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Parliament upset that St. Maarten shut out from border system

SATURDAY, 26 JANUARY 2013

PHILIPSBURG–A Dutch civil servant used his position to shut St. Maarten out of the Dutch Caribbean Border Management System as a consequence of Justice Minister Roland Duncan’s stance against St. Maarten’s immigration data being managed in Curaçao, Parliament was told by the minister.

The picture of the Dutch Government’s disregard for St. Maarten’s position as an autonomous country within the kingdom painted by Duncan during Friday’s meeting of the Central Committee of Parliament left Members of Parliament (MPs) quite annoyed and adamant on getting answers from the Dutch Government.

A fervent call also was made for the civil servant Klaas de Jong to be dealt with severely for his actions, even if they were sanctioned by the Dutch Government.

Duncan said the Dutch Government had “scrapped” some NAf. 1.3 million in funding via its funding agency USONA for integrity training of Justice officers, as “a little punishment” for his refusal to sign the agreement for the joint system.
The meeting was requested by the United People’s (UP) party based on concerns that St. Maarten’s borders had been left unattended and open by the recent severing of the information-sharing and -processing service developed under the former Netherlands Antilles, with upgrades pending to cater to countries Curaçao and St. Maarten, and Dutch public entities Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba.

The minister made it clear that St. Maarten’s security at this point was “better, stronger and more effective and better manned than it has even been in the Netherlands Antilles.” This is especially true now, as the border control system “never functioned properly.”

There is no vacuum in the system, he said, answering questions from MP Gracita Arrindell (UP). The shutting down of the link with the other islands has not stopped St. Maarten’s immigration, border control, police and other sectors of the Justice system from functioning. “Yes, it has been a blow. It has affected the Police Force in its job.”

However, the cut-off has not crippled operations, because the Justice Ministry purchased a passport-scanning system from the Government of Germany for some NAf. 84,000 to enable continued processing of people entering and leaving the country. Work on a complete system for the country to link all Justice departments is ongoing.

“We fought long to be a country … not to have someone run our system by remote control. … The [unsigned, ed.] agreement will compromise our security,” Duncan said, adding that the cut-off was tantamount to “blackmail” and could be deemed “colonialist” behaviour.

Dutch St. Maarten has functional cooperation in border control with St. Barths, French St. Martin and Anguilla. The French government in particular is not prepared to have its data shared with any third party.

National Alliance (NA) MP Louie Laveist said he was offended by the way St. Maarten was being treated in this situation. The country needs to stop being looked down on as “a bastard child” and being treated differently “because I don’t have coolie hair like my brother.” He added that the United States and England would not have left their citizens in an unsafe situation.

MP George Pantophlet (NA) said that after hearing about how the country was being treated, he was happy Duncan had sought other avenues to protect and take care of it.

MP Silvia Meyers-Olivacce (UP) said, “It’s time we demand respect in our own country. … Let’s start putting our heads together as Parliament to deal with the situation. The situation is deeper than we think.”

MP Dr. Lloyd Richardson (NA) also was “appalled” by the circumstances under which the country had been cut off from a system of which it is a co-owner. “This is beyond appalling.” He said it appeared as though St. Maarten had been put in a state of “do what I want and say what I want” by the Dutch Government. “There is no form of safety guaranteed within the kingdom and this for a country considered a bastion of justice.”

MPs were in agreement that the matter of the border management system and the treatment of the country needed to be addressed in a collective and direct manner.

The session with Duncan will resume in the near future, at which time he will deal with crime statistics and regulation of security companies.

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