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All parties’ lists approved, US party, SRP want blue

PHILIPSBURG--The candidates' lists, placement of candidates and maintenance of party references (name abbreviations) for all six political parties were unanimously approved for the August 29 Parliamentary Elections by the Central Voting Bureau in its first ever public hearing in A.C. Wathey Legislative Hall on Tuesday afternoon.

All five members of the bureau voted by the show-of-hands their agreement that all lists were in compliance with the electoral regulations.

The five of the six parties that submitted candidates' lists and supporting documents on Nomination Day, July 11, were informed by the bureau on Friday of errors with their lists and documents. Those parties had up to Monday, July 21, to remedy the errors. All five parties remedied their specific issues for their lists to be approved by the bureau.

Bureau Head Jason Rogers dealt with the approval of the lists in the order they were submitted to the bureau on Nomination Day. Other bureau members present for the public hearing were vice chairman Willem van Asselt, Clarence Richardson, and Cindy Marica, as well as Substitute Member Khalilah S. Peters and Migdala Artsen-Clarinda. Peters replaced bureau member Maarten Le Poole at Tuesday's hearing and so was able to vote to approve the list. Artsen-Clarinda did not have a vote.

The list and supporting documents of United People's (UP) party's, led by Member of Parliament (MP) Theo Heyliger, were found to have no errors by the Bureau thus did not receive any letter from the bureau on Friday about omissions. UP's list, candidates' placement and party reference to be placed on the ballot were approved by the bureau.

Social Reform Party (SRP) of Jacinto Mock had shorted the 57 of the 138 signatures of eligible voters after endorsement day on July 14. This was remedied and the party was approved by the bureau for the upcoming elections. The signatures represents one per cent of the votes from the September 2010 Early Parliamentary Elections.

Former Commissioner Lenny Priest's One St. Maarten Party (OSPP) did not have all addresses for candidates in order, photographs were not in conformity with the legally required measurements and the declaration from the Receiver's Office was not included in its submitted dossier. These errors were remedied and the party was approved by the bureau for the elections.

The United St. Maarten (US) party, headed by MP Frans Richardson, had some documents missing and the name of one candidate was incorrect. Errors were fixed by party and approval for the elections was granted by the bureau.

The Democratic Party (DP) of Prime Minister Sarah Wescot-Williams had the names of a number of candidates incorrectly stated and had documents missing. These were corrected by the party and it was approved for the elections by the bureau.

The National Alliance (NA), led by MP William Marlin, had errors in its dossier including the names of candidates incorrectly stated and the proof of the party's registration with the Electoral Council was missing. The changes were made and document supplied by NA to the bureau. The party has been approved for the elections.

All six candidates' list has been sent by the bureau to the Civil Registry to be posted for public perusal.

Any eligible voter, by law, can file an objection to the bureau's approval of any of the six parties for the elections within two days of Tuesday's sitting (so by Thursday) with the Court of First Instance. The Court will have to deal with any appeal filed within 14 days.

If no appeal is filed against the bureau's decisions, another public hearing will be held on Friday to number the six candidates' lists for placement on the ballot and to allocate the colours to each slate as requested by the parties.

Representatives of US party and SRP have confirmed that they have requested the same colour – blue – for their lists. Both party leaders were at the hearing in blue dress shirts.

One of the parties will be allocated the colour via a raffle by the bureau on Friday as they are both contesting an election for the first time. Had one of the parties contested the September 2010 Early Parliamentary Elections and had been allocated the colour blue, that party would have maintained that colour and the other party would have had to choose another colour from the approved colour list established by a ministerial decree.

Representatives of only three political parties were present at the public hearing – US party leader Richardson and Party president Cecil Nicholas, SRP leader Jacinto Mock and UP board member Earl Wyatt. It was not a requirement for parties to have representatives at the public hearing.

The six parties combined 90 candidates vying for the 15 seats in Parliament.

SZV registers overall surplus, sickness funds still in jeopardy

~ Willemsberg: Structural solutions needed ~


HARBOUR VIEW--While the Social and Health Care Insurances SZV has registered an overall surplus of the five funds it manages, a breakdown of the individual funds shows that at least three are in jeopardy and are operating significantly in the red.

The deficit has the concern of SZV Deputy Director Reginald Willemsberg, who said a structural solution was needed urgently to reverse this worrisome situation.

SZV’s 2013 financial report shows that the ZV sickness fund ended the last calendar year with a deficit of NAf. 11,199,000; the FZOG fund (for retired civil servants) was in the red by NAf. 1,838,000; and the Cessantia Fund ended negatively by NAf. 176,000.

Registering a surplus at the end of 2013 were the AVBZ fund (for persons with chronic illnesses), which ended the year with NAf. 12,569,000 in its accounts, and the AOV general pension fund, which ended the year with NAf. 51,184,000 on its books.

The Cessantia fund ended the year in the red primarily due to the NAf. 1.4-million payout to the former Pelican workers this year, which had been budgeted in 2013.

The general picture shows that an overall surplus of NAf. 50,540,000 was registered with SZV at the end of 2013.

In an invited comment on the figures, Willemsberg told The Daily Herald on Tuesday that while the deficit on the SZV and FZOG funds have been reduced in comparison to the previous year, it was not healthy to operate in the negative. He said the situation had given SZV “no other choice” but to finance the deficit by “borrowing” resources from the healthier funds to supplement the funds in the red. This is not an ideal situation and is not catered to in the laws, but Willemsberg said the consequences of not supplementing the funds that were in the red could be disastrous for the community.

In giving an example of how worrisome the situation could become, he said if a patient could not be sent abroad because the ZV fund had no money, this could lead to serious issues.


Structural solution

He underscored the need for a structural solution to solve the deficit issues and noted that this was one of the reasons government had to settle its outstanding amounts to SZV. Government currently owes the Social Health Insurance approximately NAf. 115 million in premiums for co-insurance, AVBZ contributions and fund shortages. Parties currently are discussing coming to a solution.

Finance Minister Martin Hassink said recently that government had been discussing a “complicated plan” with SZV as a solution to government’s outstanding debt to SZV. Up to yesterday, Tuesday, SZV had not yet received the plan/proposal in writing.

“If I look at the situation, in general I can say, yes we are healthy, but if I break it down per fund I can say that we are not. Some of the funds are in trouble and that is one of the reasons why especially the ZV fund and the FZOG have a deficit. We can survive on a month-to-month basis, but if this continues without government paying what they have to pay, it will become a problem in the future,” said Willemsberg.

He said the AOV and AVBZ funds had “very healthy” investment portfolios and had registered some positive returns last year. “We are very happy about this and it is helping to beef up our reserves, but the sickness fund and the FZOG funds have a deficit on a year-to-year basis, and unless we can find some permanent solutions to solve these issues, it is a great concern.”


SMMC key to resolution

Willemsberg said St. Maarten Medical Center (SMMC) was one of the key avenues by which a structural solution could be found for the deficits. He supports the expansion of the medical facility being done hand-in-hand with the expansion of the number of specialists, equipment and support staff to service the country.

Adding a handful of needed specialists, he noted, can significantly reduce the huge amounts SZV currently forks out annually on medical referrals abroad. SZV spent some NAf. 20 million in medical referrals abroad in 2013 alone.

“We don’t even have to get all of the medical specialists here – just the top five ones –and we would be able to reduce the number of people we send abroad. If the hospital can get these specialists, and get its expansion in place, we would be able to save on referrals,” he said.

Having more specialists here also would benefit patients in the sense that they would have family support being treated at home, which could lead to a speedier recovery. “We would like to see at least a 25-30 per cent decrease in the amount that we spend on referrals. Some of this money can be spent right here in St. Maarten.”

Willemsberg said SZV was currently in talks with SMMC to find solutions together to reduce cost. Lowering cost is a win-win situation, because the more SZV saves and the more SMMC increases its production, the more funds will flow from SZV to SMMC, he noted.

Police dogs and handlers graduate, Aruba, St. Maarten work together on dog training

page3b055PHILIPSBURG--Two local police officers of the K9-unit, along with their new sniffer dogs, were awarded certificates by the Justice Training Centre on Aruba, from where they graduated on Friday afternoon.

Igmar Woodley with his dog Rasja and Rechek Moeslikan with his dog Astori were trained in Aruba by certified dog trainer Dick van Leenen. After finishing their course, which entailed a theoretical and a practical part, the pairs are ready to combat trafficking in illicit substances and firearms. The dogs and their handlers will return to St. Maarten this week, and will be start their duty soon after their arrival.

Minister of Justice of Aruba Arthur Dowers, with chief of police of St. Maarten Police Force Peter de Witte, presented the certificates to the two St. Maarten police officers and their dogs.

The officers and their dogs were preceded last week by another police handler and his patrol dog, a replacement for one of the two patrol dogs already in St. Maarten, which retired from police service recently.

The minister recounted that the dog training programme started several years ago when, along with Peter de Witte, who was then Police Chief Commissioner of Aruba, he visited the Police Academy in Apeldoorn, the Netherlands, where police officers are trained.

He described it as being a “very cold day with a lot of rain” when they met dog trainer Dick van Leenen, who was certifying several dogs to be used as patrol dogs.

Both De Witte and the minister were very impressed with the way Van Leenen prepared the dogs and their handlers, and they approached him to train the dogs on the island.

After De Witte became the Police Chief on St. Maarten, the cooperation between the two countries started. That cooperation is now at a level where the same training standards apply in both countries, and both countries now have trained certification officers, who will certify the dog-handler teams in the other country.

De Witte emphasised that the success of police dogs relies very much on the dynamics between the dog and their handler. The dog has to learn to obey specific commands, and to sniff out specific items and substances, but the handler has to learn how to give the command and how to interpret the dog’s reaction.

The Minister of Justice of Aruba, at the end of the graduation ceremony, congratulated the officers, De Witte and St. Maarten’s Justice Minister Dennis Richardson on the milestone.

SRP gets all signatures, wants 1 Parliament seat

page3c054PHILIPSBURG--Persistence paid off for Social Reform Party (SRP) leader Jacinto Mock when he managed on Monday to court voters to endorse his one-candidate list for the August 29 Parliamentary Elections.

SRP received the 57 signatures needed to be on the ballot for the upcoming elections. The party had only received 81 signatures, falling short of the needed 138, on July 14 when all political parties vying for parliament needed endorsement for their candidates' lists.

The Central Voting Bureau informed Mock on Friday that he would have a second chance on Monday to get the remaining signatures. A designated window for the signing of the list was set up at the Civil Registry on Pond Island.

Mock rallied supporters and before noon he had garnered the required number of signatures from eligible voters.

Mock thanked supporters for taking the time to sign the party's list. He told the press he plans to launch "a large scale" campaign starting at the "grassroots" and taking his message from "patio to patio."

He hopes to at least capture one seat in Parliament to champion the cause of better quality of living for "nurses, doctors, the elderly" and others.

Mock's SRF will join the Democratic Party (DP), National Alliance (NA), One St. Maarten People's Party (OSPP), United People's (UP) party and United St. Maarten (US) party on the ballot.

This is SRP's first elections. Mock is a candidate for the second time. He was an NA candidate for the September 2010 Early Island Council Elections.

A total of 90 candidates from the six parties are vying for the 15 seats in parliament.

Higher-priced flight option offered for cancelled charter

~ No more tickets for Let's Travel charter to Guyana ~

PHILIPSBURG--Frustrated customers who booked a direct-to-Guyana charter flight leaving June 23 through Let's Travel (LT) will either have to cancel their trips or pay around fifty to 100 per cent more through the same agency for an alternative travel option which includes date-and-time changes and the use of a commercial flight.

They had booked more than a month ago and the news came to them two days before their scheduled departure.

LT Chief Executive Officer Terrance Rey said the charges must be passed on, because the charter company had failed to finalise paperwork with the Guyanese civil aviation authorities who he said were "dragging their feet."

However, two customers who came forward who represent four passenger tickets (plus an infant) said they had been assured by LT agents that if anything were to go wrong, they still would be put through without additional charges.

One passenger in particular, who plans to meet his girlfriend and infant child in Guyana at a later date, had booked the two on a one-way Caribbean Airlines (CA) flight for US $380. However, he cancelled the booking in favour of the LT deal which was cheaper at $257 for a return flight and would land in Georgetown in the afternoon rather than very late at night. The direct flight also would have taken just two hours, so it seemed a logical choice.

He said LT now was charging him $258 more for the alternative option for his girlfriend and child, which would cover a commercial flight from Trinidad to Guyana. His choices are to pay this, take a full refund, or organise another option between Trinidad and Guyana. He now reflects that friends warned him that cheaper is not always better, and may cancel his own ticket set for next month.

The family is heading to Guyana for personal obligations rather than a holiday, so he said he needed to make the trip no matter what. However, he said he refused to pay for the company being unprepared. "They emphasised they were going to take care of everybody in case they were not sorted out properly," he said.

LT purportedly told him and another customer who contacted the media not to worry, because it would transport them for the same price, even if they needed to use another airline. "Now suddenly they say no, you have to pay the money," he said.

This promise allegedly was being upheld for other customers who already had paid, as the company stopped issuing tickets.

Another passenger who planned to use the service to go on holiday with his son paid $764 for the two direct tickets and now will have to pay $352 more for the same alternative arrangements. "I can take my money back, but it leaves me with no options. If I had known earlier I could have made other plans," he said. He has yet to decide what to do. "It's really not fair that they are honouring the agreements with other passengers, but I have to pay out of pocket," he added.

He said LT had told him first that he only could go and come back a day late, but then they said it could be only to Trinidad. In an invited comment, he said that even if there were any sort of legal loophole for charters, they should tell you if there might be a change in price or date.

Documentation presented to The Daily Herald showed no fine print and the rules could not be found on the company's Websites.

He said he had heard from other members of the Guyanese community that they had booked the same direct flights, but had been diverted through Aruba, Curaçao and Anguilla.

Similarly, another flight was turned back earlier this month because landing permits had been requested within less than 48 hours, a requirement that management said had not been made clear at the time.

The two who came forward travel to Guyana regularly and said they normally paid less than $500 for a return with commercial airlines. A SkyScanner search last night showed the cheapest tickets for the same date – obviously a bad last minute option – as more than $1,000.

Rey responded that his hands were tied and that he was being realistic with the cost, as he could not absorb them as a tour operator. He said it was up to the Jamaica-based charter company to handle all paperwork with the Guyanese civil aviation authorities and that he had no control over it. "They are still busy with formalities. Authorities want to dot their I's and cross their T's," he said. His company simply markets and sells the product.

He said LT had decided to stop issuing the tickets until paperwork was sorted out, adding that he had turned away four groups recently because the direct flights could not be offered. He said "no more promises" would be made to people and added in an invited comment that there would be no more marketing of the flights. He denied that anyone had been treated unfairly.

He also said the charter was in high demand because of the unavailability of commercial flights, which he said had been an issue for months. The direct flight therefore would have been a solution for a lot of people. "Flights are full," he said.

He added that although the flight had to be cancelled, the company offered the alternative of going through Trinidad as a separate option. The charter has no issues with Trinidad because of an Open Sky agreement. If customers do not wish to use the service, he said they were "simply offered a refund." Customers wishing to cancel can do so without penalties.

Another passenger who also had hoped for a direct flight between St. Maarten and Guyana ended up passing through the British Virgin Islands and Aruba to go there. He said that after the scheduled Caribbean Airlines flight to Trinidad on the way back, the charter plane had had to touch down in Anguilla unexpectedly, albeit briefly, before reaching St. Maarten.

He said that although he was "willing to go with the tide," he thought that it had been handled terribly, especially after a departure tax and taxi transfer between the commercial and charter sections had to be paid separately in Trinidad and the group had waited for more than two hours in the St. Maarten baggage claim area. In St. Maarten, he said, he called his Let's Travel agent, who hung up on him after he became frustrated and requested an explanation for the overly-long wait.

Neither a St. Maarten Aviation Department legal advisor nor a specialist lawyer could be reached for comment up to press time. It is therefore unclear as to whether Let's Travel acted against the law by selling tickets before paperwork was finalised and whether it legally could charge for offering a more expensive alternative two days before departure, even if it were explained as a cancellation and different offer.

The American Society of Travel Agents explains that charters can change itineraries or prices and can cancel for any reason up to 10 days before departure, but must offer customers a penalty-free refund. Cancelling within 10 days can be done only if it is physically impossible to operate the aircraft. This provides some context, although it may not be legally binding in a local setting.

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