St. Barths Online


Nov 22, 2002

Local politics heats up

If there is one area in which St. Barthélemy does not differentiate itself from the mainland, it is that of political scandals.
For the second time in the space of one month, the justice system has made its presence felt within the local municipal council by way of two legal inquiries initiated by two island residents, St. Barth's regional council representative, Nordleing Magras, and St. Barth Beach Hotel owner, Guy Turbe. Both of these men, motivated by political and personal motives, have accused Bruno Magras of illegally using his public office as mayor of the community to further his private interests. Mayor Magras is accused of several wrongdoings : negotiating a derisory hangar fee for his private airline company, St. Barth Commuter, evading customs taxes for airplanes purchased and imported to St. Barth by that company, and finally, using concrete mixed and sold by his private company, Les Bétons Contrôlés, to execute the construction of several major public infrastructures, two of the most notable being the renovated airport in St. Jean, and the new town hall in Gustavia Pointe.
The first round of attacks, launched by Nordleing Magras, seem to qualify as a scratch. The mayor, who vigorously denies the accusations made against him, was supported by the municipal council, most of whom were elected into public office on the mayor's ticket. The administrative tribunal of Basse Terre rendered a decision on October 22, 2001 that also supported the mayor. The judicial body declared that the accusations were unfounded and did not warrant any further legal action. The regional council representative, fiercely determined to pursue his lawsuit, appealed the decision of the lower court and has asked the State Council to review the decision and give its verdict.
The administrative tribunal will be deliberating before December 9 to deliberate on the second series of accusations made against the mayor by hotelier Guy Turbe. Though opposition members of the municipal council brushed aside the first set of accusations, they now seem less willing to overlook the mayor's possible legal blunders. "We can't help but notice the proximity between municipally-accorded contracts and the mayor's private company, Les Betons Controles," stated opposition member Herve Linder, to the consternation of his political adversaries.
The political infighting is coming to full boil at the same time that certain decisions affecting the future status of the island are now on the regional and state agenda. Next December 18, for example, congress will meet in Basse Terre to put closure on Guadeloupe's institutional evolution plan. In St. Barth, though the majority of elected officials are in agreement as to the general objective-the creation of a territorial collective detached from Guadeloupe-divergent opinions as to the form and means for achieving the political shift are now very much the order of the day.
The mayor has stated his desire to respect the process initiated by the government via the orientation law. Magras' opposition, a very small minority in the municipal council, rejects that idea. It contends unwaveringly that the Franco-Swedish treaty, drawn in 1877 between the crowned heads of Sweden and France, is both the cornerstone and central pillar of the island's privileged fiscal system. The international treaty stipulated that St. Barth had and should continue to be a duty-free port when it was ceded back to France.
Despite his critics, the mayor has decided to present his project to congress, convened by regional president Lucette Michaux-Chevry. "There will always be time, afterwards, to use force if we do not receive satisfaction. There's no question about it, Lucette Michaux-Chevry will not be the one to decide for St. Barthélemy," explained first deputy mayor, Yves Gréaux. A response, no doubt, to the political accusations that Mayor Magras is throwing the island's historical particularities into Guadeloupe's sacrificial fire. It's been some time since the island has witnessed such heated political debate, and, judging by the comments being exchanged, there's plenty of fuel for the fire.
Yves Bourel

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