PHILIPSBURG–Of the several hundred small businesses registered with the St. Maarten Chamber of Commerce and Industry (COCI), only representatives of 85 cast a ballot in Friday’s by-election to fill the vacant small business seat on the Chamber Board.
Small business owner Benjamin Ortega clinched the seat that was left vacant by the resignation of now Member of Parliament (MP) Sidharth “Cookie” Bijlani.
Ortega garnered 42 votes, just two more than fellow candidate Edsel Gumbs. There was a third candidate, Nzinga Lake, but she is said to have opted out of the election.
Ortega, while pleased with his election, said the extremely low voter turnout reflects the disconnect between small business owners and the Chamber. He told The Daily Herald that a chief focus for him will be ensuring small businesses become more embracing of the Chamber.
“People are not seeing the value of the Chamber of Commerce, especially the small local business owners. My goal is to get better participation of small business owners in the Chamber so the true value is known,” said Ortega.
He added: “After all, the cornerstone of true economic development is a stable, viable small business community.”
Ortega, in a light-hearted comment, pointed out it was quite interesting to have received 42 votes in his 42 years of life. He thanked the small business owners who took time out to vote in the elections.
This was Ortega’s first run for a seat on the Chamber though not his first election. He headed the slate of candidates of the St. Maarten Development Movement (SDM), a new party, in the September 26, 2016 Parliamentary Elections. The party did not obtain a seat.
Only small business owners or managing directors with Dutch nationality had the right to vote in the Friday’s election.
Source: The Daily Herald https://www.thedailyherald.sx/islands/65400-ortega-clinches-coci-seat-by-small-margin