit was critical of the working environment at SMMC and said the service level at SMMC had dropped over the years, panellist Dr. Felix Holiday was in defence of SMMC, saying that the service is at an international level.

Petit said the hospital is severely short staffed which he said has a direct effect on the delivery of quality care. He said SMMC, in its attempts to lower its cost for profitability, is sacrificing care. He said he has seen the level of service at SMMC plummet over his 30 years operating in St. Maarten and there was a dire need for more staff. He said, for example, there were only two nurses assigned to one ward and if one of them went on vacation, it was a strenuous task on the other.

Touching on the issue of salaries, he said medical professionals abroad were also earning much more than at SMMC.

Orthopaedic surgeon Dr. Jack Bocher, a member of the audience, alluded to one case in which one person had been trained abroad in orthopaedic care, but subsequently left to work elsewhere where the pay was much higher.

Holiday stood up for the care at SMMC, arguing that SMMC treats many tourists, in addition to the local populace, and its service was at an international level. He said also that many cruise lines come to St. Marten because the SMMC is able to deliver quality care.

Taking a jab at Petit’s arguments, Dr. Bocher said the SMMC should not be ridiculed because of someone’s personal issues with Scot, an assertion that Petit dismissed.

Street sale

In his very candid presentation, Dr. Bryson spoke about the sale of drugs on the streets. He said antibiotics, birth control pills, and hormonal pills can all be purchased on the streets.

He also alluded to the wide use of detoxifiers and intestinal cleansers which he says people spend a lot of money for to “purge out” but which he said has little medicinal benefits.

Bryson said over the years the focus has been placed on tourism while health care has been neglected. “Health care needs to be developed,” he told the capacity crowd.

Other issues raised at the forum include the revamping of the medical insurance system and the need for a vision for health care.

One panellist also said that medical professionals should be included in the discussions for the National Health Insurance System (NHIS) being developed for Country St. Maarten.

Mental health

In response to statements by Mental Health Foundation (MHF) President Eileen Healy about the lack of attention to the MHF and the foundation’s need for land to develop and offer better services, Richardson said land has already been identified for the foundation in the vicinity of the St. Maarten Park (zoo). Richardson said he had asked Healy to follow up on the matter. However, if she did not, he will.

The commissioner, who said he had met with Healy about three times since taking office, said he is aware of the issues. He said over the past seven months, he has been working on several issues including averting a strike at the SMMC and assisting Dr. Friday to obtain his license.

On the issue of students returning, Richardson said, while in the past students who returned were told that they were overqualified, he has already brought back a health care professional who currently works at the Sector Health Care.

The Health commissioner told the capacity crowd that he has had several meetings with people in the health sector since assuming the health portfolio and their concerns had his attention. He stated would do whatever he could to iron out the problems that exist.

The forum, themed, “Health care in St. Maarten, its status and future,” was lively and informative.

Louie Laveist admits mistakes, no crimes

page1a214PHILIPSBURG--Former Democratic Party (DP) commissioner of social affairs, labour and youth Louie Laveist admitted Thursday during the hearing of his appeal against his conviction for fraud, forgery and bribery that he had made mistakes, but maintained that he had not committed any crimes.

“I have no criminal bone in my body,” an emotional Laveist told the three judges of the Joint Court of the Netherlands Antilles and Aruba and those present in the public stands, among them DP Councilman Petrus Leroy de Weever.

“I do feel that I am innocent,” Laveist said in explaining while he was appealing his sentence of 18 months, nine of which were suspended with three years’ probation, a NAf. 5,000 fine, and a ban from holding office for five years.

Solicitor General Ton van der Schans totally differed in opinion with the embattled politician, and considered all charges legally and convincingly proven. He requested the Joint Court to impose 24 months, nine of which were to be suspended, with three years’ probation and a five-year ban from office.

Laveist, a politician since 1998 and Island Council member since 2003, denied he had forged minutes of Culture Club Foundation, of which he had been the chairman. According to the Prosecutor’s Office, this was done to defraud co-financing organisation AMFO of NAf. 22,750 in subsidy for a so-called “Moral Values” project, including the 2004 St. Maarten Day “Rally Around the Flag” project.

AMFO had requested Laveist’s abdication as the foundation’s chairman to avoid conflict of interest, which Laveist said Thursday had been difficult to accomplish, considering that he also had been Commissioner of Culture.

He qualified the fact that the change of the board had never been registered officially by a notary as an “oversight” and an “honest mistake” for which he apologised.

Some NAf. 5,000 of AMFO’s subsidy landed in Laveist’s pocket. This was in reimbursement for an advance he had made to the foundation, he explained to the Court.

But this also pointed to a conflict of interest, said Court President Gerard Lewin. “I agree with this 100 per cent. It was not right, but it became the norm to do things this way. But foundation money was not used for my personal gain,” said Laveist.

He also denied that he had accepted a bribe in connection with the furnishing of the new Administration Building. According to the charges, Laveist and his assistant Roberto Richardson went on a paid trip to Canada to visit the factory of a supplier of office furnishings.

“I thought it was a good educational trip for me. It was just for orientation that I went to Canada. I was never pressured to give the contract to this manufacturer,” Laveist said. He stated that the trip had had a private character.

He was also confronted with the charge that he had accepted a US $6,000 donation to Culture Club Foundation from Bargains Unlimited in exchange for work permits for sales representatives. Laveist said he had only requested that the Executive Council reconsider its refusal to grant the company the requested permits.

According to the charges, Laveist was also involved in the employment of an undocumented foreigner. Laveist explained that Barbershop 2 where this person had been employed belonged to his sister and his nephew, and that he had only mediated on his nephew’s behalf with Labour Department head Rafael Boasman. However, he denied having had any knowledge of illegal employees.

Asked whether he would want to become a commissioner again once the five-year ban was over, Laveist said he wanted to vindicate himself first. “My career is not on my horizon right now. I have learned a valuable lesson. I should not have accepted anything from anyone. I apologise to the entire community for not thinking straight.”

“I am humbled here today,” he said in stating that he would be willing to perform community service; for instance, in teaching drama and writing in schools.

“No matter how you twist and turn, it is all a matter of conflict of interest,” said the Solicitor General. The former commissioner had practised no transparency at all and had been mixing public and private interests for a number of years, he said. “He has abused public office for personal gain at the expense of government and the public interest.”

Laveist’s attorney Cor Merx pointed to some technical deficiencies in the handling of the investigations. He further stated that the charges of forgery, fraud and bribery could not be proven, and therefore pleaded for his client’s full acquittal.

The Joint Court will hand down its decision in Curaçao on February 11.

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