Minister Lewis: Protecting students more important than vote pandering | SOUALIGA NEWSDAY

SINT MAARTEN (GREAT BAY) - In response to recent comments made by Member of Parliament Francisco Lacroes regarding the directives issued to school bus operators, Minister of Education Lyndon Lewis stressed that pandering for votes is not an exercise he devotes his time to and emphasized that these initiatives are primarily focused on enhancing student safety and bringing St. Maarten's school transportation system up to regional and global standards.

“Moreover, we are talking about the well-being of children and the MP actually wants me to stop my investigating of the matter? As if I would make up such reports? The MP’s priorities are unfortunately, but not surprisingly, sorely misplaced,” Minister Lewis said.

Minister Lewis's mandate for school bus operators to sign a Service Level Agreement (SLA) by June 28, 2024, is a critical step in modernizing St. Maarten's school bus transportation system. This includes the implementation of a fleet management system and strict rules and regulations to ensure the highest safety standards. "By adopting advanced tracking systems, we aim to provide parents and guardians with peace of mind, knowing their children are safe during their commute," the Minister said.

"It is about safeguarding our students first and foremost, not pandering for votes," stated Minister Lewis. The focus is on creating a reliable, efficient, and secure transportation system for our children. Ensuring that bus drivers adhere to these new regulations is not an attack on their livelihood but a necessary measure to maintain and enhance the quality of service," the Minister explained.

Bus drivers who consistently follow the rules and conduct themselves professionally should support these initiatives. The new regulations seek to avoid unfair labels being placed upon dedicated drivers by ensuring that any inappropriate behavior is addressed transparently and justly. The SLA is designed to protect both students and responsible operators, fostering a safe and respectful environment for all.

Minister Lewis finds it regrettable that MP Lacroes has chosen to so casually dismiss the concerns raised by parents and female students. "I am not irresponsible; I would not make claims without substantial grounds," Minister Lewis asserted. The concerns brought forward are based on real issues that need to be addressed to ensure the safety and well-being of our students," he said.

He added that MP Lacroes should be the last individual to speak of procedures as his reported involvement with transportation licenses reeks suspicion and is currently being investigated. “The fact that an MP would say that a public bid is a threat tells you what’s at the core of that MP and fits with the behavior of the past four years. They ran from transparency and chose secrecy. Four years and three Ministers later, I’m acting on the issues with integrity and transparency, and the MP is asking me not to. Are you not ashamed sir?” Minister Lewis asked.

Since taking office, Minister Lewis has been proactive in resolving the backlog of payments owed to drivers and operators—a backlog that accumulated under the previous government, of which MP Lacroes was a part. By addressing these financial irregularities, Minister Lewis said he has already demonstrated his commitment to fair treatment and support for school bus operators.

Minister Lewis acknowledges the importance of meaningful discussions and collaboration with school bus operators. The upcoming meeting on June 15, 2024, provides an opportunity for all stakeholders to engage constructively and develop a workable agreement that addresses grievances while enhancing the overall safety and efficiency of the school bus system.

"But I will not turn my back on parents and students with their concerns and reports, and I will not look past reports of improper behavior. We must ensure that it is tackled and that reported victims get the help they might need. The fact that MP Lacroes would stand opposite of this process should give everyone pause and insight into how the former government handled the affairs of the public. They looked to the next vote, not the next generation," Minister Lewis concluded.

The Minister will apprise the public accordingly soon.