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St. Maarten minister Duncan again expounds on need for Justice Park


~ MPs weigh in on need for project ~

PHILIPSBURG–Justice Minister Roland Duncan was in Parliament for a third time in the continuing discussion about the planned Justice Park in Cay Hill. He pointed out to Members of Parliament (MPs) that the former coalition as well as the present government understands the need for larger and improved justice facilities.
Duncan said the facilities, such as the youth detention centre that would separate young offenders from the general prison population, are required by the Constitution and its supporting laws. He also declared to MPs: “And don’t tell me they are not needed … I will keep pushing this project until I get a no.”

The need to further build up and house the growing justice chain was underscored by Duncan. He has had to rent several more buildings to house departments and staff. He also told MPs that if services are to be further improved, funds will be needed to cover cost, thus the need to increase fees charged for justice services such as police records and residence permits.

The justice minister has not yet gotten any formal indication from the Council of Ministers or Parliament that the Justice Park idea is not supported. However, several MPs said in Wednesday’s Central Committee meeting that they understand the need for the park, but cautioned that if justice related fees are increased good service is a must.

National Alliance (NA) MP Louie Laveist, who supports the project, said the implementation of a residence permit fee “should come with enhanced service.” He made a plea for Duncan to think about the financial burden the introduction of this permit fee would have on immigrants and asked whether an impact study was carried out. He noted that immigrants can’t be asked to foot the bill for the justice park if the ministry cannot provide improved service.

Laveist also called on the minister to look into the employment agencies that “rip” people off by charging hefty fees to help them to get their permits. He said he was “ashamed” of the length of time it takes to process permits.

Independent MP Patrick Illidge agreed with Laveist on the need for improved service. He said after visiting Pointe Blanche House of Detention on Tuesday morning the need for better prison facilities could not be clearer as well as the need for additional prison guards and other justice staff. “We have 60 prisoners to one guard. It is a problem.” He, like other MPs, commended Duncan for working to build up the justice chain with the little funds and manpower he has.
Illidge agrees that a fee should be levied for residence permits as “everything comes with a price. “The situation of local people being unable to find jobs must be addressed, especially when the number of applications for directors licences for foreigners continues to rise. “I need to give my people gainful employment.”

Independent MP Romain Laville stated his support for the project, calling it a “one stop shop” that would cater to the needs of the community. He read out several sections of the park dossier, presented by the minister, outlining benefits and said that anyone against the park would be “going against the people of the country.” His pointed out that the project would provide jobs in the construction phase and after in additional employment in the some 16 sectors of the Justice Ministry amounting to some 300 jobs.

“Give me one good reason why we don’t need correctional facilities … give me one good reason why the police don’t need a training place,” Laville said, adding that the development of the park would save government money in the long run by cutting back on the rents paid for the buildings housing various sectors.

MP Dr. Lloyd Richardson (NA) said more than the physical structure of the park, emphasis must be placed on the programme for inmates, especially those with substance abuse problems and health issues. He thanked the minister for looking into areas where non-governmental organisations (NGOs) working on prisoner related matters can get funding to assist further. He said the some US $100 million price tag for the justice park seems “like a lot,” but when that is stacked besides the amount of money that flows through the country annually it is rather small.

Dr. Richardson added that to boost the economy further, he and several other MPs are working on ways to diversify the economy to make it less dependent on tourism. A proposal is to be tabled in Parliament in the near future.
MP George Pantophlet (NA), who also visited the Pointe Blanche prison as part of a parliament delegation, said he couldn’t understand why people still refer to it as a hotel as the situation does not mirror that name. “If we don’t make facilities available, we are looking at a serious problem.” He commended Duncan for always looking for solutions. He called on fathers to rethink their role and to be more active in helping to prevent their children from becoming involved with crime and aggressive behaviour.

United People’s (UP) party MP Johan Leonard responded to several jabs from some coalition MPs about his party’s enquiries about the justice park. He said UP is not against the park, but there needs to be more information about its financing and what debt it would create for the country.

Duncan answered that there would be no debt as government was not making the investment for the park and would be renting the buildings once completed for a period of some 32 years. After that time the buildings will be transferred to government for a symbolic sum. The fee from the residence permit fee will be used to cover the rental cost.
MP Gracita Arrindell (UP) enquired whether the rent for the justice park would be less than the sum being paid now in rent to house the justice chain. Duncan couldn’t say at this stage whether it would be more or less than what is paid now.
The MP also asked about the pending promotions for police officers. The minister said he was preparing to meet with the three unions representing the police on the matter.

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