The crew of El Ocaso, winners of CSA 4, celebrate on stage with Prime Minister Sarah Wescot-Williams at Kim Sha Beach after they were presented with the St. Maarten Cup for Most Worthy Performance Overall in the 34th St. Maarten Heineken Regatta. The regatta was another great success, attracting 211 boats in 21 classes from all over the world for four days of exhilarating sailing and partying. Wescot-Williams warmly congratulated all the winners and visitors for attending the event.
PHILIPSBURG--Minister of Public Housing, Environment, Spatial Planning and Infrastructure VROMI Maurice Lake will meet with his legal team today, Monday, to review the steps to be taken to comply with the court decision and also to avoid any extra claims by the owners of Industry and Golden Rock Plantations (commonly called Emilio Wilson estate). The court deadline for government's definitive answer on the purchase of the plantation is tomorrow, Tuesday.
Lake said in a statement issued Sunday, that his focus is on complying with the court's decision about the draft agreement while "keeping the interests of the people and country in mind."
Government has to also look at the other six hectares of the combined plantation that was part of the former minister's deal to be developed by the current owners.
Former VROMI Minister/National Alliance Member of Parliament William Marlin has thrown up "smoke screens to hide his irresponsible decision-making" that has the country "in limbo," because government does not have the money, US $17 million (some NAf. 30 million), to purchase the land. However, there is a court decision with which government needs to comply, because of the draft agreement signed by Marlin.
Marlin, Lake said, left "a NAf. 30-million debt of mess" that has to be cleaned up. The combined plantation "is the people's patrimony indeed. It is part of our heritage, but the former minister agreed that six hectares of the estate would be given out of the people's patrimony to a developer to build houses."
The minister said he is using his "Back to Basics:" approach. "If you don't follow the laws of the land, then you will end up saddling the people of this country with huge debts, and who will then bail us out?"
Marlin had decried the fact that the Secretary General of the Ministry of VROMI was not in Thursday's meeting about the pending purchase of the estate. Lake said the secretary general is on vacation, but Acting Secretary General Sandro Garcia was present at the parliamentary session, though not sitting with him in the General Assembly Hall.
Lake said Marlin should apologize to the people for "his bad decision-making, instead of throwing up a smoke screen to hide his inadequacies in his leadership and decision-making." Marlin "should have been open and transparent" with his former coalition partners in the NA-led coalition, "because they were left in the dark."
Government also already has two other court cases against the former minister and prior to that the milled asphalt, the sand issue, the land issue and now the plantations' purchase, as well as some other cases still pending, Lake said.
PHILIPSBURG--Windward Islands Civil Servants Union/Private Sector Union (WICSU/PSU) on Friday lost the injunction it had filed at the Court of First Instance over the cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for 2011 and 2012.
The union had challenged government over the 4.6 per cent indexation of COLA for 2011 and four per cent over 2012.
The union also wanted government to pay civil servants the outstanding 50 per cent COLA for 2011, as well as the full amount due for 2012.
Fifty per cent of the 2011 COLA was paid to workers late last year after much lobbying for the payment from unions across the board over several months.
Based on the Remuneration and Salary, Achievement-oriented Remuneration in Government Policy, which was published in 2008 and implemented in 2008, union members could not rely on payment of COLA, Judge Koen Luijks said in his decision.
In the policy, it is not only stated that finances need to be available to pay out COLA, but also that Government has to decide annually on COLA payments.
According to union's lawyer Monique Hofman, government paid COLA, which is an inflation correction on salaries via indexation, annually and structurally for 20 years.
It was WICSU/PSU's position that Civil servants felt they were entitled to the annual payment of COLA and government was at fault in declining to pay out COLA over the requested periods.
The proposition that despite the official government policy, union members still could have had confidence in COLA payments for 2011 and 2012, remained unanswered in the injunction.
The Court, however, did point to the fact that WICSU/PSU's statement that COLA was paid out during the past 20 years was contested by government.
Government is not obligated to automatic indexation, government's lawyer Richard Gibson Jr. had said during the February 14 hearing.
COLA had not been provided systematically and in full. It was not paid out from 1999 up to and including 2001, said Gibson.
According to government, inflation correction is meant to safeguard purchasing power of the civil service and is not a salary increase.
In consultation with the unions, government decides annually on indexation in case this is deemed necessary. Feasibility and available government finances are the main deciding factors, it was stated.
WILLEMSTAD/PHILIPSBURG--The adopted 2014 budgets of St. Maarten and Curaçao have met the standards of the Kingdom Law on Temporary Financial Supervision for Curaçao and St. Maarten. "It is now time to take the next step and actually get in control," said Board of Financial Supervision CFT Chairman Age Bakker.
He noted that CFT has also concluded in its semi-annual report on the second half of 2013 that the financial management of Curaçao and St. Maarten is "not in order yet." The coming period will be "completely dedicated" to the improvement of the financial management.
Major steps have been taken to bring the budgets into balance. Curaçao, especially, has shown "great commitment" with the introduction of various measures to balance the multiannual budget, based on which loans for investments are allowed again by CFT.
St. Maarten also took "a huge step with realistic budgeting" for 2014.
The Curaçao budget was adopted on time, while St. Maarten's had a couple of weeks of delay. Nevertheless, this is also "a big step forward" for St. Maarten this year, as the budget of the previous year was not adopted until September.
Although CFT has noticed these improvements regarding the determination of the 2014 budgets, the committee puts "immediate attention" to a second important area: the financial management that is still not in order.
The Finance Ministry of Curaçao is "working hard on initiatives" to really improve its financial management. CFT hopes that this effort will bear fruit soon. Everything should be aimed at adopting the budget amendments and the financial statements in time and eventually getting a declaration of approval from the auditor.
St. Maarten, CFT added, focused during these last months on getting the budget adopted. The problems that the country had to face when balancing the budget also had to do with the shortcomings of the tax service.
Rendering accountability by means of the financial statements is still a point of attention for both countries. The financial statements are produced "with delay and they get, without exception, adverse audit opinions." That means that the financial statements are "not sufficiently reliable" to allow for a correct assessment of what recourses have been spent and how. As a result, the financial statements lose most of their value as a controlling instrument.
Timely and correct financial statements will eventually also contribute to making the budget process smoother. This also applies to the financial statements of the governmental corporations.
CFT indicated that the risks with regard to the governmental corporations are still great, particularly for Curaçao, so transparency and timely rendering of accountability of these entities is of great importance.
Hundreds of revellers enjoyed the party atmosphere created on the Boardwalk Boulevard in Philipsburg as part of the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta party. Internationally renowned artiste Percy Rankin and several local performers entertained the crowd. See regatta story and more photos on page 40. Photo by John Halley.
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