For many years, I have heard people say “politicians are all the same” and “it doesn’t matter what they say, the results are the same.” For a long time, I believed there was a lot of truth to these comments, even though they paint a discouraging picture of mankind’s future.
However, Christmas holidays this year took the family and myself on a Caribbean cruise, and one of the many islands we “explored” was St. Maarten. St. Maarten is part of the Lesser Antilles, which means it’s in the Eastern Caribbean, and if one should move east of the island, there’s nothing to stop you until you reach the west coast of Africa.
I learned an important lesson on St. Maarten.
The island is divided roughly into halves – one half is administered as a territory of the Dutch government, while the other half is administered as a territory of the French government. Initially, we had to dock on the Dutch side, since the French part of the island was on strike. As locals commented: “The French are great at three things: wine, cheese and strikes!” Fortunately, by the time we rented a taxi and managed to tour both sides of the island, the strike in the French portion was over.
As we docked in the Dutch port, our first part of the tour was through the Dutch part of the island. Despite the fact that the entire island was hit by Hurricane Irma on Sept. 6, 2017, with sustained winds of 180 miles per hour, I was stunned to see how good the Dutch section appeared. Buildings were repaired or rebuilt, infrastructure appeared to be in good shape, businesses were very busy, traffic flowed pretty smoothly and, in fact, the entire island looked ridiculously clean and even “manicured”. And it wasn’t just big buildings that had been fixed – every home also appeared to be in excellent condition. Considering the hurricane hit only two years ago, I had expected to see a lot of remaining devastation, but none was visible.
We then crossed over into the French section, and everything changed. Initially, the first obvious problem was the road conditions. Most roads were scarred with numerous pot holes, signs were damaged or missing, while both roads and sidewalks (where they existed) were filthy. The same conditions applied to the buildings we drove by on our tour. About 65 per cent of the stores and commercial businesses were boarded up and in dilapidated condition. The stores that remained open looked dirty, lacked inventory and – unlike the Dutch stores – also lacked customers. A look of decay permeated the entire area. Many buildings were obviously damaged in the hurricane and virtually none of them showed any visible signs of repair or maintenance. Parks, where they existed, were overgrown, dirty and lacked any apparent facilities. We never did see any medical facilities, while the few schools we spotted gave the impression that education was abandoned many, many decades ago. Simply put, the difference between the Dutch and French sectors was like day and night.
While there are likely a number of factors that contributed to what we saw, there’s little doubt that effective government was active in the Dutch sector, while there’s also no doubt that broken government rules the French sector. Governments do make a difference – whether that difference is good or bad depends, I believe, on whether the people are willing to accept poor performance or demand something better.
Brian McLeod is a St. Albert resident.