~Chinese listen to demonstrators, while government avoids them~
BELAIR–Protestors gathered after 1:00pm on Saturday at Belair Beach to protest against the development of the recently announced Pearl of China Project set to begin January 2017. Close to 50 persons showed up for the peaceful demonstration.
Organizers Francine de Polo and Mercedes van der Waals-Wyatt indicated that the protest was about the manner in which government made the announcement to the people, being through a town-hall meeting on September 1 by Minister of Finance Richard Gibson.
The Chinese delegation invited the demonstrators to come and listen to what they had to say about the Pearl of China project. Mercedes van der Waals-Wyatt, Francine de Polo and Sjaoel Richardson were given the chance to voice their concerns and questions to the head of the Chinese business delegation.
Though the language was a barrier, an interpreter was there to translate their concerns and questions. After the short meeting on the groundbreaking site, the organisers received a card to able to contact the Pearl of China developers’ representatives directly and the organizers agreed that they would be seeking a more formal meeting with them.
“It is indeed a miracle to see how a Chinese business man from the other side of the world took time to listen to the concerns and questions of the demonstrators of St. Maarten and our own government ignores the concerns of its own St. Maarten people, environmental activists/foundations and tourism associations,” the organizers stated.
The concerns of the organizers and demonstrators were discussed under a tent on the beach near the groundbreaking site. “There is a lack of transparency about the project and traffic congestion for the area, needed studies for environment and social impact were not made available and the Draft Development Plan for Little Bay has still not been finalized,” commented organizers.
Government officials and guests which included Chinese business people on their arrival at the site were faced with demonstrators showing signs and their dissatisfaction with the proposed project. Member of Parliament Tamara Leonard came to show her support and told some of the demonstrators that the lack of information is her main concern also.
Emotions ran high at times among some of the demonstrators, but things remained peaceful. Protrstors walked around with placards stating, “We are not afraid of the Chinese, we are afraid of our own politicians”.
One of the protesters Sjaoel Richardson, had with him a printout of an online petition against the project that has over 800 persons signed and said that different actions and activities will continue until answers are given to the people of St. Maarten.
Protest leader Francine de Polo’s concern was mainly the secretive manner in which government rushed this project even though they had knowledge of this project months ago. “There is no transparency and there are too many unanswered questions concerning the best interest of the people of St. Maarten”, she said.
The manner in which she got to see a document at VROMI and was told she was not able to receive a copy but could only take pictures, did not sit well with her. When researched online on the Government website, nothing was found regarding the project, she commented.
Co-protest leader Van der Waals Wyatt is concerned about the protection of the St. Maarten workers that allegedly will be hired to execute the promised 400 jobs and what provisions have been put in place by government to protect them in case the project would be hit by a natural disaster.
Van der Waals-Wyatt further indicated that there was only a small delegation of invited guest at the ground-breaking and thought that was very strange. She also wondered if Parliament, as well as tourism and environmental specialists were fully aware of this development project, since it was a project brought forward by ministers and a project of this magnitude will have a big impact on St. Maarten’s development on all fronts.
Organizers say they will announce the next action or activities to get more transparency from government officials on this Pearl of China Project and answers to the questions and concerns of all stakeholders.
Source: Daily Herald
Low turnout for protest against Pearl of China