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Minister of Education to pay SVOBE NAf. 150,000 extra

PHILIPSBURG--The Court of First Instance on Wednesday, ordered the Minister of Education, Culture, Youth and Sport to pay a monthly advance of NAf. 150,000 to Foundation for Secondary Education in the Windward Islands SVOBE from March. The advance is in addition to the monthly lump-sum government pays out to the subsidised schools.

SVOBE provides secondary education to 1,298 students at Milton Peters College (MPC) and Sundial School and employs 168 staff members.

The foundation had sounded the alarm in a so-called LAR administrative procedure in February. SVOBE said it was in grave financial difficulties which could have led to bankruptcy if the Ministry of Education did not provide NAf. 4.5 million in funding.

SVOBE took the Minister of Education to Court and requested a so-called temporary provision in which it sought a change in the way government is calculating the lump-sum payments.

After parties failed to reach an out-of-court settlement, the Judge made a decision on the matter.

According to SVOBE, the annual government subsidies, which are based on a lump- sum per student since the 2010/2011 school year, were structurally too low.

In the 2013/2014 school year, SVOBE received NAf. 15, 337, 356 in total, or NAf. 1,278, 113 per month.

According to SVOBE's lawyer Camiel Koster, the current remuneration to the foundation was insufficient to cover the cost of staff and exploitation, causing "large and acute financial distress."

A report from accountants and business advisers Baker Tilly was submitted to prove SVOBE has a total deficit of almost NAf. 9 million and a monthly deficit of NAf. 246,452.

SVOBE had outstanding debts of more than NAf. 2 million and an outstanding utility bill of NAf. 143.000 with GEBE, it was said.

The foundation also would be unable to pay out vacation allowances, purchase education material and pay for the hiring of new teachers, as the monies reserved for these purposes had already been used to meet current financial obligations.

The Court took into account that the Ministry of Education is obligated to make payments to schools that are sufficient to cover the cost for personnel, including wages and cost for training, as well as for maintenance of school buildings, inventories and utility bills.

It was also taken into consideration that in using abstract figures, the lump-sum system has not yet been officially defined by national decree. The system also does not provide for any final calculations based on actual costs.

Since the implementation of the lump-sum system no evaluation has taken place concerning the cost effectiveness of the remunerations. The Minister's legal representative, attorney-at-law Richard Gibson Jr., had informed the Court that Foundation Government Accounts Bureau SOAB had in the meantime been assigned to evaluate the lump-sum system.

According to the Court, the basic assumptions on which the calculations were based were incorrect. The Court also established that parties were at loggerheads concerning a wide variety of issues, among which the question whether SVOBE was also to blame for the financial difficulties due to improper financial management.

However, the Ministry of Education agreed that a cash-flow analysis had uncovered a deficit of approximately NAF. 75,000 in March, and of NAf. 100,000 in April.

This has led the Ministry to promise payment of NAf. 121,686 to bridge the liquidity gap. It also said it was prepared to pay SVOBE's debts with GEBE and to

replenish SVOBE's financial needs where vacation allowances, recruitment costs and teaching material were concerned.

Judge Katja Mans agreed with Government's lawyer Gibson that SVOBE had failed to provide any concrete evidence to sustain its claim that it immediately needed NAf. 4.5 million to keep the schools open and avert bankruptcy, but considered an "urgent situation" proven.

Considering all this, the Judge ordered the Ministry to pay NAf. 150,000 per month to SVOBE until a final decision on the lump-sum has been made.

Attorney Koster said SVOBE's financial needs would be considerably reduced if Minister Patricia Lourens-Philip fulfilled her promises.

"This, however, would not mean that all problems are over. For instance, a large amount still needs to be found for big maintenance projects," Koster said.

The lawyer also pointed at the Court's observation that the government decisions on which the subsidies were based would "with a high degree of probability" be declared null and void during the court case on the merits. The first hearing in this case is scheduled for Thursday, April 24.

"In popular terms, the Judge has sent the Minister back to the drawing board, because in its current form the lump-sum system is incorrect and cannot be upheld to calculate education subsidies," said Koster.

The lawyer said SVOBE was elated with the outcome of the injunction. "During the past four years, SVOBE has already tried to explain this to the Minister, but apart from some minor adaptations here and there, the system has never been evaluated. The Minister also never implemented any substantial changes."

This ruling is not the end of the story, Koster pointed out. "To the contrary," he said. "In any case, the Minister still has to make a decision in the so-called 'objection phase,' in which the lump-sum system will have to be (substantially) adapted. In the meantime, the Minister and SVOBE will continue communications to reach practical solutions. SVOBE has high hopes that these talks will lead to satisfactory results and that the Minister will continue to live up to promises. If that happens, than that is a good start for financial peace," Koster said.

Gendarmes use Taser and firearm to restrain a man

page1b281MARIGOT--A man wielding a machete and described by the Gendarmerie as being in a "dangerous" state was subdued and brought to the ground by use of a Taser and a firearm during an incident that occurred in the Marina Royale parking area near the St. Martin Tourism Office on Wednesday morning.

The man was hospitalised with a bullet wound in the arm, but will recover.

Gendarmes and Territorial Police were called to the parking lot at 9:45am due to the machete-bearer's abnormal and threatening behaviour. Witnesses at Filibustier restaurant and bar said the man appeared to be mentally challenged and had threatened an elderly lady in the car park.

Gendarmerie Commandant Paul Betaille declined to comment on the man's mental state, adding that on instruction of the Prosecutor no further information on the incident would be released. Detectives and the Prosecutor have opened an investigation.

Ministry examining measures to give uninsured access to coverage

~ Estimated 25 - 30 per cent uninsured ~

PHILIPSBURG--The Ministry of Public Health is looking into measures to give un-insured persons in St. Maarten access to affordable medical insurance via the Social and Health Care Insurance SZV.

The group of un-insured persons in the country was initially estimated to be between 25 to 30 per cent.

Health Minister Cornelius de Weever said on Wednesday that there is a group of persons in the country who are unable to afford the high cost of private medical insurance and who do not qualify for social medical insurance via SZV.

Discussions surrounding this issue were the focus of two meetings held on Wednesday, and are part of the phased introduction of a National Health Insurance (NHI) reform for St. Maarten. The first meeting was among ministers, department heads and the secretary generals of the various ministries, while the second session was among stakeholders such as taxi drivers, bus associations, St. Maarten Chamber of Commerce and Industry and sole proprietors.

De Weever said the intention is to expand the current medical coverage "to include persons who may be at risk of not receiving adequate medical coverage."

"The reason why we are continuing on this path is because many cannot afford private insurance and don't necessarily qualify for SZV, so there is a group who may remain uninsured that we have to address," the minister told reporters at Wednesday's Council of Ministers press briefing. "This is part of the NHI reform."

According to de Weever, draft legislation is ready and had been presented to parliament in December 2013. The minister said he has also worked out some additional details regarding this proposal, which were discussed during the meetings on Wednesday.

De Weever said government does not want the group of un-insured to "fall between the cracks. The thing is that we have to look legally at what can be done to accommodate them and determine whether it is going to be part of medical aid expansion that is currently on the books and then have them pay their premiums to ensure that they are covered and what happens when they don't pay their premiums that they are not covered, so we have to ensure that this is regulated through SZV," he explained.

The intention was for stakeholders to meet and determine the potential bottlenecks before any new legislation is introduced, to include the group of persons identified in the risk category.

Handling of treaty amendments put off yet again by Parliament

~ Despite MPs having documents since November 2013 ~

PHILIPSBURG--The Central Committee of Parliament was unable to deal with several treaty amendments and adjustments to kingdom regulations, because several Members of Parliament said they wanted to err on the side of caution by first getting an expert on the issues to better explain the topics to them. President of Parliament Gracita Arrindell adjourned the multi-pointed debate on Tuesday, when dealing with the second agenda point on establishing the fishing zones of the Kingdom in the Caribbean.

In response to calls by MPs for more information and explanation, Arrindell pointed out several times that MPs have been in possession of the package of documents on the amendments to the treaties and regulations since November 2013. The topics were all discussed in Parliament's Permanent Committee for Kingdom Relations and Inter-Parliamentary Affairs, a committee opened to all MPs, she noted.

Arrindell also told MPs that they have to be conscious that changes to treaties and other related regulations sent to Parliament by the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament, has a deadline for completion is attached to them, and if Parliament did not make its input by the deadline, the changes will be made by the Kingdom with St. Maarten appearing to have no objections.

She will review the deadlines for all the pending agenda points and work out with Kingdom Relations Committee Chairman MP Roy Marlin (Democratic Party) and Parliament General Secretary Jozef Semeleer on how to get the experts needed to Parliament, so the deadlines can be met by Parliament.

The meeting will resume, once the necessary experts are lined up to give MPs an overview of the information they were given in the documents and to answer any questions they may have. One of the experts is expected to be former Lt. Governor Attorney Ralph Richardson, who has assisted Parliament in the past.

The expert(s) will discuss in depth the adjustment of the Kingdom's fishing zones in the Caribbean, the withdrawal of a section of the convention dealing with economic, social and cultural rights and similar changes to the related European Union charter, and changes to the Kingdom Law on Dutch Citizenship. The latter had to do with the increase of the number of years, from five to seven, for people who want to become naturalized Dutch citizens.

Prior to the adjournment, MPs approved changes to the international treaty signed in Beijing, China, on aviation, particularly to combat criminality in the field of aviation and the illegal use of aeroplanes.

When MPs got to the handling of the redrawing of the fishing zones among St. Maarten, Saba and St. Eustatius, to reflect the constitutional changes since 10-10-10, independent (former National Alliance) MP Dr. Lloyd Richardson said he wanted to know how the Coast Guard will handle the fishing zones adjustment and what were the distinctions from the present circumstance to what the changes will bring into force. He specifically asked for the nautical coordinates that reflect the pending changes, because he felt this was important for the Harbour Group of Companies to know.

MP Leroy de Weever (DP) said he wanted to know how the changes will impact St. Maarten fishermen and leisure boaters. He pointed out that the reassigning of the fishing zones will mean the rules of the Netherlands will apply for Saba and St. Eustatius. Fishermen and boaters will have to deal with regulations applicable in the North Sea.

MP Louie Laveist (NA) said MPs had to be "careful that nothing comes back to haunt us" as the approval of the National Ordinance on the registration and financing of political parties, which MPs, in a meeting with the Electoral Council on Monday, admitted was approved hastily in 2010. "I don't want us to have a deadline that will come back to haunt us."

Tuesday's Central Committee meeting had started on March 19, and was adjourned after MPs agreed to establish an ad hoc committee to plan for a new parliament building, as well as the establishment of the President of Parliament Excellence Award. It was decided on Tuesday that those two agenda points will be sent on to a plenary session of Parliament for finalization, instead of having them further delayed by the other incomplete agenda points.

The reason for that adjournment was the absence of Democratic Party (DP) MP Roy Marlin, who heads the Permanent Committee for Kingdom Relations and Inter-Parliamentary Affairs. MPs present had argued that Marlin should have been present for the March 19th meeting to give an overview of the treaty amendments and the changes to the kingdom regulations.

Marlin was absent with notice from Tuesday's meeting due to illness.

Marlin: Theo out to fool the people again

PHILIPSBURG--National Alliance (NA) leader William Marlin says statements made by United People's (UP) party leader Theo Heyliger about keeping the coalition together, while Heyliger himself has attempted blatantly to break the coalition multiple times in recent weeks, is not just laughable, but a vain attempt to fool the people yet again.

Marlin said it was no secret that Heyliger had been trying for several months now to break the coalition to force early elections.

It was Heyliger who first said he was prepared to break the coalition if members of the Central Bank board were removed, Marlin said in a press release on Tuesday evening. When this did not work, he then said he wanted early elections because of the hurricane season.

When this too failed, it was the same Heyliger who, for a third time, said he was prepared to break the coalition – this time after the UP congress, saying that the congress had given him a resounding mandate to break the government and go for early elections, Marlin said. "He even started using a 'We ready' campaign as a clear indication that he is ready to break the government."

Marlin said Heyliger's "childish rants show the immaturity that some will resort to for their own personal interests and gains – interests that do not involve the wellbeing and welfare of the people of this country. It is actions like these, where personal interests are put above that of the country, that St. Maarten can do without at this stage in its development."

Marlin also alluded to statements made in a letter published in a local newspaper suggesting there is a plan to remove VROMI Minister Maurice Lake to bring "Marlin" in as Minister. But this is absolutely not so, Marlin said, adding that he had no desire to become minister ahead of the upcoming election, where the people of St. Maarten would speak loud and clear at the polls.

He said NA had requested a meeting to deal with the purchase of Emilio Wilson Estate and would table a motion against Minister Maurice Lake, who he said had been lying to Parliament repeatedly.

Marlin said it appeared that the UP leader had gotten wind that his coalition partner the Democratic Party (DP) intends to support the motion and suddenly he is now committed to stability in government and loyalty to the coalition, after his repeated public attempts to break the coalition for his personal interests.

Marlin said Heyliger's latest statements about keeping the coalition together had been made only to appease his coalition partners in the face of a motion of no confidence against Lake "who continues to concoct stories to feed the country's highest legislative body and by extension the people of this country."

Marlin said NA would table its motion against Lake whenever the Parliament meeting was re-convened. "It is unacceptable that a minister makes a habit to lie to Parliament and nothing is done about it. The people of this country deserve better," Marlin said.

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