PHILIPSBURG–Strict rules and guidelines attached to the World Bank grant agreement for the Emergency Debris Management Project at the dumpsite cause delays in the start of the fire suppression project, it emerged during Friday’s Court hearing in the injunction filed by Barbara Cannegieter, Camiel Koster and BZSE Attorneys at Law and Tax Lawyers against Country St. Maarten and contractors Robelto and Son BV in September. However, Koster said litigants have “hope and confidence that finally something’s going to happen under World Bank guidance.”
The Emergency Debris Management Project among other activities aims to extinguish the subsurface fires at the dumpsite while controlling the impacts on the environment and the population.
According to litigants, the World Bank seems to ignore the small scale of St. Maarten, and the World Bank’s strict procurement rules are not considered very practical for a “country in reconstruction with a poisonous dump.
“It really seems that this is a World Bank project, and that the signing of the Grant Agreement is imminent. Plaintiffs see that by making this a World Bank project, Country St. Maarten has brought a lot of bureaucracy on itself. On the other hand, cooperation with the World Bank gives plaintiffs more hope for a sound and sustainable solution than if the country would do so alone. The claimants express the hope and expectation that Country St. Maarten can convince the World Bank that this project must be dealt with expeditiously and that delaying elements, such as tendering a bulldozer, must be solved more practically,” said Koster.
The Prosecutor’s Office joined the injunction, in which parties requested that the Court order government and the dump operator to take effective measures to prevent the emission of smoke, gases and stench at the landfill within three months following a ruling.
According to the Code of Civil Procedure, the Prosecutor’s Office is entitled to examine all books, documents and other data carriers and to be present at any Court hearing. Prosecutors launched a criminal investigation into the situation at the dump in April.
The Prosecutor said that government needs to be put under pressure to get things done on the landfill, “otherwise, nothing will change. There are human rights at stake, and government did not protect these,” he said in referring to Article 2 of the Constitution, in which it is stated that all persons have the right to life.
“This right is protected by national ordinance. No person shall be arbitrarily deprived of life,” it is stated in the Constitution, and public health is related to the right to life, the Prosecutor said.
“Pressure is needed to bring something about,” the Prosecutor said, adding that his office was pleased that steps are being made, “as limits are being exceeded and there is a danger of explosions.” He said investigations are being carried out into the “deliberate release of hazardous substances into the air or into the ground.”
The Prosecutor said that government has made some “good steps” but the Prosecutor’s Office’s concerns have not been removed.
“The proposal by litigants to keep the finger at the pulse is exactly what is needed to keep government under pressure. In case of a fire there are higher emissions [of harmful substances – Ed.], and that must stop,” he said.
Cannegieter also said that government, which caused the problems at the dumpsite, needs to solve these. “Every day is a delay. I suffer, even when there is no smoke, I can smell the dump. A step has to be made. It never gets to the next step,” she told the Court.
“It’s a shame that government does not take the initiative and introduces separate waste collection, for instance, and is waiting for reports,” BZSE attorney Jelmer Snow said.
Government’s lawyer Caroline van Hees agreed that pressure was needed but said she had problems with the allegation that government and the ministry of Public Housing, Spatial Planning, Environment and Infrastructure VROMI would be hiding behind the World Bank.
“For the first time, money is being made available and something can be done. One cannot have the World Bank’s favours but not the burdens,” she said.
At the end of the deliberations the Court decided to continue the monthly updates on the dump projects. The next court hearing in the injunction was set for March 29, which may include an excursion to the landfill, the Judge said.