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Emmanuel: Connor must provide Checkmate contracts within week

~ Wants Mingo, board to step down ~

PHILIPSBURG--National Alliance (NA) Member of Parliament (MP) Christopher Emmanuel has issued a firm call for the resignation of Shareholder Representative of the Harbour Claret Connor, if he fails to provide all documents related to the contracts the harbour has with Checkmate Security Services within one week.

He has also issued a call for the resignation of the board and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Harbour Mark Mingo over the controversial increase in Checkmate's contract.

Checkmate Security Services has been making headlines in recent days when news broke that the company is in line for a massive US $2.2 million increase in its contract at the Harbour Group of Companies this year. The Daily Herald understands that the Harbour subsidiary St. Maarten Ports Authority has budgeted US $3,138,300 for 2015, to spend on outside security services (Checkmate Security), up from $963,715 spent in 2014.

Mingo declined to provide MPs with the Checkmate contracts during a meeting of Parliament's Permanent Committee on Tourism, Economic Affairs, Transport and Telecommunications last Thursday.

Emmanuel will be sending a letter to Connor today, Monday, requesting the harbour's contract with the previous owners of Checkmate as well as the contract with the new owners within seven days. The MP said Connor, the Minister of Tourism, Economic Affairs, Transport and Telecommunications, should do the honourable thing if he fails to provide the contracts to the country's highest legislative body. A no confidence motion will also be tabled against Connor in Parliament, if the information is not provided and he fails to vacate his seat.

Emmanuel told this newspaper on Sunday, that MPs were being given the run-around when information is requested about the harbour. He alluded to the debate on the 2015 budget in which the minister had referred MPs to the Harbour for certain information that had been requested. He said the Harbour is now declining to provide information to MPs when asked about the Checkmate contracts.

"It is clear that the Connor does not have a grip on the running of the Harbour," Emmanuel contends. "When you ask the Minister questions he says he refers you to the Harbour, and says he will get back to us in two weeks, but two weeks has long passed and we still haven't received anything."

The MP said the back and forth gives the impression as if "the Harbour is a privately owned company being run by itself and the shareholder representative is just there to fill a seat and these things should not be.

"Is the Harbour a government-owned company or is it a private entity? If it is a government-owned company then the government-owned company should answer to Parliament; but, listening to the CEO [during last Thursday's meeting- Ed.], it is clear that the Harbour runs by itself and answers to no one, and if the shareholder can't get answers from the Harbour and can't provide answers to Parliament then he should resign," Emmanuel said.

"The people's representative, which is Parliament, is the highest legislative body in this country and shouldn't be told that it can't get information due to secrecy or for any other reason. You can't have government-owned companies out there making deals with all types of different entities and Parliament doesn't know what is going on."

He continued: "It is clear that the shareholder representative does not have a grip on what is happening with the running of the Harbour and who the Harbour answers to. If the shareholder representative is supposed to answer to Parliament, and he is on the board then the Harbour should answer to him. If the Harbour doesn't answer to him and he doesn't answer to us then it's as if the Harbour is a government by itself. If the shareholder representative is the minister, who has to give answers to Parliament then the Harbour should be giving answers to the shareholder representative, but if he [Connor – Ed.] can't provide answers to Parliament then he should resign."

Emmanuel's request for the information will be sent via the Chairman of Parliament Dr. Lloyd Richardson and will be addressed to Minister Connor and copied to the entire Council of Ministers.

Regarding his call for Mingo and the Harbour Board to resign, Emmanuel said: "I can't understand how the board can justify a 300 per cent increase to Checkmate in two years. How can they go from US $963,715 in 2014 to $3.1 million in 2015? How can the board justify this? When you read the justification from Checkmate it doesn't make sense."

He said too, that Parliament has to look at how boards of government-owned companies are set up.

Netherlands navy ship HNLMS Zeeland to visit St. Maarten

page5a237PHILIPSBURG--Royal Netherlands navy ship HNLMS Zeeland will make a short visit to St. Maarten on March 2. Governor Eugene Holiday will welcome the ship from Fort Amsterdam.

At 9:00am the patrol vessel will perform a sail-past near Fort Amsterdam. The ship will fire the traditional salute to the Flag of The Kingdom of the Netherlands and to the Governor of Sint Maarten. The ship will not enter the port of Philipsburg, but will return to sea to continue its deployment.

A welcoming committee of Netherlands Royal Marines and members of the Vrijwilliger Korps St. Maarten (Volunteer Corps St. Maarten – VKS) will return the salute.

HNLMS Zeeland is deployed as guard ship for the Royal Netherlands Navy in the Caribbean for a period of four months for operations to counter trafficking of drugs and other illegal transports, and to assist the Dutch Caribbean Coast Guard. The ship can also be used to provide assistance in case of humanitarian relief operations or other emergencies.

Embattled VVD MP steps down

~De Kruif also investigated~

THE HAGUE--Member of Parliament (MP) of conservative VVD Mark Verheijen has decided to resign from the Dutch Parliament's Second Chamber following the results of the party's integrity commission's investigations into his declarations, the party announced on its website.

"A member of parliament can function only if his or her integrity is not questioned. For me, unfortunately, that has been the case in the past weeks. That was not good for my party, not for me, and not for the appearance of politics," Verheijen said in a statement. "I have therefore decided today to resign from my membership of the Second Chamber."

Verheijen's name has been a regular in Dutch news headlines recently. There have been reports regarding unjustified declarations, criminal charges of corruption and of a free election party held in 2012.

The crimes were allegedly committed when Verheijen was an alderman in Venlo and a commissioner in Limburg Province.

These allegations and the media circus surrounding Verheijen led to 48 per cent of Dutch voters indicating on Maurice de Hond's weekly poll that they think the parliamentarian should step down.

According to Verheijen, the integrity commission on Friday concluded that "all the facts and the dynamics around my person do not fit the integrity framework of the party."

He, therefore, felt he had no choice but to resign his position. "With a heavy heart, but with conviction that in these circumstances it is the only right decision," Verheijen stated.

In a reaction, VVD party leader Halbe Zijlstra confirmed Verheijen's resignation. Zijlstra stated that based on the integrity commission's report and the recent publications, this was a "logical decision."

In addition to controversy and concerns surrounding Verheijen, the VVD party may have to deal with another politician under investigation. Kathalijne de Kruif, who is VVD fraction leader in Stichtse Vecht's city council, seems to be part of a major criminal investigation.

Sources told AD newspaper that the investigation involving De Kruif possibly concerns fraud and cannabis cultivation. The politician is also suspected of leaking secret information from the confidential committee to a senior VVD member regarding the appointment of the new mayor of Stichtse Vecht municipality, which includes the rural towns of Maarssen, Loenen and Breukelen, in the heart of the Netherlands.

De Kruif was arrested and questioned last week. She was released after questioning, but is still considered a suspect. The Prosecutor in Arnhem confirmed that the suspicion of leaking information emerged from another investigation carried out by the Prosecutor's Office in Utrecht, but would not comment any further.

St. Maarten repeats interest in buying UTS Eastern Caribbean

PHILIPSBURG--Minister Dennis Richardson, in his capacity as shareholder representative of Sint Maarten in United Telecommunication Services (UTS), has indicated that Government wishes to buy the shares of UTS Eastern Caribbean, describing this as a win-win situation for both St. Maarten and Curaçao.

According to Minister Richardson, this is not a new plan and the intention has no link whatsoever to the recent announcement made by UTS and the Government of Curaçao that UTS would enter into a strategic partnership with regional or international players.

St. Maarten already in 2012 requested the handover of all UTS Eastern Caribbean's operations. At the same time St. Maarten would hand over its shares in the UTS mother company. In doing so, the worth of UTS Eastern Caribbean activities would be estimated with the assistance of independent experts. An eventual settlement would deal with a potential difference in value for the share-swap.

Minister Richardson indicated that recently St. Maarten increasingly had the feeling that there are important differences of opinion in relation to the development (i.e. in growth and investments) of UTS activities in St. Maarten and the rest of the Eastern Caribbean. In the last few years, investments have been made primarily in Curaçao's infrastructure, while a significant part of UTS' cash flow comes from St. Maarten.

As a result, the interests of the people and companies in St. Maarten are addressed insufficiently and St. Maarten is running far behind Curaçao and the rest of the region in terms of reliable, innovative and affordable telecommunications services. "The gap is increasing daily and that is not fair for St. Maarten's people and companies," Richardson noted. "After years of fruitless discussions, it is time to take the bull by the horns and St. Maarten will take matters into its own hands."

Richardson wants to merge the activities of UTS St. Maarten completely with TelEm Group and, where desirable, with utilities company GEBE. For a small country like St. Maarten, this makes much more sense than two or three government-owned companies making the same investments, he argued.

"In this case, you have domestic competition for high-activity areas, but not for residential areas. This only leads to wrong priorities and destruction of capital, which will influence accessibility and affordability negatively for the average citizen."

In combining St. Maarten's activities, a better negotiating position will also be created for future cooperation with one or more regional or international players.

"We realise that the strategic cooperation with regional or international players is necessary for the further development of our telecom services," Richardson said, "but we will do so taking St. Maarten's interests into account."

These interests will not necessarily run parallel with those of country Curaçao where it pertains to its envisioned strategic partnership.

"After all, both countries have – partly because of different culture, markets, geographical positioning, and other wishes – different interests when it comes to regional cooperation. Let us give each other's countries the freedom to do what is best for their own. St. Maarten should be able to make its own choices." Richardson said.

It is very possible that even after a sale to St. Maarten, there will still be good cooperation with UTS Curaçao, but it would then be on the basis of business agreements that take into account St. Maarten's needs, Richardson said.

The hoped-for sale does not have to be a bad deal for Curaçao. "Absolutely not," said Richardson. "Curaçao will have complete freedom to focus on what is good for its people and companies, without having to take the interests of St. Maarten and the rest of the Caribbean into account. In addition, Curaçao will have complete control over its activities and, depending on the circumstances, will gain funds from the difference in value of the share-swap."

UTS Curaçao also can use these funds towards a much better starting position in its wish for cooperation with international and regional parties, and perform better in the island's increasingly competitive landscape. The funds also can be used to accelerate the pace of necessary restructuring, as a result of which perhaps fewer jobs will have to be cut.

This sale creates a win-win situation for both countries. It is therefore a shame that the decision-making process is taking an unnecessarily long time, he said. Richardson is planning to bring the matter up again at the next shareholders meeting in March.

"St. Maarten will defend its rights, and trusts that country Curaçao will give its cooperation without damaging its interests," he said.

NIPA subsidy ‘ceased’ in Aug 2014, is now being corrected

PHILIPSBURG--The subsidy for National Institute for Professional Advancement (NIPA) had “ceased” in August last year, and is currently being corrected by authorities, Secretary-General of the Education Ministry Jorien Wuite told Members of Parliament (MPs) Friday.

Wuite said it had been discovered that there had been a “discrepancy” in what NIPA had received as subsidy, “which placed them in a sensitive” situation. She told MPs these issues were currently being looked into.

“Since August 2014 certain payments had ceased and the [Education – Ed.] Ministry had requested the Finance Ministry to immediately [rectify this problem – Ed]” Wuite said. She said too that the amount the institute should be receiving has to be increased, since the subsidy it received in 2013 “was of a different nature in 2014 and should be retroactively corrected.”

It could not be ascertained exactly how big the discrepancy was and the amount NIPA was not paid since August last year.

Friday’s meeting of the Permanent Committee for Education, Culture, Youth and Sports Affairs (CECYSA) was called to discuss concerns regarding NIPA.

Wuite had said earlier in the meeting that educational institutions in St. Maarten received subsidy based on a lump-sum system. She said, however, that this system contained “flaws” and authorities were working to move over to a new system to correct this. “We do believe that the new system will alleviate shortfalls currently being experienced,” she told MPs.

MPs raised a number of concerns about the institute with Education Minister Rita Bourne-Gumbs and her delegation of education officials during Friday’s session, which was chaired by Committee Chairperson National Alliance (NA) MP Silveria Jacobs, a former Education Minister and seasoned educator.

The meeting was originally scheduled to be a closed-door session, but was later announced as an open session. The convening of the meeting followed concerns raised by NIPA students regarding a range of issues at the institution. Students had expressed frustration and disgust at the shortage of teachers for key subjects at the institute, noting that this is affecting their course of study. They also complained about lack of communication, fees and other issues.

MPs echoed the concerns of students during the meeting, posing a range of questions to the minister and her team, which included Head of the Education Department Sidonia Hodge, Wuite and Education Inspection official Chantal Schaminee-Ringeling.

Bourne-Gumbs told MPs that NIPA’s board had given its assurance that a committee will be put in place to address the concerns of students and staff. She said the board had been attempting to enhance its communication with students and had assured that it had opened lines of communication.

However, at least one MP indicated that, despite these assurances, there were still communication issues at the institute. The Minister said the concerns expressed by MPs were the same concerns she had. The minister said she had several meetings with NIPA to get clarity on the issues and for solutions.

NIPA’s board has indicated that it is in need of additional personnel and the minister said her immediate advice had been to use instructors on staff as a good support system to alleviate the work load of the director. The ministry can offer dispensation for educators to lecture at the institute, but this has to be requested.

 

Inspections

Schaminee-Ringeling elaborated on inspections conducted at the Institute in December 2014. Daytime and evening classes were observed for core subject areas, such as English, math, social skills and information technology. The preliminary report indicated that the performance of the teachers was satisfactory.

However, classes “were rather small.” In some cases there were six students in a classroom, in other cases “not even two” students were in a class.

It was noted that many students left the institution; some needed to find employment; some couldn’t continue the programmes due to financial issues and others had lost interest in the field. Other students were also concerned that job placements had not yet started, and as a result, they were no longer interested in continuing the programme, while others said choices had to be made, but did not elaborate on these choices.

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