PHILIPSBURG:--- As the largest business representative association on the island we want to make sure that all businesses are complying with the laws of the country, at the same time these rules are in place to secure the wellbeing of our visitors and our employees, therefore recent reports of raid-like inspections by armed Control inspectors in bullet proof vests for seemingly routine controls of Immigration, Labor, Health and Hygiene, in member hotels and restaurants is disconcerting to say the least. Why pray tell is it necessary for a hygiene or labor inspector to arrive with an armed escort? Based on these recently published reports by guests and our own experiences as legitimate business persons operating on this island, we are concerned that the authorities do not cross the very fine line from enforcement to harassment in the process of routine controls. These controls should appear completely non-existent in any tourist experience anywhere in the world; but even more so on an island like St. Maarten that is solely dependent on Tourism and whose moto is “the Friendly Island”.
As Minister Gibson stated in Parliament on Monday, St. Maarten has for many years now been relying on “word of mouth marketing”, these “word of mouth” stories generate an enormous amount of negative marketing that jeopardize all of our livelihoods. More training is needed from the enforcement agencies to stress coordinated efforts with the private sector, to enable the Control Unit to accomplish their regulatory function while creating as minimal as possible negative impact to the guest experience of any establishment. Such as not arriving at the exact dinner hour; such as reviewing all respective paperwork prior to the inspection, knowing the number of employees registered, the relevant permits granted, the name of the manager to contact them upon entering the establishment; properly identify themselves prior to proceeding with the necessary inspections, for example. We are dealing with respectable businesses that have to be registered with at least five different government entities in order to be established and to operate; completing this extensive process already shows that they are willing to cooperate with the authorities. If any deficiencies are found after inspection, surely they can be dealt with in a reasonable and professional fashion. Just as the business owner must understand that the Control Officers simply have a job to do, the Control Officers must understand that treating our local businesses and guests as criminals threatens our very existence as a tourism destination.
The SHTA would also like to emphasize that we are not against inspections, and, in fact, inspections are imperative to the safety of our citizens and our guests as outlined by Minister Lee. Hotels, Restaurants and kitchens should be routinely inspected and staff should be legally documented. This is not something we are questioning. However, reputable businesses have records and paperwork of all of their employees, government officials could simply ask for the appropriate paperwork if they do not have it already. We are asking Government to consider the amount of resources spent (ie costs associated) on these controls and correlate them to the amount infractions actually found. Does the show of force required for an Immigration, Labor and Health Inspection really need to be comparable to a Bank robbery? Couldn’t perhaps a little upfront homework by the respective agencies save everyone time and money and in fact help to create a more healthy environment?