PHILIPSBURG–Former minister William Marlin’s former driver Leroy Lapaix identified himself on Thursday as the contractor under investigation for removing asphalt from the airport and claimed that Ministry of VROMI officials had prior knowledge of his actions. He also claimed that his former boss had given him verbal permission to remove the asphalt from the airport.
The claim that VROMI had had prior knowledge was denied vehemently by Ministry of VROMI Acting Secretary-General Louis Brown who said in an invited comment that no such instructions had gone through the ministry. In fact, Brown signed a letter that was dispatched to Lapaix on Thursday, giving him 48 hours to present proof that he had had instructions from the former minister, in writing, to remove the asphalt.
Lapaix said the way the story had been presented earlier this week with comments from Ministry of VROMI Head of Maintenance Claudius Buncamper was “not only false, but malicious and devious. He is purposely distorting the facts for what can only be personal gain.”
He then suggested that the media take Brown’s comments, not Buncamper’s. The Daily Herald did exactly that and Brown reiterated what Buncamper had stated also in an invited comment.
The letter to Lapaix outlines that the ministry had no knowledge of his actions, did not give permission to do so and is not aware of any such instructions from the former minister. The letter also informed Lapaix that the ministry is fully aware of where he delivered the asphalt, including properties in French St. Martin.
Lapaix is called to provide written instructions that would substantiate his claims or face possible legal action. The letter was copied to the current Minister of VROMI and to government’s Legal Affairs Department.
Lapaix also claimed that Buncamper had been against the idea of assisting the people of St. Maarten (with the milled asphalt from the runway rehabilitation project) from the very beginning and wanted to charge persons for the milling, “stating to me very aggressively that the milling had value and should not be used in this way.”
“Additionally, Mr. Buncamper was instructed by the former minister to indicate which roads should be repaired as much as three months before the fall of Government, but he never executed this request. Former minister Marlin was very clear in his instructions that no resident of St. Maarten was to pay for the milling, only the transport,” Lapaix said in a written response to the media.
Brown told this newspaper that while there several discussions about the milled asphalt had taken place, no decision had been taken by VROMI and no instructions from the minister had come through VROMI. He confirmed that the removal of the asphalt had taken place on the night of Friday, June 14, the same day the new government was sworn in.
“The idea that I would sneak into the airport and remove milling or anything else is absurd, to say the least, and this is simply an effort to discredit the former minister and myself. It is the worst form of politics that we have seen in recent history. Mr. Buncamper believes that he is the only authority in the department and he has a history of making decisions for his personal benefit and not that of the department,” Lapaix said.
He then mentioned one of the places where his trucks had delivered leftover asphalt, on instruction of the minister he claims.
“The milling was used as instructed by former minister Marlin. It was not sold to the client. The client only paid for the transport of the material and the laying down on the road. The condition of the road was very bad and the used milling has greatly improved the road condition and it is still good even after multiple bouts of rain,” Lapaix said.
That client was the James family in Cole Bay. “The minister said ‘give it to them,’ so we gave it to them,” Lapaix said. He said had been instructed to “take to other places, but never got the opportunity.”
Lapaix also used his opportunity to respond to “start my own investigation,” which he said had led to several findings on which Buncamper should be questioned. He mentioned the use of government milling to pave the front of a home in French Quarter, but did not provide specifics.
“The use of government concrete to pave the front of a yellow house in Guana Bay and lay down bricks, the act of which pictures were actually taken. A case that was investigated by Government and a recommendation to dismiss Mr. Buncamper given, but nothing came of it due to Mr. Buncamper’s wife being a commissioner at the time,” he said.
After checking, The Daily Herald understands that an in-depth investigation was executed internally about this case, which led to a civil servant at VROMI being dismissed for wrongful actions. Buncamper was not charged with any wrongdoing and his wife was not commissioner at the time.
Lapaix referred to the highly public SOAB report on the issuance of building permits a few years ago for which Buncamper also was cleared of wrongdoing. Lapaix also mentioned the alleged use of government lumber and workers to “put up the campaign material for his wife and the act of getting a fake receipt to cover his tracks.”
It should be noted that here too an internal investigation was executed, several persons heard and interviewed, and Buncamper was cleared.
“I welcome the investigation of the milling and would request Minister Maurice Lake to investigate the above as well. If Minister Lake does not investigate the issues mentioned above then we will know for sure that his action on the milling is not going back to basics, but playing the same old political victimisation game that we are used to seeing with these players,” Lapaix said.
He also advised the minister to implement random drug testing at the Ministry of VROMI and indirectly accused “high-ranking civil servants” of being drug users. “Some decisions could be affected by hard drug use. It is well known that on occasion civil servants have had to retrieve Public Works vehicles from well-known crack houses.”
This new situation with the moving of government property is similar to that involving the moving of sand from the harbour premises. No instructions came from VROMI or a minister for moving of that sand. Eventually Member of Parliament Frans Richardson said he had given the instructions to move the sand, an issue that never has been resolved in terms of legalities.
Former minister Marlin could not be reached for comment.