Published On: Sun, Oct 8th, 2017

Businessman Michael Ferrier: “Nothing about looting is correct”

GREAT BAY – “I have no doubts that we will come back in better shape,” says businessman Michael Ferrier. “Compared to a month ago, the island is already looking great.’

By Hilbert Haar

Ferrier, owner of the NAPA auto and truck parts stores on our island says that he is happy with the support from the Netherlands. “They really stepped up to the plate. We have to leave politics out of this; we just have to go on with little steps. First clean your own garden, and then clean the street.”

Ferrier’s first concern in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma is for what he calls ‘the small man.” Seated in the office of his store in Cole Bay, where part of the ceiling has come down, he says: “We have to make sure that the small man gets the support he needs. With grants, interest free loans or loans with a low interest. In French Quarter the water has taken everything away. Those people don’t have anything anymore. We have to find a way to make sure that everyone benefits from the relief funds that will be coming our way.”

On the government-level, Ferrier says that there is a need for a national cabinet. “In 1995, after Hurricane Luis, we had a team that worked in the interest of all people. We have to use people’s expertise; we can fix this island. There is a lot of goodwill and we have to build on that.”

On another level, Ferrier says that the country must have “a long conversation about looting.” His NAPA stores escaped the looting frenzy that erupted after the passing of Hurricane Irma on September 6. “We had just two looters,” he says. “I saw one and the other one ran away when I arrived.”

In short, the stock at the NAPA stores remained where it was before the hurricane and as soon as this was feasible, business resumed. On the downside, the insurance company terminated the business-interruption compensation, saying that NAPA was back in business.

“The looting is unheard of,” Ferrier says. “Some people attempt to justify it by saying that they were hungry. But the looting started the day after the hurricane. If you are already hungry then, you were not well prepared. Nothing about looting is correct and this cannot remain without punishment.”

As an example, Ferrier mentions Bebe N kids, a store located on the L.B. Scott Road. “People have plundered that place and they even ill-treated the owner when he attempted to defend his place. The building lost its roof in the storm. “So there is no roof, no business to speak of and of course no insurance against looting.”

That brings us to the question what affected businesses ought to do with their staff. Ferrier: “One week after the storm I told my employees: as long as you want to, I want to keep you, but under the circumstances you cannot expect me to pay you for the full eight hours a day. Many businesses do not have insurance, but they do have employees; what are they going to do with them? The situation we are in is not the fault of the employees, but it isn’t the fault of the employers either. What we need is a social safety net for cases where people lose their job and their income. That has to be funded from funds for the reconstruction of our island; otherwise we’ll be facing huge social problems.”

Ferrier says that the insurance industry is going to be a key factor in the months to come. “It is important that these companies are strong enough and that they have re-insured their risks elsewhere. Nagico was very progressive in 1995 after Hurricane Luis. Now they have to do the right thing for our people again and they have to show how strong they really are.”

When will St. Maarten be back on its feet again? Ferrier: “It will take at least a year to be back in reasonable shape, but within three to four months you will already see more possibilities. The cruise ships should be able to come back. On the other hand, I think that we have now more uninsured buildings than we had after Hurricane Luis.”

Mike Ferrier 201071005 HH

Photo caption: NAPA-owner Michael Ferrier in front of a photo of the airport before its renovation. The new airport terminal was built at the place where there once was a large pond. Because the pond was sacrificed to airport-development, homes in nearby Beacon Hill suffer from flooding during heavy rainfall. Photo Today / Hilbert Haar

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