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DP supports call for statue of slain cop

Source: The Daily Herald 12 Aug 2015 06:22 AM

~ Weighs in on crime ~

PHILIPSBURG--The Democratic Party ((DP)) supports a call made by the general police union NAPB for a statue to be erected of bike patrol officer Gamali “Benji” Benjamin, who was gunned down at the scene of a robbery at a Front Street jewellery store on Wednesday, August 5.

Benjamin succumbed to his injures three days later at St. Maarten Medical Center (SMMC). The support for the erection of a statue was expressed by (DP) President Hasani Ellis who shared a press conference on Tuesday with (DP) Leader Sarah Wescot-Williams and member Emil Lee.

“I stand with the police officers and union that has called for a statue of Officer Benjamin to be erected. This is to ensure what transpired on the streets of our capital… on grounds where we should feel the most protected, is never forgotten,” Ellis told reporters at the press conference held at the Parliament Building. “The cost of Officer Benjamin’s life can never be replaced by a budget, but if we heed this wakeup call and acknowledge that we need a reform in social policies this may never happen again.”
Wescot-Williams, Ellis and Lee weighed-in on the crime situation and on several other issues at the press conference.

Wescot-Williams said the incident had been shocking noting that it brings the country at a turning point. Now is the time for St. Maarten to take stock of the many issues related to crime, she added. She said too that it is time for everyone to do what they can individually and collectively to bring about change. There is much more unraveling that needs to occur.

(DP) President Hasani Ellis said the incident prompted him to break his vow of silence to not be too critical of government. He said the “horrendous crime” resulting in Benjamin’s death was one of the most shameful moments in the history of St. Maarten.

“When I became aware of what happened as a young professional, a number of emotions ran through my mind. I was upset, disgusted, I was saddened, and I felt that crime on St. Maarten has escalated to a hopeless state,” he said. “It made me think about how I met a respectful Officer Benjamin a couple years ago as we would wait our turn in the barber shop, and how that impression never changed through his work as a respectful gentleman serving and protecting the people of St. Maarten. The loss of Officer Benjamin’s life has affected many due to small size of our island with a culture of indigenously friendly people.”

Ellis said he now wonders if priorities need to be shifted. St. Maarten over the last 50 years, he added, has experienced significant economic growth. “It is my impression that based on this economic interest our partners around the world along with the people of St. Maarten have had tremendous economic benefits. With this economic benefit also came social diseases and syndromes that only exist in the big cities of large and developed countries… If you have economic growth and interest their must also be social growth and interest. Let us not be mistaken, St. Maarten has experienced significant economic growth, almost a billion dollars pumps through our economy yearly, but has there been sufficient social growth?”

Ellis said when he refers to social growth, he is alluding to educational policies and labour policies that can be adapted to provide transparent and adequate security to workers as the times change.

He said too that there is “something wrong” with the kingdom platform that supports the large economies at play.

Wescot-Williams questioned whether the plans Dutch National Police Chief Gerard Bouman presented to St. Maarten during his recent visit meets the needs of St. Maarten to fight crime. She also asked whether government was in possession of Bouman’s report.

On a separate issue, the (DP) leader said government-owned companies should maintain their semi-independent statuses and not “jump” whenever a politician tells them to do so. She said utilities company GEBE, for example, should have a plan in place for street lights on the island.

Democratic Party ((DP)) MP Maurice Lake in a recent press release took credit for contacting GEBE, which subsequently erected a light in St. Peters. Wescot-Williams said other districts in St. Maarten also need street lights and GEBE should have a plan in place to address this. Lee spoke about a suggestion where consumers can go directly to report their issues with street lights to the company.

She called for more information on statements made by GEBE at its recent press conference. The MP said GEBE should provide information about its waste-to-energy plans, as well as information about the status of the seniors programme, given that GEBE said that more seniors showed interest in the programme.

The (DP) Leader said too, that while government “swears” that it wants to jump-start the economy, it is actually “stagnating” projects such as the work that had to start at Princess Juliana International Airport SXM.

The MP still has some qualms about government’s adopt-a-school programme contained in the coalition’s governing programme. She maintained that the verbiage of the programme states that government was “transferring” its responsibilities to the private sector.

Lee called on Parliament to show fiscal responsibility and balance its own budget, which he says is still unbalanced. He also commented on the plans announced by Justice Minister Dennis Richardson as it relates to the banning of the use of motorbikes and scooters.

Richardson had said last week that legislation and policies will be adapted to ban the use of motorbikes, scooters and quads, which seems to be “the preferred means of transportation of criminals,” from being operated on Front Street, Back Street, Cannegieter Street and all associated side streets. Pending the completion of these legal measures, the police will be establishing checkpoints, carrying out preventative searches and executing joint controls in cooperation with other law enforcement agencies such as the Customs and the Immigration Department, Richardson had said.

Lee said a balanced response is needed to crime. He alluded to the many bikes that “run rampant” on the streets without documentation. He asked whether it is a question of enforcement or control. He said the response to crime should be two-pronged to address time sensitive critical issues, and the underlying root causes such as immigration, education and the economy etc.

The members of the party expressed condolences to Benjamin’s family, friends and colleagues.

Emil Lee mentioned 1 time
Hasani Ellis mentioned 2 times
Maurice Lake mentioned 1 time
Sarah Wescot-Williams mentioned 5 times

Democratic Party [DP] mentioned 14 times
Helping Our People Excel Association [HOPE] mentioned 0 times Corner Stone Solutions NV