SIMPSON BAY--A war of words seems to have erupted over the weekend between independent Member of Parliament (MP) Christophe Emmanuel and Minister of Public Health, Social Development and Labor VSA Omar Ottley over the reported closing of a nightclub beyond the 11:00pm mandatory time.
While Emmanuel alluded to reports that Ottley and Chairperson of Parliament Member of Parliament (MP) Rolando Brison either organised or permitted a private party at Lotus Nightclub until 2:00am in contravention to the Ministerial Regulation; Ottley maintains that no permission was given for the club to close at 2:00am.
Emmanuel said in a press statement on Saturday that witness reports indicated that police had been dispatched to Lotus Nightclub on Friday night to ensure that the club closed its operations in accordance with the recently passed Ministerial Regulation which mandates closure at 11:00pm. He said reports indicated that the police got into a discussion or altercation with Brison and Ottley reportedly gave the permission to let the club stay open until 2:00am or later to host players and officials of the Los Angeles Lakers.
“There were apparently other political figures present including members of the UP Party. MP Brison also did not travel to Bonaire to attend the IPKO [Inter-Parliamentary Kingdom Consultation – Ed.] sessions after confirming he would be attending. He has not provided an explanation for his absence from IPKO. Additionally, the proprietor of Lotus Nightclub posted on Facebook that the club would be closed for private events this weekend, which basically confirmed the gathering at the establishment after the stipulated closing time,” Emmanuel said in his release.
Emmanuel said it is incomprehensible that Ottley, in the midst of what the island is going through, would undermine his credibility by allowing and being present at an event after the operational hour stipulated by his own decree, just to rub shoulders with famous people and said an explanation was needed as to what occurred. “Can every club owner also pull this trick after 11:00pm and tell people not to go home, the event is private? Will Lotus or the event organiser be fined? Who actually organised the private party? Did the government of St. Maarten contribute anything financially for this event or any related event for persons associated with the Laker organisation?” were some of Emmanuel’s questions.
“The Minister of VSA and MP Brison should clearly understand that they cannot expect to preach protocols through one side of their mouth, but decide to throw caution to the wind and go party as if there are no regulations. Lead by example if you want people to respect the law and current [coronavirus] COVID protocols. I hope the explanation comes sooner rather than later,” Emmanuel said.
Ottley shot back in a release issued shortly after Emmanuel’s denying the allegations. “It is disheartening that certain political figures are quick to spread misleading rumours with zero facts,” Ottley said, adding that he signed a Ministerial Regulation containing COVID guidelines and protocols, with 11:00pm business closures being one of them. “I am not annoyed with the person in the voice note that has been circulating, but I am very disappointed with the public figures that know how to access the facts and choose not to,” Ottley said adding that obtaining factual information is as simple as asking the Inspectorate of VSA/Tourism, Economic Affairs, Transport and Telecommunication (TEATT) and Korps Politie St. Maarten (KPSM) if any approval was given to allow the nightclub in question to operate until 2:00am. “Naturally, their answer will be no.”
It is not a secret that the hours for enjoying nightlife were scaled back to 11:00pm, the minister indicated. “However, nightlife is not prohibited. If persons decide to party or venture out until 11:00pm, Minister Ottley has always encouraged these persons to do so responsibly. Wear your mask, sanitise your hands frequently and limit physical contact as much as possible,” it was stated in the release.
On Sunday, Emmanuel continued to pound on the issue, with another release charging that members of government need to stop with unbecoming behaviour, be transparent with the public, follow its established protocols and stop trying to deflect with empty, evasive press releases. “CPS [Collective Prevention Services] protocols are in place to protect people. Leaders in this country should avoid undermining them with irresponsible actions,” Emmanuel said.
He alluded to the United St. Maarten (US Party) MP Claudius Buncamper testing positive for COVID-19 on Thursday, August 19, and said Brison knew he was exposed and reportedly did not quarantine himself. He instead went to the airport to welcome Anthony Davis and others and exposed everyone in the process. “According to media reports, MP Brison only went to test on Friday morning and, if reports are accurate, received a negative test at 9:20am, Friday morning,” Emmanuel said. Brison told this newspaper that he received his results around 1:00pm on Friday.
“MP Brison is also reportedly not vaccinated and a negative test does not mean he would have been released from quarantine, only that he had to take another test in a few days according to the established COVID-19 protocols by CPS. Any other behaviour is contrary to what government and CPS has officially established,” Emmanuel said in the release. “MP Brison as well as Minister Ottley and another MP were seen at Lotus Nightclub on Friday night after the established closing time of 11:00pm and after the police tried to close the venue.”
Emmanuel said while Ottley said he did not give permission for the venue to remain open, the minister did not clarify if the event actually continued after 11:00pm and if he was present after 11:00pm at the event.
The Ministerial Decree regulating the current closing hours from 11:00pm to 6:00am states that all bars, nightclubs, dance clubs, restaurants, and places rented out for parties and events, should be closed between 11:00pm and 6:00am. Any violation of the business hours is punishable by four months detention or a fine of NAf. 5,000.
Emmanuel said the type of behaviour exhibited by Brison, Ottley and whomever else over the weekend is unacceptable and they must be held accountable for it.
“These are serious times. While some are fighting in SMMC [St. Maarten Medical Center] and struggling in a tough economy, there are public officials acting against their own regulations just because they want to party,” Emmanuel said. “The minister responded by saying he is disappointed with political figures who spread rumours and that these figures know where to get information. The minister does not seem to understand that he is a public official and his government preaches transparency.
Emmanuel said outstanding questions were whether Ottley and Brison were at a private party at Lotus on Friday after 11:00pm; whether Ottley or Brison allowed a private party to continue at Lotus against regulations; whether every club owner can also “pull this trick” after 11:00pm and tell people not to go home, the event is private; whether Lotus or the event organiser will be fined; who organised the private party and whether government contributed anything financially for this event or any related event for persons associated with the Laker organisation.