~ Minister makes no mention of Police challenges ~
PHILIPSBURG–Minister of Justice Cornelius de Weever said on Sunday that he had taken note of media reporting regarding the status of the Pointe Blanche prison and was baffled by the statements that little to no progress is being made at the establishment.
De Weever said he had inspected the prison in mid-December 2018 and announced that he had inspected repairs at the prison.
He said at the time that urgent repairs were being made to the roof, corridor walls and courtyard walls. These works, including project management and site supervision, were being carried out by Independent Consulting Engineers (ICE).
“References made in the St. Maarten Progress Committee third-quarter 2018 report and published in a news article mid-February are outdated and based on the observation period by members of the committee from July to October 2018.
“I do not dispute the observations made in the Progress Committee third-quarter 2018 report, but much has been achieved since that report and since those site observations were made. The perception created in the media today is far from the truth of today’s progress,” stated the minister on Sunday.
He added, “There has been much progress since 3½ months ago, and it is very unfortunate how the reporting was done in connection with the hard work, time and effort that have been made by all stakeholders and the contractors over this period,” said De Weever.
He said in his statement that the St. Maarten Progress Committee had since visited the Pointe Blanche prison, in December 2018 and again in January 2019.
“Some observations were made by a representative of the committee after visiting in December prior to the January site visit. At that time, they noted that things were moving forward step-by-step and saw that we were committed to getting things moving, based on the recommendations made in the report.
“I also met with and briefed Dutch Minister of Justice and Security Ferdinand Grapperhaus, as well as Dutch State Secretary Raymond Knops during our justice deliberations in Aruba JVO that took place in the latter part of January.
“Progress at the Pointe Blanche prison has also been published in the media and on our Facebook page, amongst other sources. There should have been balanced reporting, but there’s what you read and then there is the truth,” stated the minister.
He minister also said that the rebuilding process has been confronted with a number of challenges along the way, and the Ministry of Justice has been diligently dealing with them as best it can.
“For example, not all electrical work can be completed at the Pointe Blanche prison before renovations have been completed. Government is dependent on external entities to carry out works, based on winning the bid for that particular project.
“A Dutch company was hired to re-install existing cameras, among other technical works. Even though their invoice was partially pre-paid, the work has not started as yet despite repeatedly requesting a start date.
“There is a transparent process in place for selecting companies to carry out work at the prison, and we have to follow the procedures as dictated by good governance, and this plays a role in things not moving fast enough as some would like them to, but we are making steady progress and we will continue on the track embarked upon, based on our adjusted improvement plan and the recommendations of the Progress Committee in order to meet our obligations, as well as international treaties and conventions,” De Weever concluded in his statement.
However, he did not mention the challenges of the Police Force of St. Maarten KPSM. The committee said on Friday that KPSM continues to be understaffed, even with the input of the Dutch National Police. KPSM currently consists of 166 persons, including the 32 National Police officers. When the National Police leave per 2020, KPSM will have to carry out the police tasks on its own.
A batch of new police officers is being trained and, in the most favourable scenario, KPSM will be able to add 58 persons to the force in 2019 and 2020. This means that in this optimal situation, KPSM will have 192 police officers in 2020. This is not even close to the desired strength of 270 police officers.
“Management does what it can with the limited means, but the number of staff is not even half of what it should be, and there is no indication that the manpower will increase to the desired level in the coming years,” stated the committee in its latest report.
The committee was also critical of the fact that the St. Maarten government still has not established the function book, “the basis for each organisation’s development.” According to the committee, the state of the police stations and the material with which KPSM has to work are “very inadequate.” “This was already the case before Hurricane Irma and has only gotten worse,” stated the committee in The Daily Herald on Saturday.