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Open letter to civil servants, workers of government companies

cemmanuel02022021My people,

The script was very familiar on Wednesday evening when I was the only Member of Parliament who voted against cutting your benefits and in some cases salaries.

I have asked over 100 questions about these cuts to civil servant benefits and in some cases salaries. I have gotten carefully worded non-answers which clearly show that these decisions were not based on any tangible studies, reports, union involvement, nothing. While other MPs were satisfied to vote for cuts based on very little and with no information about when your rights will be restored to you, I simply could not. We have seen too many “temporary” measures on St. Maarten become permanent.

Even with that truth in mind, The Prime Minister stood up in Parliament and questioned on which side of history we will stand. History will show that I am not afraid to stand alone while fighting for my people. I could never in good conscience support making people's lives more difficult by passing laws that do exactly that. Political opponents can call me what they want, but the people of St. Maarten know where I stand.

I cannot in good conscience vote to infringe on people's rights, salaries, and benefits knowing that there is no substantiation for these cuts, financial or otherwise, other than the Dutch says so. No matter how you fluff it up, no matter what amendments you add, it all boils down to cutting what people have worked hard for and infringing on their basic human rights. Some have been quick to publicly dismiss my warnings and concerns. Every single thing that I have raised a red flag about since November 2020, is now coming to pass. And no-one can say or point out otherwise.

This notion that they keep pushing that “base salaries will not be touched” is what you call a shallow lie. Shallow because they refuse to delve deeper. Dr. Martin Luther King said there is nothing more dangerous than willful ignorance and conscientious stupidity. People planned around their increments, bonuses, and other benefits. When you do not have these things, you have to turn to that same base salary that they keep boasting will not be touched, to now choose which obligation you will pay. So the Naf 300 you planned for now has to come out of a base salary that is already committed to other obligations. So the base salary is being touched, not by their hand directly, but by their actions nonetheless.

And it will not end with these three laws. These laws are just the beginning of much bigger issues for this country and its people, neatly wrapped up in the COHO entity and the country packages. Here too I have been asking questions and raising the alarm for months. And here too you should not expect to hear the truth from this government. What you will probably hear is a concerted effort to manipulate the world to make it give them what they want, not tell you what really is. This government has proven that they are incapable of pursuing what is meaningful and right for its people. They rather choose what is expedient and flawed, and never speak the truth.

They will make it sound like the choice before them was not a simple one among many. That it was the only one. They will try and make you believe that they could not find the same equivalent of government waste to cut. Ask the government what operational costs they cut and they will tell you gasoline and telephones. Then turn and boast that they were creative.

In the meantime, they have made cutting benefits sound like no big thing. As if single mothers wasn't depending on a bonus, or families don't depend on vacation pay not to go on vacation, but to pay house insurance. As if all the years you have worked to secure a little extra to try and live a decent quality of life can be just tossed out and tossed up as a win. But they live more comfortable than most of you.

The other dimension to this argument should be looked at through the prism of fairness. The government will impose upon its people measures that their counterparts in the Netherlands will not be subjected to. It goes against the very spirit of UN conventions and is not equal or fair.

They will never tell you that to date they do not have an economic recovery plan. To date! A full year into the pandemic and this government does not have a plan. They have failed in their responsibility to provide a level of stability and creativity that can form the bedrock of an economic recovery. In fact, key to that is maintaining demand in the economy, especially as the recovery of key sectors such as hospitality and tourism will be driven by consumer spending in 2021. That is why the decision to freeze or cut salaries and benefits is just a poor decision for our economy.

We need our people participating in the economy and they simply won’t if they are worried about their income falling behind or if they just don't have that income at all. The same goes for the proposed additional taxes that the CFT wants to see levied on St. Maarten. I can't wait to get to that discussion to see the so-called conscience of some be put to the test after cutting people then looking to impose more taxes on them. It is an economically illiterate step that will harm the private sector as well as the public sector.

Anyone watching the debate on Tuesday would have seen quite a show on the floor of Parliament. You would think that we were achieving something great with all the sarcastic tones, campaign speeches, gleefully making statements as if we just struck gold. Giggling and laughing and being sarcastic while putting more financial strain on their people. They seemed so proud of themselves that they were making political headway among themselves, totally oblivious to the people of St. Maarten who do not live as comfortably as they do.

And then the Prime Minister pontificated about the careful use of words. That's funny. You see I love words and how they are applied. But all my life I have sought to use words, to tell the truth. Even more so as I sought public office. Words do indeed have power, words are power, words could be your power.

Words can be a destructive tool for anyone who wants to add an emotional twist to a blatant lie. Words can be a weapon used by someone who without a reservation can tell their people to eat crumbs while they eat caviar. Yes, words. You can compile a lot of words in your attempt to answer questions hoping that these words would hide your negligence. But you are effectively saying nothing while exposing your truths to be lies.

With words, truthful, honest words, you can change a life and you can inspire your nation. Unfortunately, the words we have heard from this government and its support in Parliament have changed lives for the worse and have depressed a nation, not inspired it. I will continue to fight for you and the people of St. Maarten as long as God gives me the strength to do so. God bless you and your families.

MP Christopher Emmanuel


DEMOCRACY NEEDS OUR CARE

Following the news of the U.S. Capitol riot, and talking to people I’ve met since then in Curacao and Aruba, it seems to me that a great many others reacted as I did. We were shocked by those images, and deeply concerned with what has happened to democracy in America.

One lesson I’ve learned from these recent events in my country is that we must never take democracy for granted. Democracy is not an immovable, indestructible rock; it is a living thing that needs our constant scare and attention.

For its roots to be healthy, democracy needs to be grounded in the truth.

To learn the truth we need a free and vibrant press, to seek out the facts and present them without fear. We need to respect others’ opinions and accept that our own is not the only valid point of view. But opinions are not facts and we need to know the difference. We need to beware of efforts to mislead us, and not take as fact everything we read or hear, even if it happens to agree with our opinion.

To grow straight and strong, democracy needs respect for the rule of law, and for the separation of government powers.

Democracy allows protest as a legitimate form of seeking change but it is most effective when done peacefully. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., whose memory we celebrated earlier this week, never gave up on his hope for a democracy. He never gave up on his country and he never gave up on peace despite the beatings, lynchings, and violence he witnessed.

In order to survive, democracy needs a judicial branch which is fully independent, and judges who earn their position by virtue of a mastery of the laws, not adherence to a party line. Fortunately, we saw examples of this independent judiciary in the repeated affirmations in our courts that the results of the November elections were sound.

To survive, democracy also needs a legislative branch that will rise above partisan politics to provide reliable checks and balances to the power of the President. We have seen some examples of this as well in recent days. After the Capitol riot, a freshman Republican Congressman from Michigan called for accountability. He explained that he was crossing party lines to vote for impeachment after January 6 as "a call to action for us to reflect on these events and seek ways to correct them.” Several of his fellow party members joined him.

I was moved by the actions rather than words of another Congressman, a Democrat from New Jersey. After fulfilling his Constitutional duty and voting to certify the presidential election on the night of the riot, he emerged from the House chamber. Appalled at the vandalism he had witnessed at the Capitol that day and the wreckage it had left, he immediately picked up a trash bag and started cleaning up the garbage on the floor of those historic halls. The People’s halls.

And the most importantly, we the people all have a duty ourselves to care for and sustain this precious experiment of humanity called democracy. We as individuals need to stop and think what we can do – inform ourselves, vote responsibly, and translate our care for democracy into action in our own way, in our homes and communities. This work is urgent and enormous, but I want to be a part of it.

Since arriving in Curacao I’ve been enjoying learning Papiamentu. During my studies I discovered the wonderful haiku of Elis Juliana. Reading them, and thinking over the situation in America, I was inspired to try writing one. At the risk of exposing my poor skills - I have a long way to go, I know - I wanted to share the following with you:

Demokrasia
No ta baranka firme
Ta palu bibu.

 

Remie Willem J. US Consulate.

 

What is Happening to the Sint Maarten Nature Foundation?

Dear Editor,

I have been a proud frequent visitor to the island for more than 30 years. I have seen the island’s nature change significantly in those 30 years, mostly with negative results. But over the past years, regardless of that development, I was always happy to see that there is an organization that looks after Nature on the Island.
That is why I was so disappointed that the ongoing sewage issue caused by a marina at my residence in the Simpson Bay Yacht Club was not addressed at all by the Nature Foundation. From what I have been told when the Nature Foundation inspector arrived he did so wearing a uniform from the same Marina that was causing the issue in the first place. I also learned that another staff member of the Nature Foundation works for another marine. This makes me wonder how effective the Nature Foundation can be in working for nature. Is it also true that the Nature Foundation inspectors agreed to sand dumping in Point Blanch?
Sint Maarten Nature is in danger and the only foundation I can see working for it is the Nature Foundation so that is why I am so concerned about the situation with the Nature Foundation. Please I urge the Nature Foundation not to allow Sint Maarten to be destroyed. We were not able to come to the island last year because of Covid and we have noticed in one year many bad changes to the nature of Sint Maarten and we are worried as, long time visitors. Please help save nature on Sint Maarten.

Mrs. Annetta T Pendarvis

Unfair incarceration.

Dear Editor,

The practice of locking people up for questioning has got to stop. Taking innocent people out of their beds at all hours and locking them up is inhumane and should be unlawful. Everyone is presumed innocent and by locking someone up you have already assumed the person guilty and have executed a partial sentence. We are not living under some dictatorship or other tyrannical government system where someone must prove their innocence.
A case in point is the recent exoneration of an Honorable MP who suffered the indignation of being ripped from the arms of his loved one, incarcerated for questioning only to be released and later acquitted of all charges after a judge ruled that he was merely doing his job. Who is going to restore this gentleman’s honor and remove the tainting from his name that was branded on his reputation? How are they going to compensate this man for the trauma he suffered from being deprived of his freedom, chained, and caged like a wild beast?
I agree that suspects of crimes must be questioned but innocent people cannot be locked up on mere suspicions. That is too wide a brush. When someone is incarcerated, they should have been convicted of a crime, not suspected of one. Any questioning that must be done should be completed by either questioning at the suspect's house or Police Station, but no one should be dragged out of their bed and held for questioning under the pretext that they might collude with other suspects or hide evidence.
Unless the suspect is caught with the proverbial smoking gun in his/her hand, witnessed in the act of committing a crime, or perceived to be an imminent danger to themselves or others, no one should be deprived of their freedom.

 

Author name withheld upon request.

A LESSON FOR ZVK AND MINISTER HUGO DE JONGE

Dear Editor,

Hugo de Jonge as Dutch Health Minister needs to review the way responsible care is delivered by his civil servants from the ZVK (Care Insurance Office) on St. Eustatius and Bonaire. As a recent patient in need of support from these offices, I was treated with a lack of empathy, flexibility, and communication skills.

Diagnosed with acute appendicitis, I was faced by a life or death situation. The St. Eustatius hospital – with the immediate consent of my Dutch insurance company - swiftly organized an air ambulance bound for Bonaire and an urgent medical operation.

When it came to my return to St. Eustatius, it was suggested to me by several knowledgeable people on St. Eustatius and Bonaire to contact ZVK. It was a reasonable proposition. The ZVK operates two direct medical flights per week between the two islands and as a Dutch pensioner, resident, and taxpayer, I thought it would not be unreasonable to ask for this service paid for by taxpayers’ money. Furthermore, I was prepared to pay for a seat on one of their sizeable planes.

Previous non-ZVK patients were granted this favor. Why not me?

“No!” came back the email from a dispassionate officer inside the ZVK Kralendijk office. This bleeped response was not accompanied by any explanation or sensitivity for my situation.

I then turned to the crisis management “adviser” on Statia whose typical civil service advice was to ignore my crisis and deflect the problem higher up the chain to the Ministerial Czarina for the ZVK on Statia.

And now the crunch: “I am not involved with individual cases,” this unfeeling and dismissive Dutch Mandarin informed me.

So much for responsible care! Instead of a two-hour flight to recuperate at home on the Historical Gem, I was obliged to spend a painful two-week journey back via Curacao and St. Maarten with all the inconvenience of infrequent flights, Covid tests, hotel, and restaurant bills not to mention eventual quarantine.

Given that Hugo de Jonge is a Christian Democrat, I am tempted to exclaim: Jesus wept! However, choppy meteorology discounted a walking back to Statia on water

This is not the first time that the ZVK has been criticized for lack of responsible care and false economy. Over the years, the ZVK has squandered many millions on delaying the return of many Statia patients treated in Colombia and other medical destinations - if only to save a few nickels on cheaper flight tickets. Some patients have nearly expired before repatriation.

My lesson for ZVK and its Minister de Jonge is to rely on personnel who are prepared to listen, care, and respond accordingly. The skies of Statia are punctured by parachuted administrators from the mainland whose talents, experience, and qualifications are rarely pre-checked even at the highest levels.

As a Dutch taxpayer, I expect the State to work at the service of the individual and not the reverse. I shall take this matter further since it displays a complete lack of flexibility, communication skills, and more importantly responsible care.

Chris Russell

 

 


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