photo: Ralph Cantave

PHILIPSBURG – The Philipsburg market place has been in existence for over 20 years, selling goods to residents and tourists alike. The majority are migrant women who pay yearly tax fees to the government for the facility they’ve used to sell to thousands over the years.

Right now, it is nothing like the vibrant marketplace it was known for. Labeled as an eyesore by some, these vendors are now under tents, surviving as best as they can under deplorable conditions. There are no rest rooms or running water to add to the market’s appeal. The restroom that was once in existence has now been decommissioned for several years.

Their plight began after hurricane Irma, and despite having 3 Ministers of tourism since then, no one has taken up their cause, besides the Ombudsman.

On the 12 of October 2017, to the surprise of the vendors and the public, the kiosks used by the vendors were all taken down “due to unsanitary, unsafe and deplorable conditions of the structures following the passing of Hurricane Irma” a press statement from the ministry of Tourism, Economic Affairs, Telecommunications and Transport (TEATT) stated. Some booths were damaged and deemed irreparable. The Minister at the time, Mellissa Arrindell-Doncher, doubled down the decision in a following release stating “the most irresponsible action is inaction”.

Under Minister Doncher plans to beautify Philipsburg were introduced to enhance the cruise experience. This included a bus terminal, taxi stands and green spaces. That was in October of 2017. After filing a complaint at the Ombudsman the Ombudsman’s ruling was in favor of the market vendors due to the fact that the ministry lied about the booths conditions. Only three of the 27 booths were totally damaged according to the statement of Ingrid Grell, the president of the market vendors association, during a central committee meeting in Parliament on January 24 of 2018. She also mentioned that the contractor of the marketplace told her that he would get them up and running in three weeks.

The ministry’s press statement stating that the structures were unsanitary and unsafe was referenced based on a 2016 report that detailed minor repairs needed such as light poles, the bricks and water retainers for the palm trees. According to the vendors the Minister did not discuss the beautification plan with them. Ms Grell said the last Minister they spoke to was Stuart Johnson who along with Port St. Maarten provided 2 large tents and another development plan for the marketplace. Despite current announced plans by Minister of Public Housing, Spatial Planning Environment and Infrastructure (VROMI), Jurendy Egbert Doran, to develop Philipsburg last October, the vendors are still left out of consultations although the published drawings indicated vending spaces. St. Maarten already began welcoming cruise passengers and an influx of tourists; however the conditions at the marketplace are in need of improvement.

In regards to the increase of tourists on the island of Ms Grill said, “we want it to look nice, we want it to look elegant…even though they [ed-tourist] come and it might not be 100% of what it was before, at least you’re seeing the sun rising in the horizon.” A comment could not be retrieved from TEATT on the situation.