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Saba has no margin for more loans, says CFT

THE HAGUE/SABA--The Government of Saba doesn't have more leeway to acquire new interest-free loans after securing a US $2.5 million loan for an infrastructural project because of its deteriorated cash-flow situation.

The Committee for Financial Supervision CFT stated this in a recent letter to Dutch Minister of Infrastructure and Environment Melanie Schultz van Haegen. The letter, sent on April 9, 2015, has been published on the CFT website.

The CFT was asked to update its February and May 2014 advice, drafted on the request of the Saba Island Council to the Ministry of Infrastructure and Environment I&M to issue interest-free loans to the public entity for infrastructural projects. At the time the CFT rendered positive advice.

The CFT recently took a look at the repayment capacity of the island government in the case that the Ministry of I&M supplied an interest-free loan of US $2.5 million for infrastructural works on the island, namely the S-bend in the Fort Bay Road which is in need of renovation.

According to the CFT, Saba's cash-flow position has deteriorated since last year's advice. With this new loan the Island Government would end up below the target balance of US $618,000, which is considered the safe buffer to be able to maintain regular financial management, in other words to pay the bills.

The deteriorated cash position was not of such a worrisome nature that the CFT has decided to render a negative advice on this loan in particular. However, the committee did warn that there was no space for new interest-free loans after the US $2.5 million loan had been approved.

The CFT calculated that Saba had a gross cash position of more than US $4.6 million on January 1, 2015, which will have dwindled to US $550,000 by the end of this year. "The CFT wants to point out to you and to the Minister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations that this amount is US $68,000 lower than the target balance," it was stated in the letter to Schultz van Haegen.

The CFT concluded that Saba would have to generate additional means if it didn't want to end up below the target balance of US $618,000. Saba would not have to generate additional means and be able to maintain a better cash-flow position if the local government managed to realise a structural cutback in maintenance of US $0.3 million per year as was discussed in 2014.

Saba has already taken an interest-free loan of US $1.2 million to tackle the traffic intersection in Windwardside which is being realised through an advance of the Ministry of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations BZK on the free-remittance ("vrije uitkering") for the public entity.

Rita and Claret join support for DigiKidz

PHILIPSBURG--Foresee Foundation, founder and operator of the DigiKidz Project which aims to bring 21st century information and communications technology (ICT) education to all classrooms, announced recently that it has received the official endorsement of Minister of Education, Culture, Youth and Sports Affairs Rita Bourne-Gumbs and Minister of Tourism, Economic Affairs, Transport and Telecommunication Claret Connor.

Foresee Foundation and the DigiKidz Project Team said they were excited and encouraged with the ministers' support.

According to Foresee President Jose Sommers, these endorsements support the core concept of Foresee (also abbreviated as "4C"): setting up innovative projects through communication, collaboration, creativity and critical thinking, what she calls "the way forward for 21st-century learning."

The endorsements, in joining the foundation's plans to raise funds for upcoming projects, are "fully in line with the modern vision that in strong communities, government, the business sector and other organisations and non-governmental (NGOs) jointly work together on achieving the ambitious goal of bringing ICT into all classrooms in St. Maarten."

As evidence of this vision becoming a reality, as a result of a recent fundraising event at Moomba Restaurant, Foresee has received cash and in-kind funding of nearly US $100,000 towards future projects.

In her letter to Foresee, Minister Bourne-Gumbs said, "With the ever-changing innovations in technology and learning, we value the initiatives of the Foresee Foundation and its DigiKidz project. With that said, the Minister officially endorses the DigiKidz project for the advancement of Technology in Education in St. Maarten."

She also encouraged the formation of educational partnerships and called on private business and community organisations also to endorse and further support the DigiKidz project.

Minister Connor, also by letter, acknowledged the important need to bring technology into the nation's educational system and expressed his support to the DigiKidz project in "its effort to bring 21st-century learning through ICT to the students of St. Maarten."

He reiterated that the "Government of St. Maarten recognises that the ICT education initiative is one that all students can and will benefit from."

Foresee said it would continue in the coming months to "walk the talk" with its fundraising drive, following up on a number of scheduled meetings and commitments with the private and public sectors.

Both United Telecommunication Services (UTS) and TelEm Group, which both sponsor various causes and events, although usually not the same ones, are also lending support. Foresee said it was proud that both were doing so in the name of education.

UTS gave early endorsement in October 2013 and currently is in talks with Foresee to provide additional wireless Internet and network infrastructure support.

TelEm offers free Internet connectivity to all DigiKidz projects and was mentioned by Minister Connor in his endorsement of the DigiKidz projects.

In addition to these premier sponsors, Rotary Club St. Maarten Mid-Isle and the Indian Merchants Association (IMA) also have pledged their premier support by sponsoring the next DigiKidz School.

The next school is yet to be announced, but at the last event indications were given that it most likely would be Hillside Christian Schools' Helmich Snijders Campus.

Foresee Foundation was founded and the DigiKidz Project launched in 2013. As the result of a remarkable grant provided by Windsong International Foundation, a total of US $500,000 was invested in three DigiKidz projects: the equipping of two primary schools and a DigiKidz Medialab at Philipsburg Jubilee Library.

More than 2,000 children have participated and profited from these projects to date, and the team said it was looking forward to bringing the experience to all children.

The three projects have been very well received, explained Sommers: "The 'secret' formula for success lies in the comprehensive approach. ... In addition to bringing IT devices into the schools, strong emphasis is put on the network structure, training of staff, close collaboration with school boards and management, and the creation of ownership among all stakeholders, including pupils (the "Digi-kids"), teachers, parents, management, school boards and the larger community."

The project's impact was exemplified at the last fundraiser, where schoolteachers relayed their experiences, gave interactive "classes" to the gathering and showed video of pupils in action, making practical use of technology to communicate, learn and play.

For more information, see or find DigiKidz on Facebook. The team can be reached at 581-5050 or

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Five of eight parties submit reports to Electoral Council

PHILIPSBURG--Five of the eight registered political parties have submitted their 2014 annual reports and accompanying financial statements to the Electoral Council before the March 31 deadline.

Two parties submitted their annual reports and financial statements a day after the deadline and are awaiting the hard copies and the accountant's signed financial statements to the reports.

Only one party has fully complied with all requirements stipulated in Articles 27 and 28 of the National Ordinance on the Registration and Finances of Political Parties, according to the Council.

To date, despite being reminded by the council, one party has not submitted its annual report. The party received a letter from the Electoral Council with the urgent request to submit its report within a certain time frame.

The Electoral Council is in the final phase of its review on the donation registration of political parties and will soon embark on the review of the annual and financial reports submitted by the political parties.

After this review, the Electoral Council will send the reports, together with its observations to the General Audit Chamber to verify the accuracy of the submitted information.

Justice Minister calls on Dutch to prove underworld connection

PHILIPSBURG--Justice Minister Dennis Richardson minced no words when he issued a call to the Dutch Government and anti-St. Maarten fractions in the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament "to put the facts on the table" if they exist about the continuous, but so far baseless claims about St. Maarten being controlled by the "underworld."

Richardson was in the St. Maarten Parliament Friday, along with Prime Minister Marcel Gumbs, to discuss the draft law to establish an integrity chamber for the council. The law was tabled in Parliament on Wednesday in a Central Committee meeting. That meeting resumed on Friday, and will now continue today, Monday, at 10:00am in Parliament House.

Dutch Minister for Interior and Kingdom Relations Ronald Plasterk "adheres to the view of an upper and down world [as written]" on St. Maarten, but he and others in the Netherlands, who continue to parrot this line, fail to provide any proof, Richardson said.

The Wit-Samson integrity report looked into the perception about St. Maarten being controlled by underworld crime elements, and found nothing to support this claim. Nothing was also found to support this claim in the similar PricewaterhouseCoopers report, commissioned by the Dutch Government via instruction to Governor Eugene Holiday.

If there is proof of this connection, the Dutch Government should put it on the table and not allude to it, Richardson said.

Connor, Rutte, Mingo at Panama round table

page3a272POINTE BLANCHE/PANAMA--Port St. Maarten Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Mark Mingo took part in a top-level CEO Round Table Meeting with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, Panama Minister of Canal Affairs Roberto Roy and Panama Canal Authority ACP Administrator Jorge Quijano in Panama City on Sunday.

A St. Maarten delegation present was headed by Minister of Tourism, Economic Affairs, Transport and Telecommunication (TEATT) Claret Connor. Rutte was present on behalf of the Dutch government.

The local delegation had been invited by the Dutch Confederation of Netherlands Industry and Employers VNO-NCW. VNO-NCW President Hans de Boer moderated the meeting.

Also in attendance were Aruba Prime Minister Mike Eman, Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs representatives and Kingdom of the Netherlands Ambassador to Panama Wiebe de Boer.

Points of discussion at the CEO Round Table Meeting included the strategic connectivity with the islands and Panama; a diversification strategy; a five-year plan on energy policy; impact of the opening of the Panama Canal third lock and opportunities in new feeder connections; improving the investment climate between Panama and St. Maarten; fiscal incentives; and maritime cooperation with Panama and the Caribbean region.

Mingo said he had been looking forward to bringing the Port St. Maarten perspective forth at the meeting.

"I feel proud that Port St. Maarten was invited, and we along with Minister Claret Connor proudly represented country St. Maarten on this international stage as part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands delegation," he said. "There are major global trade developments taking place where it concerns the shipment of goods around the world in the most efficient and fastest way possible.

"Panama Canal Authority is already looking at building a fourth lock that would allow it to handle a new generation of the world's biggest containerised ships carrying 20,000 containers. This would allow Panama to compete head-on with Egypt's Suez Canal."

The expansion will double capacity and allow longer and wider ships to transit between the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. The new section of the canal should open on April 1, 2016.

"[This – Ed.] costs around US $17 billion and takes approximately 15 years to complete. Port St. Maarten cargo facility investments have led to a steady growth in containerised business, making the island a regional sub-hub for the Northeastern Caribbean," Mingo added.

"We are gearing up for the opening of the expanded Panama Canal, which will place much greater emphasis on feeder ports such as St. Maarten. As a small island nation and a small port, we have accomplished a lot and there is much more to do where we further enhance our role as a regional port player."

He said Panama was leveraging its two primary assets – its natural geographic location and the Panama Canal – to create an aggressive economic development strategy. Key to Panama's strategic location is the waterway, the expansion of which is promoting development in sectors such as tourism, logistics, construction and insurance.

Minister Connor said Port St. Maarten had developed itself as a major player globally and much more could be done, considering the island's geographic advantage to the rest of the Kingdom.

"As we continue to move St. Maarten forward into the regional hub of the Northeastern Caribbean, this brings increased economic development which benefits our country's overall development," he said on Sunday.

Port St. Maarten serves Anguilla, Montserrat, St. Kitts and Nevis, and Antigua and Barbuda. The port is also in the process of developing a special relationship with the Caribbean Netherlands islands Saba and St. Eustatius with respect to port handling, operations, economic development and sustainability. Both islands receive their cargo shipments/services from Port St. Maarten.

VNO-NCW is the largest employers' organisation in the Netherlands, representing the common interests of businesses at home and abroad, and providing a variety of services for more than 160 member associations and more than 115,000 enterprises. It covers all economy sectors, including more than 80 per cent of all medium-size companies and nearly all of the larger corporate institutions.

Other companies participating included APM Terminals Management, Royal BAM Group, Royal Boskalis Westminister, Damen Shipyards Group, Royal IHC, Iv-Consult, KPMG, Van Oord, Royal Philips, Royal Vopak, VT Group, Witteveen+Bos Consulting Engineers, Aruba Ports Authority and Curaçao Ports Authority.

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