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Gumbs wants healthy debate on pension age increase

PHILIPSBURG--Prime Minister Marcel Gumbs said he looked forward to a "healthy debate" on the increase of the pension age from sixty to 62 when it reached Parliament.

He told Members of Parliament (MPs) during the debate on the draft 2014 budget on Wednesday that the ordinance for the pension age increase by two years, was making its way through the necessary channels before it can be tabled in Parliament. "It is now at the Advisory Council and should be on its way back to government with intention to forward it to Parliament and we will deal with that when it reaches Parliament," Gumbs said.

He was at the time reacting to questions posed during the first round of the meeting. He said the pension age could not be increased without Parliament having its input and debating the issue. "And I look forward to a healthy debate on this." The prime minister said it will be "very important" for St. Maarten to maintain the sustainability of the pension fund to cover persons who had worked in the past and were eligible to collect their pension.

Hospital director confirms patient not carrying Ebola

MARIGOT--Fears that a case of Ebola had entered the island yesterday were categorically dismissed as untrue by Louis-Constant Fleming Hospital Director Roland Toussaint yesterday.

He did confirm, however, that an individual was tested at the hospital on Wednesday morning and results were returned negative.

A Facebook post the same morning indicating a possible case of Ebola stoked concerns over the impact this would have on the island if found to be true.

"I was astonished when it was brought to my attention," said Toussaint. "I can assure you that we followed to the book the strict protocols of interviewing, screening and protection and, fortunately for us, there turned out to be no suspicion of Ebola. We have a special room for this and everything was done correctly."

Toussaint declined to go into detail of what the individual was suffering from nor did he disclose any personal details about the individual.

Reliable sources have indicated, however, that the person in question had arrived by boat, but whether this was by cruise ship, mega yacht or another vessel was not known. The individual had returned from Africa, but reportedly not from one of the affected zones. Apparently, he was experiencing symptoms he thought were consistent with Ebola virus symptoms and requested to be tested.

Advice to examine BT&P 16M claim on St. Maarten

THE HAGUE--The Settlement Committee of Assets and Liabilities of the Country the Netherlands Antilles is advising a thorough investigation of the NAf. 16 million that the Bureau Telecommunication and Post BT&P claims from Country St. Maarten.

The Division Committee stated this in its end report of December 2014, which was presented to the three legal successors of the dismantled Country the Netherlands Antilles, Curaçao, St. Maarten and the Netherlands on behalf of Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba, early January 2015.

The claim dates back to October 2010, when the Netherlands Antilles was dismantled. According to a certified annual account per October 9, 2010, of BT&P, there is an open claim on the Country St. Maarten of NAf. 16 million. The Settlement Committee found that there are different interpretations of that claim.

The tasks of this bureau, the collection of the concession and permit rights, were transferred to the Island Territory St. Maarten ahead of the dismantling on October 10, 2010. The Settlement Committee advised the legal successors of the Country the Netherlands Antilles to “thoroughly investigate” this dossier in the political decision-taking process.

A political decision will also have to be taken on the NAf. 8 million claim of the St. Maarten telephone company TelEm on the Country the Netherlands Antilles. Originally, this claim was set at NAf. 7 million, but the amount was increased to NAf. 8 million due to interest charges for the length of time that the claim was left open.

St. Maarten’s Minister of Finance has asked the Settlement Committee to include the claim in the Inventory Balance (“boedelbalans”) as a debt. The Committee has not decided on the claim with respect to the content, but it was of the opinion that St. Maarten should have consulted the other two legal successors before acknowledging this claim unilaterally. It was advised to take a political decision on the matter.

The Settlement Committee was notified of sizable claims and collectible amounts by the Social Insurance Bank SVB, the General Pension Fund of the Netherlands Antilles APNA and the Bureau Health Insurance BZV. It concerns claims of premiums that were not transferred and non-payments for the so-called fluctuating funds.

The SVB claimed over NAf. 156 million from the Country the Netherlands Antilles. The claim included a government contribution of NAf. 6.1 million for the co-insuring of family members, the obligatory covering of shortages of the health care funds ZV/OV of NAf. 67.2 million, unpaid elderly pension AOV/AWW premiums for civil servants of the Country the Netherlands Antilles of NAf. 25.1 million and the obligatory covering of shortages of the Medical Expenses Fund for government pensioners FZOG to the tune of NAf. 57.5 million.

The Settlement Committee decided not to include the claim of unpaid AOV/AWW premiums of NAf. 25.1 million as a debt in the Inventory Balance because of the “lacking of a decent substantiation.”

The other three claims of the SVB have been included in the Inventory Balance and have been allotted to the three legal successors based on the so-called generic division key: 73.3 per cent for Curaçao, 18.75 per cent for St. Maarten and 7.95 for the Netherlands.

The APNA has filed a claim of some NAf. 18 million in, among others, pension premiums and rent payment arrears of government services that were housed in the APNA complex in Curaçao. The Settlement Committee has decided to include NAf. 16.1 million in debts in the Inventory Balance.

The BZV Bureau has filed a claim of collectable subsidies of close to NAf. 117 million. The Settlement Committee has sought legal advice on the tenability of this claim, which was not included in the AVBZ Fund annual account. As such, the claim was found inadmissible and therefore not included in the Inventory Balance.

Another claim of the BZV Bureau regarding the premiums that were collected by the Federal Receiver and not transferred to BZV was included in the Inventory Balance. The exact amount of this claim was not specified in the report of the Settlement Committee.

The Settlement Committee decided that a settlement of possible goodwill between the pension funds of Curaçao APC, APS of St. Maarten and PCN of the Netherlands was not necessary as the three countries had already approved a definite division of the APNA assets.

The definite division and allotment of the funds managed by the SVB has not been concluded as yet, and neither has the division and allotment of the AVBZ Fund. Political decision-taking took place on the assets of the Central Bank of the Netherlands Antilles BNA, which continued as the Central Bank of Curaçao and St. Maarten (CBCS). As such, there was no actual division of assets.

Allotted to the three legal successors of the Country the Netherlands Antilles were the assets of the Crime Fund. The assets of the Postal Savings Bank, the University of the Netherlands Antilles, the federal lottery Landsloterij and the Bureau for Intellectual Properties were 100 per cent allotted to Curaçao. Landsloterij had a negative asset of close to NAf. 10.6 million on October 9, 2010.

Windward Islands Airways Winair was allotted to St. Maarten for 92.05 per cent. The remaining 7.95 per cent is owned by the Netherlands on behalf of St. Eustatius and Saba. Winair had a negative asset of NAf. 16.5 million on October 9, 2010.

Aruba, even though it stepped out of the Netherlands Antilles in 1986, also has a minor role in the division of assets and liabilities exercise. Aruba still owes the Netherlands Antilles NAf. 29.5 million, which was included in the Inventory Balance. It concerns advances that the Netherlands Antilles paid on behalf of Aruba for, among other things, the Solidarity Fund, the Coast Guard and the Joint Court of Justice. The Settlement Committee advised political decision-taking on this issue.

Based on the Inventory Balance, the Settlement Committee has drafted a proposal for the allotment of the economic values of the assets and liabilities to the three legal successors, Curaçao, St. Maarten and the Netherlands.

The three countries will now have to come to a settlement agreement that will include the calculation and payment of mutual compensations. The permanent assets, such as buildings and properties, will be transferred to the legal successor, where these assets were located on October 9, 2010.

Dutch Minister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Ronald Plasterk informed the Dutch Parliament last week that the three countries strived to discuss the report of the Settlement Committee early this year. The Settlement Committee started its work in 2011.

Westin reportedly blocking public access to Dawn Beach

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A quiet Dawn Beach in front of The Westin St. Maarten Dawn Beach Resort and Spa.

 

DAWN BEACH--Two very specific complaints against The Westin St. Maarten Dawn Beach Resort and Spa concerning the alleged blocking of public access to Dawn Beach in front of and near the resort have been received by The Daily Herald within just three days recently.

The accounts have been backed up by multiple stakeholders who have heard of or experienced similar situations. Resort management could not be reached for comment on Monday or Tuesday.

Both accounts describe harassment by overly confrontational security guards who are confining beachgoers to a smaller area than before. One account by a resident couple also describes a security guard physically removing their umbrella from the sand. The other account by a long-time visitor to the island described a security guard forcing him out and then forcing other beachgoers to remove their towels which were spread near some of the beach chairs. The beachgoers are convinced they have rights and are questioning how the staff can take the authority to remove them from the area, especially in light of the Head of Security allegedly flashing documents that support this to one of them. For them and other stakeholders, the question has simply become, “What is allowed and what not?”  Other stakeholders include multiple Dawn Beach residents who confirm the security guards’ attitude, as well neighbouring hotel General Manager Emil Lee who, when asked by this newspaper, confirmed that some of his guests had complained about the situation.

Property removed In the case where the personal property reportedly was physically removed, the resident called the police, but eventually left after waiting for more than two hours for police to arrive. The officers reportedly had been held up with a car accident.

“When the confrontation became heated, the head of security came out and showed us a Department of Economic Affairs directive dated 2010 that they interpreted as giving them the right to prohibit the public from sitting on the beach above 14 metres from the high water line,” the resident said. “Since the directive allows them to offer chair and refreshment services to the hotel guests on the beach down to 14 metres from the water, they believe this gives them the right to limit the public to the lower 14 metres and no higher.”

The couple said they had been told at the police station later that “if hotel staff physically removes our umbrellas they can be arrested” and that they could use the umbrella as long as they were on white sand.The same resident said that for three years now, security guards had approached them for every visit to the beach and told them that they could not place their “own chairs and umbrella anywhere on the beach within the perimeters of their property, which leaves almost no beach at all to sit on. We always refuse to move and security continues to harass us, refusing to allow us to quietly enjoy the beach.”

‘Bizarre’ The second account by the long-time visitor to the island was submitted as a letter and featured in the Opinion section of this newspaper’s January 27 edition headlined “Dawn Beach continued abuse.” It described a situation of being “hassled for half an hour and finally moving to an ‘approved’ site.”

“We watched in amazement as two people with a UK accent were effectively ejected from the beach by two security guards. Their crime was leaving towels spread in front of some chairs, while dozens of chairs were spread along almost the entire beach, all empty. The UK visitors were 100 yards away from the nearest Westin guest. “Then one security person began shouting and dancing about as if some major crime was taking place. It was a bizarre scene. … In our experience it was an unprecedented event in St. Maarten or anywhere else.”

 Documents Various Governmental authorities have been unavailable for comment during the extensive National Budget Debate.

Questions have been submitted through the Council of Ministers Press Secretariat for Prime Minister/Spatial Planning and Environment Minister Marcel Gumbs regarding the in-the-works Beach Access Ordinance, and to Economic Affairs Minister Claret Connor regarding any relevant permits that may grant certain rights, but the Press Secretariat said answers realistically should be expected only after the debate ends.Other representatives of these ministries either could not be reached or did not have time to comment, also on account of the debate.


 

Newark, New York flights cancelled

AIRPORT--Flights to and from Newark and New York airports were cancelled January 27 in connection with blizzards in the Northeastern United States, while on the day before flights came into St. Maarten, but could not leave.

The question of compensation in case of passengers being stranded falls on airline policy rather than the responsibility of ground handlers, who normally organise transport and lodging when needed. In this case the handlers for the airlines were Halley Aviation Services and Arrindell Aviation.

A Halley Aviation representative explained that airlines did not have to provide compensation because the weather situation was something they could not control. However, he said United Airlines, which flies to Newark, had offered passengers an optional alternative route.

United Airlines was confirmed as being expected to depart early in the morning of January 28, but the situation for all aircraft will depend definitively on the weather.

Jet Blue and Delta airline representatives could not be reached for comment, but the same conditions would apply.

No major pile-ups or mishaps at SXM Princess Juliana International Airport were reported during this time. Many travellers were made aware of the weather conditions, which featured on international media as a "potentially historic blizzard" for some days. At least some passengers also were notified of developments by the airlines through e-mail.

The US National Weather Service (NWS) said on Tuesday that its forecasts had been overestimated, especially for New York City, although blizzard warnings remained for surrounding areas.

Although the "arrivals" feed of the SXM Airport Website was kept up to date and showed the cancelled flights, the "departures" feed for Tuesday still listed the cancelled flights as "on time."

Passengers should contact the airlines directly to check their flight status.

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