Here’s my roundup on topics of high impact on national development, taken from the Newspapers over the last 9 days or so.
The Asbestos/Prins Willem debacle
News that the Prins Willem-Alexander Primary School (PWAS) is going to be demolished due to findings of asbestos is disturbing on many levels.
Firstly, we know that compliance with regulations in St. Maarten is lax. That makes it twice as important to ask the question, “Which company or entity had the contract or the concession to supply the materials containing the asbestos?”
Were there not regulations at the time to prevent use of such materials?” If not, are there any in place now? Was there any wrong-doing that allowed hazardous material to be used for a school? After all, such materials were already widely-known to be dangerous when the school was built.
I work in a school. Something else is therefore personally quite alarming. Many of our school buildings were built roughly around the same decade, by some of the same contractors. What we’re NOT talking about is…did anyone pay the due diligence?
Sheesh, my family history shows a predisposition to cancer. I’d hate to find out the rooms I’ve been sitting in for the last 15 years exposed me to a known carcinogen. And what about all those children and teachers in all the other schools?
Since nobody else is doing it, The Forum hereby raises a red flag on this one. [Tweet theme=”basic-white”]How many St. Maarten schools expose our people to asbestos?[/Tweet]
Suppose we do an investigation and find out none of the other schools have asbestos embedded in the building materials? A sigh of relief, no doubt. But that would raise other questions too. This is not the first time we are hearing that the school may have to be demolished. There were rumors spreading around several years ago that the area was needed for a housing project, and since there are too many schools in the area anyway, why not?
I mean, how did they suddenly find out about asbestos at at PWAS anyway? hmmmm! If no other school is found to be at risk, it would be hard not to be suspicious that the whole asbestos scare at PWAS is all about giving some well-known company a lucrative building contract. Time will tell. But we should keep an eye out to see who builds what in the same vicinity.
Or am I just another case of a critical thinker gone amok?
Minister Gibson and his pending revolution
This one is really interesting…and more important for the island’s future than all the debates in our Island Council meetings nowadays.
A brilliant lawyer with political ambitions, but devoid of vote-pulling abilities, is now our Finance Minister. I knew it was only a matter of time before we heard a populist stance from him. Methinks the good Minister wants to keep that job for a while after September… a long while.
Regardless, let’s look at his stance. Personally I think he chose well. I agree with Robbie Ferron that it’s flawed though. More about that in a little bit.
Here is a summary of Gibson’s premise in the June 2nd Herald.
The highest positions that locals can aspire for in the hospitality sector is middle-management. These companies don’t give local St. Maarten people access to management positions. In Government, the situation is worse if you look at the Prosecutor’s office and Courts. Hiring non-local managers hurts the island’s economy because they draw high incomes out of local coffers, but don’t invest nearly as much on the island. If this situation is not corrected, locals will revolt in one way or other.
Robbie Ferron’s look at the problem on June 6th contributes further. He claims that Gibson is wrong in thinking that the situation happened intentionally, or by some kind of conspiracy. According to him, market forces made it easy for the public sector and government-owned companies to quickly hire the best local talent. Companies that have to compete in the economy then have to recruit from abroad if they want skilled managers.
I have to commend these gentlemen for even starting a discussion on the topic. It should have preceded 10-10-10. The Democratic Dialogue process should have included it, Gibson states that it’s due to lack of planning.
But is it, really? Someone once told me failing to plan is a plan in itself. It just so happens that the those who invented and executed it had no interest in serving the common man beyond vague promises of employment.
Ferron’s premise is too simplistic, and a bit naive. The so-called magic of the marketplace is a conjurer’s trick more often than you might think. Supply and demand isn’t a panacea. The slave trade itself was a response to supply and demand of labor and capital. During the 70’s and 80’s, market forces in St. Maarten were manipulated in a very unnatural way without consulting the people.
There are indeed groups of private sector companies that conspire to hold a monopoly on management positions. It’s less about prejudice, and more about a business model that was simply implemented for the benefit of the investor–without sufficient consideration for the long-term interests of the existing residents. That’s how locals got marginalized.
In business and in life, you don’t get what you deserve. You get what you negotiate. You can’t really blame these consortia of investors if decision-makers failed to secure proper long-term benefits for locals. You only have to look at business ventures on Frontstreet and Backstreet to see examples.
Inside these groups, contrary to what Ferron says, there is incredible cohesion. Not across the board, mind you, but enough to push out the local guy in the absence of a plan to keep him in the mix. I do agree that prejudice wasn’t the issue. It was just raw, unadulterated greed on the part of past decision-makers–not complete lack of a plan as Gibson is saying. The local dude was just expected to be satisfied with the crumbs off the trickle-down economics table.
But Ferron is flawed in another area. There is a limit to the benefit you can get from analyzing the crap out of a problem. Sometimes it’s beneficial. It can give you an angle on the nuances you’ll need in order to craft a solution. Many times however, problem-focus is a trap you’ll never get out of. I believe this particular problem is one of them. Too much has happened in too much time. People with a whole lot invested will naturally get emotional and derail progress.
The best way forward is to be bold. Set some principled (ethical and sustainable)goals, make your regulations and policies to fit them, put blinders on, and plunge forward. Some will get bloodied in the process. It’s inevitable, but totally necessary. The Labour Department has a lot of data-gathering and analysis to do. Parliamentarians have to search their souls for a wise way forward that quickly puts locals back in play without killing the goose.
Government’s response On the Audit Chamber’s Work
I’ll have a lot more to say on this down the road. Right now I just want to bring your attention to it. Sure… you may believe we don’t have much of a country despite what happened in 10-10-10, and despite all the island’s potential.
All the more reason why we should be far more diligent. What we do or don’t do in the early days of our democracy will set a precedence. Let’s make sure it’s the correct one. One of the things we should be looking for are Governments that place high value on checks and balances. They should take decisive action that demonstrates they aspire to good governance. A number of watch-dog and advisory bodies were put in place for this on 10-10-10.
Did we just set up the structures and filled these position with warm bodies? Are they playing the roles they were supposed to? I’d say the answer is both a yes and a no.
Seems to me that both The Social-Economic Council and General Audit Chamber have been putting forth good work. I haven’t heard anyone say there is anything wrong with their reports. But their work is still laughable if government after government sets the precedence of ignoring their reports. So far, that’s what has been happening with the General Audit Chamber’s reports on integrity and compliance. We’ll leave SEC for another day.
There is nothing I can see within the system that makes governments accountable to the content of those reports. That being the case, I think the opposition is neglecting it’s role by not insisting on the measures recommended by these reports–things like balanced budgets approved in timely manner. And I think the press ought to go much further than just regurgitating press-releases. Instead I’d like to see them play their proper role in a democracy and call attention to things that are happening that should not be unacceptable.
Where are the checks and balances if no one is held accountable for answering to the people for whatever shortcomings these reports highlight? Is this not a serious flaw? And if so, doesn’t Parliament have the power to legislate such accountability into being? What are these guys being paid for if they can’t pass laws that obviously make sense?
You see how the entire U.S. government apparatus is threatened to shut down if Congress doesn’t do their work by certain deadlines? What do we have in our system that does the same? Political parties and political leaders should pay a heavy price when they don’t comply with internationally accepted standards. These are the kinds of things that give us real substantive claims to being called a country.
They are therefore the kinds of things I’m personally looking to hear about before I decide whom I will vote for. You should too.
What about St. Maarten’s National Development Plan?
On another note. Some readers know of my involvement with the Democratic Dialogue process. I actually stopped posting just so I could volunteer my time for this. I had been through a similar process in my late teens. Even though it evolved way beyond what it was in 1978, It seemed like the best way for me to contribute. After my work with the PMIA had concluded, this was an itch I hadn’t yet scratched.
Truth is, the UNDP events left a taste of regret in my mouth. I didn’t write about it, partly because its still a work in progress. I’ll say this. What I witnessed here in SXM falls short of the principles I saw in practice back in the late 70’s. Passage of time should have made it better…not worse.
But there’s still ample opportunity to put the whole thing on its correct path. Politicians just need to behave more like statesmen and women for a short while..on this one issue. It’s too important. For that reason alone I’m holding my tongue and wait to see how best I can help.
In the meanwhile, the blog has to suffice. I’d sure appreciate you, the reader, starting online discussion on any of the topics right below the blog posts. The internet is a public space–as good a place as any for informal dialogue. It doesn’t have to be official. It just needs to happen.
Wouldn’t it be nice to boast that St. Maarten/St. Martin people don’t just have discussions and post comments on “bacchanal” topics? Ordinary folks like us are interested (and competent) in high-level issues too. In fact the island needs a strong dose of it if we’re going to have a more savvy voter anytime soon.
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