By Hilbert Haar
It cannot escape anybody’s attention that election time is right around the corner. Expect a lot of empty promises from politicians who want to curry favor with the electorate. The first shots have already been fired and there is really nothing new under the sun. Chances that any promise made in the run-up to an election are extremely slim to non-existent but that does not stop politicians eager to hang on to their seat to make those promises anyway.
In the war between opposing factions, VROMI-Minister Christophe Emmanuel took center stage recently with two issues: the promise of the construction of a Belmont-hotel and his complaint to the Prosecutor’s Office against his fellow-minister Emil Lee. Lee is of course the bad boy in the current caretaker Council of Ministers because the Democratic Party was instrumental to the fall of the government.
That Emmanuel went with a complaint to the Prosecutor’s Office feels like an illustration of the despair within the National Alliance. Because, what is this all about? After Hurricane Irma, Minister Lee fixed the license plate of his government rental car – MR4 – to a private car, because his government vehicle was severely damaged during the hurricane.
Lee discussed it with then Prime Minister William Marlin and says that the PM had no issue with the decision. It was and remains a practical solution for an unusual situation. Furthermore, Lee’s private truck was properly registered and insured. He only put on the MR4-plate because private cars were not allowed on the road immediately after the hurricane. Big deal.
The political watershed between the National Alliance and the Democratic Party has inspired Marlin to say later that he never gave Lee permission to put the MR4-plate on his private car. Lee says that Marlin is lying and – truth be told – we tend to believe Minister Lee. One could also wonder whether a Prime Minister has any authority over such an issue; we doubt it very much.
That Emmanuel thinks that this matter warrants a criminal investigation shows how uninformed he is about the function of the Prosecutor’s Office. At best, the plate-issue is a misdemeanor that could carry a fine; but to get there, Lee would have had to be caught during a traffic-control and that did not happen. It is therefore a non-issue that says more about Minister Emmanuel and about the despair within the National Alliance to eliminate a formidable political opponent than it says about Minister Lee’s integrity. In our book, we keep Minister Lee marked as Mister Integrity.
Then there was of course the rather ridiculous photo op of Minister Emmanuel with a developer about the construction of a Belmont-hotel. Belmont has hotels in places like Manila, London, Paris and Dallas. The developer Emmanuel presented in his photo-op is Frank Teboul, director of the Jordan development in Cupecoy.
The curious thing about the press release is that it hardly contains any information, other than saying that Teboul will soon start with the construction of two 21-floor hotel towers. It sounds like an ideal target for the next hurricane. Where these towers are going to be built – in Mullet Bay, maybe? - remains a mystery. So don’t count on it that this is really going to happen.
It is also a mystery why the minister of VROMI would make such an announcement and not the highly invisible Minister of Economic Affairs and Tourism, Mellissa Arrindell-Doncher.
Election promises – and ceremonial initiatives as the date of the election nears – have of course a history. Only last year, when voters went to the polls on September 26, St. Maarten got a taste of this strategy when Minister of Justice Kirindongo inaugurated the Justice Building in Cole Bay. That building was supposed to house a shooting range, central dispatch and a forensic lab.
But in reality, Kirindongo was inaugurating an empty building. Today it is still empty and in a bad state of repairs due to Hurricane Irma.
Going back further in history, we recorded that United People’s party leader Theo Heyliger promised the country a new hospital in the run-up to the 2010 elections. He repeated that promise ahead of the elections in 2014, but nothing ever came of it, until DP-Minister Lee grabbed the bull by the horns. The project is now somewhat delayed due to the hurricane, but it is still in a much more advanced stage than it ever got under previous governments. Note that Lee did not make any promises; he just sprung into action.
The 2010 UP manifesto also mentioned incentives to stimulate the establishment of brand name- and 5-star hotels on the island. A bit more than one year in office, then UP’s Minister of Tourism and Economic Affairs Franklin Meyers presented his plan for “2,000 new jobs, an upgrade for all hotels and guesthouses within three years and two brand name hotels and 500 new hotel rooms in the next two years.” It never happened but this could be due to the fact that the UP was forced out of the coalition in 2012.
Oh, and we almost forgot the National Alliance stunt with the Pearl of China project before the 2016 elections. We’ll approach that issue a bit more careful because we have the feeling that the Chinese investors, up to the arrival of hurricane Irma, had a serious interest in establishing this project in St. Maarten.
“We hit the jackpot.” Finance Minister Richard Gibson said about this project last year. It even got as far as a ceremonial groundbreaking event in Little Bay, but that’s where the buck stopped.
There are therefore plenty of reasons to take elections promises with a grain of salt. Everybody knows this, yet politicians keep doing this in their quest to set themselves apart from the competition.
But if you always do what you always did you will always get what you always got. That is true for election promises, but also for the choices voters are going to make in February. It is time for a real change and the time is now. Will the real change manager please stand up?