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Finance Foundation investigation led to the end of Taliesin contract

page7d279PHILIPSBURG--The Central Bank of Curaçao and St. Maarten (CBCS) has executed an investigation into the operations of St. Maarten Housing Finance Foundation, the financing arm of St. Maarten Housing Foundation, which falls under the Central Bank's supervision. From the undisclosed findings of that investigation the Central Bank has opted to end its contract with Taliesin Construction N.V. for the renovation of its building in St. Maarten as of April 17.

Central Bank President Emsley Tromp made it clear on Monday afternoon in a press conference held in the St. Maarten branch's temporary location in the TDC Building that early termination of its construction contract with Taliesin was enshrined in its agreement with the company signed at the commencement of the contract in December 2014. That contract does not stipulate that termination by the bank has to be based on any specific reason.

The bank communicated to Taliesin via letter sent earlier this month that it had detected "signals" of integrity issues associated with a Housing Foundation project for which the company was a subcontractor. As such, the bank, for which integrity is a major tenet, opted to enforce the early termination clause of the contract.

Tromp, based on confidentiality regulations, could not divulge the findings of the investigation or state what actions would be taken by the bank as the foundation's supervisor. However, he said the bank had "received indications" from the investigation that there might be some issues that put the contractor's integrity into question.

Asked why the integrity issues at the finance foundation had not been spotted earlier, Tromp said the investigation had been out after the bank had received information about issues at the foundation as well as indications from press reports.

The bank supervises some 200 financial institutions and conducts an in-depth investigation into each every three years. All institutions submit reports to the bank on a daily, weekly and monthly basis depending on their stipulations.

As for Taliesin, the company and its owner underwent integrity screening at the time the contract was awarded and no issue was found at that time.

The investigation at the finance foundation was outside of the regular three-year check-up and was well within the Central Bank's purview to execute based on occurrences at the foundation.

Taliesin was notified on April 13 that the bank would end its contract with the company for the renovation of the Central Bank building on W.J.A. Nisbeth Road as of April 17. The company and its attorney Roland Duncan called a press conference at the job site on April 14 to announce it was placing a "mechanic's lien" on the property for outstanding payments.

Tromp refuted Taliesin Managing Director Carl Critchlow's claim about two outstanding invoices. The company is yet to submit its last two invoices for work carried out on the building prior to the termination of the contract. As the invoices were never submitted, the "mechanic's lien" was "not valid," Tromp said.

The bank's offer to pay NAf. 520,000 at the termination of the contract is based on an agreed-on "formula" for early termination that is outlined in Taliesin's contract.

Tromp also refuted Critchlow's statement that the bank's ending the contract and claims of signals of integrity issues had damaged Taliesin's reputation and business. Tromp said the bank had issued no statement or comments on the end of the contract prior to Monday's press conference, while the contractor had done so.

Tromp also batted down Critchlow's claim of "political influence" playing a part in the ending of the contract. There has been "no political influence – directly or indirectly – in the bank's decision," said Tromp.

Work on the Central Bank building will recommence with a new contractor within "a matter of weeks." The bank wants to make the changeover to a new contractor as brief as possible. It also intends to continue its contracts with subcontractors already associated with the project.

The subcontractors, to date, do not have any integrity issues and were not associated with or carried out work for the housing foundation.

Taliesin is expected to file a case in court against the Central Bank for termination of the contract for the renovation and for a payout of NAf. 3.7 million to cover damages and payment to employees. Some 14 workers are employed on the project, six subcontractors and Taliesin's in-house staff.

Law change to secure Saba, Statia electricity subsidies

THE HAGUE--The Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament will shortly be handling a change to the Caribbean Netherlands Electricity and Drinking Water Law, which will regulate, among others, an effective use of subsidies to maintain affordable utility prices and the supervision on the boards of the utility companies in Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba.

Dutch Minister of Economic Affairs Henk Kamp stated in a recent elaborate document to the Second Chamber's Permanent Committee for Economic Affairs, that an adjusted regulating framework was merited, considering the "considerable" subsidies to ensure that electricity tariffs in St. Eustatius and Saba remained affordable after the start of the new local utility companies on January 1, 2014.

The law proposal and the related policy regarding the electricity and drinking water facilities in the Caribbean Netherlands have two major objectives, explained Kamp: creating a solid management structure and the improving of the quality and affordability of service through a subsidy basis.

The law proposal also regulates the appointment and dismissal of the members of the Supervisory Board of Directors of the utility companies on the islands. In the future, the appointment and dismissal of these members will require approval by the Minister of Economic Affairs.

The supervisory boards will have a member from the Dutch energy sector to limit conflict-of-interest situations, due to the small scale of the islands. Saba's electricity company currently has three board members, and St. Eustatius and Bonaire each has five board members.

The utility companies will be placed under the supervision of the Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets ACM, as well as the Human Environment and Transport Inspectorate ILT of the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and Environment.

ACM will cover the economic side of the supervision and will be authorized to set the production price and the tariffs the distributor will charge the consumers. ILT will cover the technical aspect of supervision. The Minister of Economic Affairs will have the final responsibility for the electricity supply.

The Executive Councils of St. Eustatius and Saba initially protested against what they termed as an "undesired meddling" in the authority of the local government, because the conflict of interest situation didn't arise at the newly-established utility companies.

Kamp stated that the Executive Councils eventually showed understanding for the fact that an adjusted regulating framework was merited to secure an effective spending of the large subsidies that were needed after the establishing of the new utility companies on the two islands.

Kamp said he was hopeful the utility companies in Saba and St. Eustatius would be run more efficiently now that the islands had taken over the responsibility from St. Maarten's utility company GEBE.

The Ministry of Economic Affairs, responsible for subsidies of the electricity network in the Caribbean Netherlands, in 2014 paid US $480,000 and US $500,000 to keep electricity prices in St. Eustatius and Saba respectively at an affordable level for consumers. Bonaire received US $5 million for this purpose.

The subsidies for drinking water, a responsibility of the Ministry of Infrastructure and Environment, are much lower. In 2014, the drinking water subsidy for St. Eustatius was about US $260,000 and about US $130,000 for Saba.

It was agreed in 2013 that the tariff structure for consumers would not change after the splitting up of GEBE's shares and the setting up of the new electricity company in Saba and the new water and electricity company in St. Eustatius on January 1, 2014.

In Saba, the average consumer tariff was US $0.342 per kilowatt hour (kWh) in 2014, and in St. Eustatius US $0.346 per kWh. The Ministry of Economic Affairs pays a structural subsidy of US $0.05 per kWh for Saba and US $0.031 per kWh for St. Eustatius to cover the network costs.

Without these subsidies, price hikes of the electricity tariffs would have been inevitable, stated Kamp. The law proposal that the Second Chamber will be handling in the near future introduces a structural subsidy to cover the relatively high network cost on the small islands. The objective is to decrease the subsidy by ten per cent per year, by introducing measures to increase efficiency.

The Ministry of Economic Affairs will cover the exploitation losses over 2014, estimated late 2013 at one million euros for Saba and 1.3 million euros for St. Eustatius. It was agreed that in 2015 the utility companies would absorb the losses. Since January 1, 2014, the electricity companies in St. Eustatius and Saba were running at a loss of US $0.15 to US $0.20 per kWh.

The lower fuel prices have had a positive effect on the losses, but that has not been enough to get the companies out of the red figures, Kamp stated in the 30-page document in response to numerous questions of the members of Parliament's Permanent Committee for Economic Affairs. The Committee decided last week to submit the law proposal for plenary handling.

St. Eustatius and Saba were given a large, one-time subsidy in 2013 of respectively 2 million euros and 5.3 million euros to develop sustainable energy sources. This should limit future price hikes of the electricity tariffs and should result in a reduction of the cost of the local electricity companies.

The first phase of public tenders for these sustainable energy projects has started. The first solar parks in St. Eustatius and Saba should be operational by the end of 2015, stated Kamp. This would yield 20 per cent of sustainable energy, with a doubling of this capacity in 2016.

Saba was also given a one-time 1.6 million-euro subsidy to relocate and renovate the electricity plant, an urgent project that is currently in execution. Another large project in Saba is the construction of two large additional water tanks, a project that should be ready in the second half of this year.

"This means that they will be ready for the dry period in 2016," Kamp stated on behalf of his colleague Schultz van Haegen, who is paying for this project. Water filter systems are currently being tested in an effort to improve the quality of drinking water in Saba. The first water filters should be operational in the second half of 2015. By mid-2016, the drinking water supply should be in order, quality and quantity wise.

Fence at Miss Lalie Center being raised to prevent future escapes

CAY BAY--The fence at Miss Lalie Center is currently being raised to prevent another escape from the facility.

A teenager escaped from the facility last week by scaling the fence and running off. He was subsequently caught by police. The escape was captured on security cameras around the facility, but by the time personnel got to the escape point, the youngster had already fled.

Director of Court of Guardianship and Miss Lalie Center Project Team Manager Richelda Emmanuel told The Daily Herald on Monday, that the raising of the fence was already in progress when the incident occurred. She said that due to the demand of the rehabilitation facility, the Center was opened with certain things still in the pipeline for finalisation. She said bringing the establishment up to par is a "work in progress."

The building had been designed as a boarding school-type facility meant for foster care, and was then restructured for use as a closed facility for boys ages 12 to 18, who are to be detained whilst receiving counselling, treatment, guidance and education, in order to enable them to have the best possible chance of succeeding in society.

When the centre was opened, the wall was not the required height. However, plans were already in the pipeline to make it the required height. The materials to heighten the wall had already arrived on the island and the work had already started.

Emmanuel said it is suspected that the teenager, who had escaped the facility, probably saw that the wall was being heightened and used a chance to scale the lower part of the fence to escape before the entire fence was completed and closed off his chances of doing so.

Concerns have been expressed about security at the facility since the youngster escaped. In addition to raising the fence, security personnel is also present at the facility around the clock. "The height of the wall was not what it was supposed to be. We opened in a transition phase... as the facility was needed."

The raising of the fence is expected to be completed by the end of this month. Staff at the facility is also undergoing continuous training to equip them with the knowledge of dealing with the youngsters in their care.

Nine boys are currently being housed at the facility, which has a capacity for 18 boys. The Centre was officially opened on December 10 last year. The institution provides places for boys sentenced by the criminal court, as well as for boys with severe behavioural issues who have not been sentenced, but who have received a placement order by a civil court.

There was no such facility available locally for this demographic in the past.

Doranyia Pascal crowned as Junior Carnival Queen

page1a278PHILIPSBURG--Junior Carnival Queen candidates charmed a panel of judges and an enthusiastic crowd Sunday evening as they vied for the winning title, taken by Doranyia Pascal who won three of four performance categories.

Pascal was named best in the Talent, Carnival Costume and Princess Wear categories, with a total of 480 points.

In the Talent segment, she performed a vocally demanding “Listen” by Beyonce, in a short skit featuring her as a pupil who wants to take her schoolwork seriously despite her fame-hungry mother who pushes her towards too many entertainment auditions.

Her yellow, green and orange Carnival Costume featured feathers and masks, while she won in Princess Wear with a grand blue and purple dress. She wore an unfading smile throughout.

Aaliyahe Harrigan was named first runner-up with 416 points, She also was named Miss Popularity according to a live vote, as well as Miss Amity.

Second runner-up went to Radiah Mathew with 404 points.

Two women arrested trying to smuggle drugs into prison

POINTE BLANCHE--Two women, one of whom is a teenager, were arrested on Sunday, for trying to smuggle marijuana and Ecstasy XTC pills into the Pointe Blanche Prison at different times.

Police spokesperson Inspector Ricardo Henson said both women went to visit “an inmate” at the prison at around 10:00am and 12:45pm at the time of their arrest. The first suspect with initials LD (19) was caught with three small plastic bags each containing an amount of marijuana and a small Ziploc bag containing eight XTC pills.

The second suspect with initials CC (22) was caught with two small plastic bags containing an amount of marijuana and a Ziploc bag containing 30 XTC pills. The suspects were arrested by police and taken to the Philipsburg Police Station where they remain in custody pending further investigation.

The marijuana and XTC pills were also confiscated for further investigation.

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