Petition signature drive hindered by steady rain

(TDH) ~ Organisers pleased 2,000 mark reached ~ MARIGOT–Persistent rain for a few hours Wednesday morning did not help the signing of the Citizen’s Committee petition organised from a tent outside Hotel de La Collectivité. However, organisers were pleased that between the on-line petition and Wednesday’s action, signatures have risen to 2,000.

As of Wednesday, on-line signatures rose to over 800, plus another 1,200 from the drive in Marigot. The drive continues today outside the court house from 8:00am till 1:00pm and again on Saturday at the waterfront market place.

Committee member Franck Viotty said he was “very pleased” with the turnout in spite of the rain, adding several grass roots St. Martiners signed later in the day.

The petition drive will continue until mid-April when it will be formalised and submitted to Minister of Overseas Territories Victorin Lurel.

The Citizen’s Committee is attempting to drag the State back to the negotiation table to re-evaluate the cost of the transfer of competencies for the new status and secure adequate and fair financial compensation.

The compensation at the time turned out to be in the negative for St. Martin, obliged to pay 650,000 euros per year, when in reality the compensation should have been 5 million euros in its favour annually according to President Alain Richardson. The Collectivité has taken the State to court on the issue but to date no ruling has been given by the State Council.

Separately, the State’s annual grant to St. Martin (based on total population) budgeted for 2013 is 35 million euros which works out at 866 euros per inhabitant, falling well below that of Guadeloupe which receives 5, 655 euros per inhabitant. In 2011 the figure for St. Martin was 688 euros and for Guadeloupe, 5,517 euros. The other French overseas territories also receive considerably more than St. Martin.

The Committee argues this disbursement is a “grave injustice” to St. Martin as it is supposed to receive at least ten per cent of what Guadeloupe gets, but since the separation from Guadeloupe in 2007 the adjustment was never made.

Many of the business professionals and a handful of elected officials were out Wednesday morning supporting the cause. Represented were the Merchants Association, Restaurants association (FERCOM), Métimer, the French side hotel association, and Chamber of Commerce together with elected officials René-Jean Duret, Christophe Hénocq, and Annette Philips.

Asked if she felt the petition will make a difference, Councillor Annette Philips commented: “It’s a strong message we are sending to the State. We are the ones making a stand for our island because of the very poor economy. I believe it will help in the future even though we won’t get an answer straight away. Today’s action will determine what happens next.”

Vice-President of the hotel association Philippe Thévenet was also convinced the petition will have an impact.

“As long as the Collectivité does not have the means to finance its actions, we are going nowhere,” he said. “You have the social sector and investment which concerns everyone. Investment is necessary for the population; it gives work to construction companies, and facilitates tourism. Investment leads to better infrastructure all round and enhances tourism. If the Collectivité can’t finance social measures how can it finance tourism promotion?”

“If the State cannot help it is only going to impact the financial situation leading to increased deficit, increased taxes, and the death of our businesses. In other words we are falling into a deeper hole. The State and the Collectivité have to play their roles, but in this case it is the State that has to step up.”


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