Chaos at St Maarten’s Tourism Bureau has Islanders in Uproar – “When bad things happen to good people” By Lasana M. Sekou

St. Martin people have been expressing outrage and disgust concerning the recent suspension of two top officials of the territory’s Tourism Bureau, considered to be the most efficient, people-focused, service-oriented, result-driven agency of government, despite its well-known manpower inadequacies.

Not only are the talkshows bombarded with calls, generally in favor of the two victims of this irrational government action, the suspension of Ms. Regina LaBega, director of tourism and marketing director Edward Dest almost two weeks ago has also become a most-talked about issue island-wide.

St. Martin people are demonstrating once again that they do not appreciate their government punishing, humiliating, and wrecking the reputation of some of their brightest and most dedicated sons and daughters in a manner that flies in the face of their sense of justice and fair play.

(L-R): Author Lasana M. Sekou and Tourist Bureau head Regina LaBega. (Saltwater Collection file photo)

Even criminals are treated more fairly,” I’ve heard a number of people repeat, commenting on the matter, pointing to the fact that suspected criminals must be informed within two working days of the reason they are detained and brought before an investigating judge to determine if they should be held longer.

It is not my intention to defend the good name of both Ms. LaBega and Mr. Dest: their records speak for them. However, I cannot but join in expressing my own outrage at what seems to be a calculated smear campaign unleashed by the authorities and I will limit my opinion to how language is being used to deliberately create a narrative that does not stand the test of logic.

If I understand it correctly, the two tourism top guns were summarily sent home, some even say, “Gestapo-style,” based on some unspecified “discrepancies” discovered by the Finance Department allegedly since February of this year. Now, the word “discrepancies” could mean anything from a wrong posting of an item in the budget to the disappearance of millions of dollars. The vagueness in this “charge” is obviously meant to allow the imagination of the population to take flight.

Secondly, there has not been in recent memory, any case that has forced government to engage in a concerted PR effort: the very same day the suspension and eviction order from the premises of the Tourism Bureau were “gleefully” served on the two officials, a press release was issued to further “explain” – with at least three appearances on talkshows and other interviews granted by ministers known for their preference for staying out of GIS news briefings, even when the portfolio was their responsibility. Why all the media adrenaline rushes? To deflect accusations that the measure was political victimization? There is more there than meets the eye.

In the process, statements claiming that the case file has been submitted to the Public Prosecutor are flung around, despite media reports that the Public Prosecutor has denied receiving any such file. In my view, this is the nastiest aspect of the whole matter.

The mere mention of the Public Prosecutor creates the impression that a crime has been committed, when the suspended officials have not even been informed of what they may have done wrong to warrant such a drastic measure, which the minister in charge called routine in the present constitutional dispensation.

But, and this is a most insidious part of the claim, how could the Public Prosecutor be even mentioned when government has stated that the “investigation” has not been finalized? What charges and/or evidence were they going to submit to the Public Prosecutor if they haven’t even concluded their so-called “investigation”? Are we missing something here?

Investigation” – or however that word will metamorphosize – is another of those code words used to conjure up some hideous crime. How can people be under “investigation” by their employer since February (or even September) and not know about it until they are shamefully suspended in November?

Who is (or who are) the “investigator(s)”? How long does it take to “investigate” “discrepancies” involving only two officials who have given their professional lives for the economic well-being of the territory, and indeed (knowing especially Ms. LaBega’s marketing savvy and her love and socio-cultural concerns) of the entire island?

While nobody is suggesting that anyone is or should be above the law, it is simply unbelievable that those who acted in the manner in which they did, did so with the best interest of the rest of us at heart.

I believe the suspended officials will hopefully have their day in court to put this nightmare behind them, but I wonder what redress and what reparation would be sufficient to undo the damage done to their reputation. Hopefully, this will be sooner than later, because when bad things happen to good people, the whole community, the whole S’maatin nation, suffers. And for that, there is no reparation.

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