PHILIPSBURG – Minister of Public Health, Social Development and Labor Emil Lee addressed the media in Wednesday’s, April 19, Council of Ministers Press Briefing.
He first reported on his trip to Holland. “The purpose for the visit was to discuss the developments with the hospital. The fact that the hospital project is now back on track, we are again looking at exploring the possibility of financial support from Holland,” Minister Lee informed.
“The reason being, although we’re accessing funds locally to begin the project, fact is that if we can access funds directly via Holland because of the lower interest rate and because of a different payment terms, this would result in a savings operationally for the new hospital of between 3-5 million guilders a year, and I believe that anything we can do to save money operationally is money that can be better spent on health care rather than paying into financing charges,” the Minister informed.
According to the Minister, the “Kingdom Council of Ministers will make a recommendation that the funding for the hospital project be considered outside of the normal lending procedures.”
The other purpose for the Holland trip was to speak about legislative assistance. “Fact is that the Ministry has many projects underway at the same time regarding National Health Insurance, National Health Reform, changes to our civil code, labor market, and so we simply need more legislative capacity in order to move the projects that we’re working on, and so one of the discussion points is about how can we tap into some of the resources that may be available in terms of legislative assistance,” Minister Lee stated.
Minister Lee also addressed specifically the way the media reports the news. “The role of journalism in our democracy, media, has a very critical role in a proper functioning democracy. Media is there to ensure that our people have access to accurate, factual, balanced and unbiased information, because that information is critical in their entire decision-making process,” he said.
He recommended that “the industry look at establishing guidelines,” and referenced the Netherlands Press Council, which established their own guidelines, which were adopted from international standards.
“When publishing accusations, a journalist will investigate whether there’s a sound basis for them. If reasonably possible the journalist will hear who are disqualified as a result of a publication even if their role is marginal. The accused will have ample opportunity to respond to the accusations preferably in the same publication, without being subject to any unreasonable time pressure. And if a journalist, who appears to have reported incorrectly or incompletely on a certain essential point, will make a suitable and generous rectification as soon as possible of their own initiative,” Minister Lee informed.
Minister Lee went on to say that while he was in Holland, “I was very disturbed to read an article about how Minister Lee committed $200,000 to Sun Wing while attending CHTA Marketplace. Fact is every Minister knows that they are not allowed to commit over 50,000 guilders without an approval process, and certainly as a Minister filling in for a Minister of Tourism, I wouldn’t even venture to execute that authority for a Ministry that I’m representing on a few days basis.”
He clarified that through possible marketing cooperative efforts, “we had discussions with Expedia, with TripAdvisor, with Sun Wing, with a number of different tour operators, and in all of those meetings, I was accompanied by a representative of the Tourist Office or from the Cabinet of the Minister.”
“So this article ran despite the fact that there’s not one e-mail from myself to Sun Wing. There’s not one signed contract. There’s nothing that would indicate that any sort of a commitment has been made to Sun Wing. Was I supportive of the marketing support for Sun Wing? Of course. Sun Wing brings direct flights from Canada. They bring passengers into St. Maarten,” Minister Lee continued.
“The job of the Minister is to go there and try and negotiate terms that are in the best interests of the country, but to say that I committed the country knowing full well what the authorities are vested in me, and what the understanding was in terms of my visit to the Bahamas, I find that the article is exactly biased and unbalanced. As a matter of fact I have an e-mail from one of the representatives from Sun Wing who saw the article, and I will quote: ‘I’m writing you in regards to the article that was published in the SMN News. Firstly, we’re deeply disturbed that a confidential email is misquoted and misrepresented and secondly, that it be brought up in the media,’” Minister Lee explained.
“So always with the understanding that whatever discussions took place there would go back to the Tourist Office, be converted into a proposal and into a contract that eventually would need to be formalized,” he said.
“I don’t know how much more I can do to counteract, and it’s a simple communications to say your side of the story, which would have yielded a much more balanced report,” he continued.
He called the story, “unfair and that’s why I asked the journalists, the media, to consider again…This is simply a discussion about how do we ensure that journalists in the media are providing quality, unbiased, balanced, information to our public, so that they can make decisions correctly,” Minister Lee concluded.