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Africa Resource Center opens its doors at library

PHILIPSBURG--Africa Caribbean Heritage Alliance (ACHA), in cooperation with national volunteer initiative SXM Doet, the National Commission of United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) and Philipsburg Jubilee Library launched the Africa Resource Center at the Library.

ACHA was founded in April 2014 by Okama Ekpe Brook, who has worked for the United Nations in different parts of the world and is now in St. Maarten, and is geared towards reconnecting Africa and the Caribbean through the areas of heritage, culture, economics, education, travel and transport. Brook, originally Nigerian, fell in love with St. Maarten and the Caribbean.

The launching of the Africa Resource Center is part of ACHA’s efforts to continue on its mission of assessing the feasibility of positively reconnecting the continents.

Governor Eugene Holiday cut the ribbon to officially open Africa Resource Center. He commended SXM Doet organisers with the inclusion of this project in its island-wide volunteers programme and applauded the partnership between ACHA, the National UNESCO Commission and the Library to make this “relevant” heritage project possible.

He expressed the hope that through centralised collection and availability of information the centre would contribute to a greater knowledge, understanding and appreciation of the Africa-St. Maarten Heritage.

Brook noted that Africa is the second largest continent in the world after Asia with a population of almost one billion spread across 54 countries. She said that that Africans and the Caribbean people share much ancestral history and cultural heritage that provide a fertile ground for partnerships.

“Africans and people of African descent are strategically spread across the entire globe. The resource centre is a unifying point of convergence; a place and space where people can go to relax, to conduct research, to access certain resources or to watch a movie, listen to music or just to read a book that creates more awareness about the potential of Africa as it relates to the opportunities with the Caribbean.”

Other persons addressing the gathering included Library Director Monique Alberts and Secretary General of the National Commission for UNESCO Marcellia Henry. Alberts spoke on the rich history of Africa and highlighted the array of literature available at the library to contribute to the development of the Africa Resource Center.

Henry, for instance, mentioned the United Nations Decade for People of African Descent, noting that this declaration provides the opportunity for the UN, UNESCO, member states, civil society and other organisations to implement programmes and organise activities that focus and promote African ancestry’s recognition, justice and development.

“In proclaiming this decade, United Nations and the international community recognise that people of African origin represent a group of people whose human rights must be promoted and protected,” Henry said.

In her closing remarks, Brook thanked SXM Doet, Be The Change Foundation, Oranje Fund and Prince Bernhard Foundation for making this event possible.

The programme further included poetry, speeches, and a book presentation.

On the occasion of its first anniversary, ACHA is organising an art and essay competition for high schools titled: “The Role of Africans in St. Martin: Reconnecting the Caribbean with Africa.” The winning entries of high school students are scheduled to be announced on April 9. The deadline for the contest has been extended until Thursday, April 2.

Dennis denounces marginalisation of local law enforcement agencies

PHILIPSBURG--Justice Minister Dennis Richardson has denounced what he has referred to as the unjust marginalisation of local law enforcement agencies.

He made the comments at the general police union NAPB annual national congress held at Divi Little Bay Beach Resort last Thursday. In his speech at that event, Richardson said he stood fully behind the position of NAPB on the involvement of "others" in St. Maarten's justice chain who have tried to "justify their own ineffective presence" and "unjustly marginalised our local law enforcement agencies."

"A Minister of Justice of St. Maarten, I cannot stand idly by whilst others whose performance does not justify their arrogance in unjustly denigrating local law enforcement agencies," Richardson said.

During that congress the minister announced that the Council of Ministers had given the green light for the "function house" of the police which NAPB St. Maarten had been lobbying for, for many years.

The Minister told the gathering of trade unionists that though government has not been able to deliver all that has been considered necessary in a timely manner due to limited financial means, gradually all is being done to do so. "And that is a fact. Many personnel backlogs have been eliminated and/or corrected and that work continues. The increase of the size of the force can only happen with the increase of the financial means of the country. That is also presently being tackled," he told the gathering which included NAPB representatives from St. Maarten, Curaçao and the Caribbean Netherlands.

"We will have to do what we have to do on our own, with the means that we have. It will take in some cases a little longer. We do it with pride and conviction. To those who because of this want to abuse this situation to try and justify their own ineffective presence, by attaching all kind of strings to their offer of help and in so doing unjustly marginalise our local law enforcement agencies I say: think again. To those I say: when you are gone and you have not helped us to structurally improve our situation, we will be worse off than before. In that case I say: then we will do it on our own strength and with the cooperation of other regional countries that do respect our autonomy and appreciate our achievements notwithstanding our limited means."

St. Maarten's police force, he added, can be proud of its performance which has contributed to the downward trend in crime from 2010 through 2014. With the exception of 2014 in which gang related attempts at serious bodily harm and/or murder showed an increase, nearly all other types of crime are showing a steady decline such as breaking and entering in homes, cars, thefts, physical abuse and sexual abuse. The performance of the force in the area of "high impact crimes" such as murders, bank robberies and holdups, has been "impressive."

This, he added, was done by a police corps that carries out its job 24 hours a day and 365 days a year and that should have a capacity of at least 350 Full Time Equivalent (FTE) officers, but today is at level of around 220 FTEs. By comparison, he continued, "Monaco a state in the South of France that I had the opportunity to visit has a population of about 33,000, a daily influx of around 40,000 from France and Italy and a tourist product of say 500,000 per year. For that task they have a force of 600 officers. St. Maarten's police force has the challenge to ensure the security of a population of 55,000, with a neighbouring population of 40,000 on the French side, between which there is daily and frequent interaction as well as a tourist product of four to five million a year."

Richardson said that this challenge could only be taken on successfully when the officers are dedicated to their job, take pride in their work and are prepared to make sacrifices to hold the standard of St. Maarten at its highest possible peak.

"The police officers of St. Maarten feel personally challenged when a high impact crime takes place and are ferociously committed to solve those crimes that form a mayor threat to society. They are only capable of doing this with the limited resources we have if they dedicate themselves to achieving the highest quality of work.

"It is therefore the responsibility of government to within the means they have to see to proper training and education, equipping the force sufficiently to do its work, securing their salaries, rights, obligations and making sure that in this dangerous work the officers themselves have facilities that help protect themselves and carry out their work as safe as possible.

"That is why government has facilitated training and education until now and will continue to do so by establishing a modern training centre where all kinds of operational training (shooting, apprehension, car apprehension, exercise, self-defence etc.) will take place."

He said too that government is in the process of upgrading and expanding the Justice Academy. "Furthermore the police force has been supplied with modern interceptors that have been an example to other police corps (Curaçao and Anguilla). Modern interrogation facilities have been established and we are in the process of establishing a forensic lab. Recently a project has been initiated with the intention of providing affordable, modern and secure housing for law enforcement officers, etc."

The minister acknowledged there is more to be done, but said "Rome was not built in a day" and I add "in St. Maarten it takes just a day longer."

Connor meets with airlift partners in US

PHILIPSBURG--Minister of Tourism, Economic Affairs, Transport and Telecommunication (TEATT) Claret Connor, while attending the Miami's Seatrade Cruise Conference, took the opportunity to meet with key airlift partners American Airlines, Jet Blue and Delta Airlines.

On Sunday, Connor said it was very important to understand the areas of business development and how all stakeholders could further maximise on opportunities, a TEATT press release informed.

The Minister pointed out that the country is very busy during the high season (November to May) and the objective now is to stimulate more business during the off-season (June to October).

"The airlines are willing to adjust schedules to accommodate business. They can change an aircraft on short notice as well. These are a plus for the destination.

"You may have groups that would like to hold an event and also those who organise conferences during the off season, and if the airlines are willing to accommodate the additional travellers, this is where we all have to come together including the hotel sector and promote event/conference business that would benefit all in the long-run."

Minister Connor first met with Director of Marketing Development for Mexico/Caribbean and Latin America Division of American Airlines Gary Alfson.

"The meeting was mainly an introductory, one aimed at fostering closer ties with those stakeholders responsible for transporting a large number of the visitors that frequent the destination.

"Accordingly, the discussion was very informative and insightful. Alfson explained some of the challenges American Airlines is facing pertaining to the cost structure and congestion for the island. While the JFK (John F. Kennedy) [international airport in New York City – Ed.] service is seasonal due to various challenges, the Miami flight is holding its own thus far.

"It is the intention to have more follow-up meetings with American Airlines representatives in Dallas, the headquarters, to ensure continued service to St. Maarten, as well to discuss potential marketing strategies to further stimulate travel to the destination.

"American Airlines has a long-standing relationship with St. Maarten providing service to this destination for some 30 plus years," the press release read.

Minister Connor also travelled to New York to attend the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) meeting at the United Nations Building, meeting with Jet Blue officials March 19.

In this meeting, he discussed ways of strengthening the current partnership. To this end, the Minister will be looking at ways and means of developing strategic marketing actions that would be mutually beneficial going forward.

Puerto Rico has the urgent attention of both parties as it is not performing as anticipated. The Jet Blue representatives and Minister Connor discussed this service extensively and plan to develop a strategic plan of action to stimulate growth and awareness from this market to St. Maarten.

"Jet Blue continues to expand its services to the Caribbean, and we need to ensure that we are a part of this expansion process from the onset," said Minister Conner. He said that St. Maarten is also on Jet Blue's radar for added service from the Southern region of the US.

Currently, Jet Blue offers direct service from New York, Boston and Puerto Rico to St. Maarten. The possibility exists for added service from the North Eastern region to St. Maarten. These talks will continue in the near future.

Connor and his team also travelled to Atlanta, Georgia, to pay a courtesy visit to Delta Airlines, Delta Vacations and MLT Vacation on March 24.

Delta currently provides direct service from Atlanta to St. Maarten four times weekly, as well as direct service from New York four times weekly. During the winter season the service is daily, but reduced during the summer months due to the load factors.

Atlanta visitor arrivals are reasonably strong, as well as those out of Minneapolis, based on the information shared in the meeting with the Delta officials. However, the island will still have to be more visible in these areas to further stimulate the awareness of the destination.

"It is imperative that we stay in touch with these partners on a regular basis to ensure that we are always aware of changes in their operations that could affect this destination in one way or another," Conner concluded.

The Messenger captures Road March on first try

page1b262PHILIPSBURG--He tried for four years, unsuccessfully, to capture the Road March crown as a junior Calypsonian; however, on Saturday evening, he won it on his first attempt as a senior Road March competitor. Rumari "The Messenger" Rogers is the new Senior Road March King after winning the title at the NAGICO Senior Calypso Eliminations and Road March Competition.

The new King was emotional in revelling with his family, friends and supporters after his victory was announced. He and his brother, the reigning Calypso Monarch Ruminni "The Protégé" Rogers, now hold both Senior crowns.

Their father, Carlyle Rogers, himself a Calypsonian, expressed pride at seeing his sons reach the pinnacle of the art-form they love. Rumari was crowned by Minister of Culture Rita Bourne-Gumbs.

The Messenger had to hold off five other Road March contenders to capture the crown, including a highly energetic and heavily supported singer in the person of Apple Jacks. His song "Rep Your Flag" was clear and to the point: St. Maarten is made up of various nationalities and he wanted these nationalities to "rep" their flag as part of St. Maarten's Carnival, which has always been a welcoming festival.

Dominated by the St. Maarten flag and the St. Maarten Carnival flag, it was Rumari's performance of his song that set him apart. He actually wore a St. Maarten flag as a cape. During his performance he was joined by waves of well-coordinated Carnival revellers in elaborate costumes. Members of the performing team waved various Caribbean flags while on and off stage with the new King.

"Congratulations to the new King. We all know how hard all of the singers work, but Rumari has remained determined and did not lose faith after coming close so many times. It's a great accomplishment to win at this level and we expect to see much more of him in the future. Congratulations to the Rogers family who continue to turn out kings," President of the St. Maarten Carnival Development Foundation (SCDF) Mike Granger said, adding that kudos go out to all singers who did an "awesome job" in representing Road March.

SER, USM doing joint research on remigration to St. Maarten

PHILIPSBURG--Social Economic Council SER and University of St. Martin (USM) are presently conducting joint, online research focusing on why some graduates from secondary school in St. Maarten return to the island and others do not.

In a press release on Sunday, SER alluded to scenes at the Princess Juliana International Airport SXM of family members saying goodbye to their children who leave the island to further their studies. The decision to pursue a study abroad is very personal and sometimes a difficult decision. SER said. “After completing their studies our students are faced with another choice, to return home or stay abroad and build their futures in another country.”

SER and USM have created an online survey “to help the community better understand the decision and factors that play a role to return or not.” The online survey can be found at: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/remigrationtosxm. The link can be found at:

SER and USM urge the community to participate in its research by going online and filling out the survey, and to share the link with family and friends who have graduated from secondary school in St. Maarten and are now studying abroad; who graduated from secondary school in St. Maarten, studied abroad and are now living abroad, and to persons who graduated from secondary school in St. Maarten, studied abroad and returned to St. Maarten not longer than 10 years ago.

The survey should take about 15 minutes to complete. SER and USM urge person to use social media and spread the word about the survey. 

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