PHILIPSBURG – “Never have I witnessed such a degrading meeting of the people business in parliament as that meeting held last week regarding the Checkmate Security contract at the St. Maarten Harbour. This meeting was called by the opposition because the people of St. Maarten wanted to know how such a contract could have been approved by the management and the supervisory board of directors of the Harbour Holding Group of Companies,” Leader of the One St. Maarten People Party (OSPP) Lenny Priest said in a press release on Tuesday evening.
“Those members of parliament supporting the government want the people to believe that because it is a local that owns Checkmate Security it is alright to pay them any amount of money and no questions should be asked. One of the roles of parliament is to supervise the government and by extension the government owned companies. Comparison was also made to some of the private companies that are carrying out large government projects and how come nobody is questioning how much these projects cost etc. etc.
“Once again I am calling on the leadership of parliament to establish a crash course on the role of parliament and the functioning of government for the members of parliament. In this crash course they should be taught why a project should go on bid to avoid them making those types of foolish statements over and over. You got to give them some credit for trying to spin this entire Checkmate affair into some members of parliament bashing the locals. If this was their private company they would never have accepted such an increase in a contract without requesting a proposal from another company.
“They even went so far as to mention how the harbour project was financed and that 30% of the shares were sold to the Dutch government. At least for once and for all they have confirmed that on September 1, 1998 the harbour project was started under the leadership of my person. They have also conquered with the fact that unlike what was said in 1997 no financing was in place for the harbour until we negotiated it. The pile driving for those that remember was only a ploy to fool the people that the harbour project was going to begin without the financing being in place.
“Who would have thought that it would have taken them 17 years to finally tell the truth as to who really started the harbour project and how it was financed. Imagine that the image of St. Maarten was in the dirt because of the 1990 airport scandal caused by the then leadership of St. Maarten. During that period of time we saw several members of the government and the airport convicted and sent to prison. Thereafter, we were seeking funding on the international market to finance the harbour project but it was not an easy task. We still had to overcome that Italian export loan for the airport and the whole legal issue with it.
“We had several options available to us at that time, scaled down the project based on the financing that was available to us or enter into an agreement with the Dutch government to acquire 30% of the shares of the harbour and raise the balance of the funds. We choose the latter and it may not have been the most popular decision at that time but today we are riding in the cockpit of opportunity based on the cash flow that the same harbour produces. Some members in the government have used it and are still using it as their own personal piggy bank. Let us look at the Checkmate Security contract increase and that would confirm what I am saying. Some years ago the same funding that was derived from the shares buy-back program was used to finance some projects here in St. Maarten and guess who got credit for those projects.
“But I was very happy that none of the long serving members of the Island Council/Parliament of St. Maarten went down memory lane to remind those supporting the government which leader went to prison and was under house arrest in the 1990’s for perjury and it is alleged that millions of dollars for the airport project disappear and not even a bag of cement was received. If my memory serves me right that same Member of Parliament was one of the drivers of the heavy equipment during the 1990 demonstration that resulted in some citizens and the leader of St. Maarten going to prison for the airport project.
“Honestly, I was also elated that nobody brought up when Higher Supervision was placed on St. Maarten under that same leader rule and today we are experiencing the same type of governing that may result in us as a country being placed under higher supervision once again.
“Just imagine that one of the younger members of parliament brought up the 250 million dollars pelicans at the airport round-a-bout or that we have had three integrity investigations in our first term as a country within the kingdom. Then another member would have brought up the Vorst case; the proposed 200 million dollars justice park and last but not the least the vote buying. They could have also mentioned the fact that the UP leader withdrew his candidacy for Prime Minister knowing that he would not have passed the screening and didn’t have the guts to confront the Dutch government.
“It is no wonder that one of the integrity investigations concluded that we need an Integrity Chamber. So much attention is being placed on this integrity chamber that the members of parliament forgot why they were elected, namely to improve the quality of life of the ordinary people and not that of the big five alone.
“In conclusion I expected the opposition to have tabled a motion of non-confidence during last week meeting of parliament against the Minister responsible for the harbor and if needs be to go to court to acquire all the documentation regarding the Checkmate contract. Secondly, in that same motion they would have instructed the shareholder representative of the harbour to have an operational audit done at the St. Maarten Harbour Group of Companies. At the end of the day none of this puts food on the table of the many persons who can’t make ends meet on a daily basis and that’s a shame,” OSPP Leader Lenny Priest said in a press statement on Tuesday.