PHILIPSBURG – In Wednesday’s, March 1, Council of Ministers Press Briefing, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Justice Raphael Boasman outlined several issues including the immigration policy, which concerns vessels that enter St. Maarten.
Minister Boasman felt that the press coverage given to this issue is unfortunate, “especially because those who are making the comments are warning against the effect that the policy would have on the visitors on the boats that come to our shores.”
“Yet they are the ones who are making this known throughout the region, throughout the world, and not with the necessary accuracy. There is no new policy. The situation with vessels entering, and the cruise vessels have been an issue that for a very long time has been the topic of conversation and how it should be regulated,” the Minister explained.
“It was in some cases basically a free for all as to who comes in via our ports and how long they stay,” he continued.
The Minister stated that discussions were held with stakeholders who included, members of the Border Control, representatives of the SHTA, and of the Marine Trade on this issue.
“There have been a lot of areas where the existing policy, how it was being executed and how it was being interpreted, that caused a lot of confusion and misunderstanding. At that meeting all parties agreed, that you cannot go and change the rules, especially in a drastic manner in the middle of the process. We are in the middle of our season. We have the Heineken Regatta that is coming in. It’s unheard of that we would go down and change the rules in the middle of that process. Parties agreed that we would document the rules as they are, making it clear how it should be interpreted for the remaining of the season, and during the off-season all parties would sit and we would review the whole matter, and come up with a definite policy, which would give all of the agents time during the off-season to inform their clients… so they would have enough time to do so and prepare for the coming season,” Minister Boasman stated.
“During this season we would not go and change the rules. We have to realize that while our economy is very important, we also have to understand that equally, if not more important, is our border control, our safety for the people who reside on this island, and who come and visit us on the island,” the Minister stressed.
In reference to heightened security, “We should stop thinking that it can’t happen to us. We should get real. We should wake up. It’s very important for law enforcement to know who comes in via our ports, and what they bring in via our port, and that is part of the law enforcement job, and that is also part of my responsibility, and you have to balance that with your economy,” Minister Boasman emphasized.
The Minister refuted statements being made that the Heineken Regatta was being affected by this. “I personally have spoken to the Director of the Heineken Regatta. I requested a list of all the boats registered to be in the Heineken Regatta, and the crew members because it is about the crew members. They themselves cannot give me a list of the crew members, because it is not known to them. Why I ask for this is because we would have given the names to the immigration to facilitate the participants,” he explained.
“I requested the folks of the Regatta at any time contact me if there’s any problem. As far as I know there is no problem with the Heineken Regatta. You have a situation where agents represent the vessels that are here and their crew, and the agents have to guarantee the stay of the crew while they are on the island,” the Minister said.
The Minister said agents have to request waivers for crew members, and issue a letter of guarantee that while those crew members are on the island, they are responsible for them. “From the day that person enters the island until they leave, you are responsible, so if they do not leave when they are supposed to leave, or if they stay and take up employment which they have no permission to do then the agent is responsible,” Minister Boasman stated.
Also every business entity operating on St. Maarten is required to have a license to do so. “That is made clear because at the certain moment requests were received and there was a doubt whether these entities are legally allowed to operate on the island or not,” he said.
It is documented in existing measures and they are very clear, so that all parties know exactly what is expected of them.
“The SHTA and St. Maarten Marine Association will hold further discussions and everyone must realize that it’s not going to continue to be just open… where everyone can just come in at their wish,” Minister Boasman stated.
The other issue the Minister elaborated on is the injunction case filed by the Inmates Association, which was handled in the courts. “Unfortunately, we tried to get a postponement of the injunction because as was reported we have already started to take measures, and those measures will lead to improving the situation for the inmates,” he explained.
“But first we have to make the prison secure, we have to be able to guarantee the safety for the prisoners and for the detainees, and the people working there, and the community at large. Nevertheless, the attorneys of the Inmates Associations decided still to proceed. Many of the things that they have on their list was discussed and we could have shown that these are things that we have already put in process, and what the judge basically asked was within a period of two weeks to come with a detailed plan and as much as possible try to give a timeline,” as to when these measures will be completed, the Minister further elaborated.
“We were not waiting on a judge to tell us to do so, however, I still would like to reach out to the attorneys of the inmates to stay in contact with us, so that they can monitor the progress that we are making. It’s a concern that all of us have, and all of us have to work together to get it solved and not be fighting each other,” Minister Boasman concluded.