‘Yes, we are ready,’ says Sarah

Leader of Government Commissioner Sarah Wescot-Williams says the meetings with the delegation of the First Chamber last week allowed the Dutch representatives to better understand how complex the situation is for St. Maarten.

She said several issues, including combating of poverty on the island, cooperation with the French side and immigration, had been discussed in the meeting with the Executive Council.

And while the meeting with the Island Council was not held because there was not a quorum, the matter of constitutional affairs which had been on the agenda was discussed in the meeting with the Executive Council.

"In fact, in my presentation as member of the Executive Council I also gave the members of the First Chamber an overview of the constitutional process," Wescot-Williams explained.  

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She told Wednesday’s Executive Council press briefing that she had been able to meet with the delegation leader and another member of the delegation at their request for a concluding meeting on Saturday. During that meeting the Dutch representatives gave their impressions concerning some of the discussions that had been held the previous Wednesday.

"From the statements I realised, as both members had indicated to me as well, that they understand the predicament that St. Maarten is facing with respect to, especially, the part in the different agreements that we have that are dealing with the matter of justice and how it is so necessary that the tackling of this area happens in close consultation with, if not under the responsibility of, the Island Government of St. Maarten; thus that we can be put in charge of this process," Wescot-Williams explained.

"They also understand the constraints that we face in getting this done."

Pertaining to concerns raised by the Dutch Parliament that St. Maarten will not be ready in time for the March 2010 date set for achievement of country status, Wescot-Williams said this was certainly not the case.

"What we need to have on paper concerning country St. Maarten and its organisation is already there, but it is now about filling that in, about doing the necessary in order to make it work. I’m talking about putting people in positions where the laws per sector can be developed, where budgets can be prepared, where we can attract persons for the positions that need to be filled for country St. Maarten," she explained.

However, she noted that there was a big technicality where the filling of positions was concerned. "We cannot at this point in time take on persons for the Ministry of Justice for country St. Maarten. Neither can we, for example, employ inspectors of public health, to mention just two areas that are the responsibility of the Central Government," she explained.

She explained that Project Director for Constitutional Affairs Dennis Richardson was currently in the Netherlands on a fact-finding mission. He is also charged with preparing for a delegation from St. Maarten to travel there before mid-year.

"I understand the concerns of the Dutch government and Members of Parliament with respect to the Justice System in St. Maarten. In fact, I want to narrow it down: I can understand, because I share their concern with respect to criminality in St. Maarten.

"The issue is that of the chicken or the egg: who needs to do what in terms of improving this situation. It is clear where the authority lies, it is clear that unless we get some of that authority and responsibility we can only rely on the Minister of Justice to make the necessary improvements, the necessary plans and the necessary programmes," Wescot-Williams said.

She said that beyond those issues no one should suggest that St. Maarten was not doing what had been agreed to in the initial discussions in 2006.

"Outside of that there is no one who can tell St. Maarten ‘St. Maarten, you are not living up to the agreements that we have made.’ We cannot be told that the laws we needed to put in place are not being put in place. So are we ready? Yes we are ready.

"But we need to understand, and I have stated this before, that outside of that general claim that St. Maarten might not be ready, what is it truly that the First or Second Chamber needs to see to dispel the claims of St. Maarten not being ready? That we are this size, 37 square miles in total – that is, French and Dutch St. Maarten – is not going to change," she said.

She noted that while St. Maarten needed to seek support for the various ministries to materialise, its government could not be accused of not working towards country St. Maarten.

"Again, unless we get a clear indication as to what these concerns are in actuality, we will be basically having the same discussion: we are saying, ‘We are ready’ and on the side of the Dutch they are saying, ‘We do no think you are and we have concerns,’" Wescot-Williams said.

She said the meeting had been productive in that the better understanding attained by the Dutch delegation had allowed them to see that St. Maarten was, "to use the words of the delegation leader, ‘stuck between a rock and a hard place.’"