PHILIPSBURG – Acting Prime Minister and Minister responsible for the Ministry of Justice Rafael Boasman addressed members of the media in Wednesday’s, May 31, Council of Ministers Press Briefing.
After announcing that Prime Minister William Marlin was off-island, he went on to inform that he had received the draft of the 1st quarter report of the Progress Committee. The Progress Committee comprises of members of Curaçao, the Netherlands and St. Maarten. The task of that committee was to review and evaluate the progress on the plans of approach that were put in place in 10-10-10.
“St. Maarten still has two plans of approach to finalize it. One is for the prison and one of the police that we are working on,” the Minister said.
Minister Boasman said that considering the contents of previous reports, this report, which covers the 1st quarter of 2017 (January 1 to April 1) was optimistic. In giving highlights from the report, he mentioned that since 2014, St. Maarten had no member on the Progress Committee. Minister Richard Gibson, prior to becoming a Minister, was the St. Maarten member on the committee. After that no one had been nominated or proposed to be a member.
“Something the committee wrote about in different of the reports. When taking office I promised that one of the first things that I would do would be to appoint a suitable candidate, and nominated Mr. Jason Rogers, a highly respected young St. Maarten attorney for that position,” Minister Boasman said.
Rogers’ name has been forwarded to the Minister of Kingdom Affairs Ronald Plasterk for the official appointment on the committee.
The committee in its report lauded the action plan that was prepared sometime last year from a conference, which has now been approved by the Council Of Ministers. “I’m not going to reinvent the wheel. There are so many reports written by all kinds of experts and we took that action plan. We looked at it and we brought it up to date with the present situation, and that action plan I presented to the Council of Ministers and the Council of Ministers approved it,” the Minister stated.
The Progress Committee felt that this plan showed “some seriousness of the government in tackling the problems at hand. When the committee comes to the island to meet with different stakeholders, and one of the stakeholders is our Prime Minister, and in that meeting with the Prime Minister, the committee mentioned that the Prime Minister was very positive and indicated his full support to the Minister of Justice in executing the plans,” Minister Boasman continued.
The Minister said there are issues that are still not resolved, and one of them are the finalization of the function books for police, landsrecherche, and the prison. “I’m doing everything humanly possible to have these things finalized,” the Minister promised.
Minister Boasman also referenced a court case that was won by a civil servant against the Ministry of Justice. “No one likes losing, but when we look at the issue at hand that’s to do with civil servants, those who know me, know that my background is in labour for years. Most of my adult life I’ve been fighting for fairness for workers, and it would not be so that under my watch that there would be workers who would be treated unfairly,” the Minister said.
“Unfortunately, all of these things happened before I took office. But now it’s not passing the buck. It’s my responsibility and I would take care of that responsibility. Some of these cases were already ongoing and unfortunately you cannot just select…A plan was put in place on how we would tackle all of these problems and they are a lot,” Minister Boasman continued.
Continuing to highlight the report of the Progress Committee, Minister Boasman said the report was also positive pertaining to the police. When members of the committee spoke to police management, “they encountered an atmosphere of optimism…the Progress Committee felt that the management team of the police is doing a pretty good job.”
“We’re having problems with the manpower and we’re all financially strapped to be able to execute some of the things that we have to do, but that is one of the important points that was tackled, and the police made a plan by which over a period of four years, we would do the expansion with 20 officers per year, starting this year. They managed to get that plan approved, so the police got the go ahead to recruit their first 20 people this year,” the Minister informed.
Educating police officers, upgrading their skills, are a priority. “While we are here locally busy with the Academy, doing as much as we can and everything that we can to make sure that at least the Academy would be able to provide a full base level for our police officers and prison officers. Outside of that, the police have been sending their people abroad to specialize in certain areas,” the Minister explained.
Some officers were sent to a “youth information training” in Miami, Florida, on invitation from U.S. authorities. “Also there’s protocol that was signed with the U.S. where law enforcement entities on St. Maarten, within the Kingdom, would to be able to exchange expertise and assess each other with the U.S. So we’ll be making good use of that opportunity as far as training is concerned,” Minister Boasman said.
In reference to Pointe Blanche Prison, “the committee also had some optimistic remarks to make. In their conversations with the Prime Minister and the Minister of Justice they felt a sense of urgency with tackling the problems. They spoke about the temporary management that was put in place to normalize the situation…however, this is not a permanent situation, it is temporary, but one that they understand and support.”
The Task Force that was put together, includes stakeholders from the Prosecutor’s Office, Police, Court of Guardianship and Rehabilitation services. All of those disciplines are assisting with the further restructuring of the prison.
In closing, the Minister stated, “the very important part is to invest in personnel.” In collaboration and consent of the Prime Minister, who is responsible for the VKS, an arrangement has been made with VKS to give support to the prison guards.
Minister Boasman thanked Commandant of the VKS Rogers, “for his cooperation. Without them we would not have been able to normalize the situation as it is right now, and I hope that we can continue to count on that cooperation.”
The Minister also briefly mentioned that within a couple of weeks physical repairs on the prison will start. “It has been a very, very, hectic and rough 1st quarter, but with a report that is cautiously optimistic, it is encouraging us to continue,” the Minister concluded.