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Govt submits integrity plan to Parliament

PHILIPSBURG--Government submitted a plan of approach to Parliament on Monday for the implementation of recommendations from the three integrity reports.

Parliament instructed government in a unanimously passed motion on October 22, 2014, to come up with a plan to address the General Audit Chamber Report, the Wit-Samson Report and the PricewaterhouseCoopers Report on integrity in government.

The Council of Ministers approved a draft ordinance to establish an Integrity Chamber for St. Maarten and has nominated a "quartermaster" by national resolution. The quartermaster will be charged with the implementation of the ordinance. The ordinance is now with the Advisory Council for review.

The ordinance seeks to establish an institution based on Article 98 of the Constitution to investigate breaches of integrity and will function as an advisory body to government.

Prime Minister Marcel Gumbs said in a press statement government is "confident" these steps put St. Maarten on "a genuine trajectory, grounded in law, to embrace and ensure integrity in governing."

Sea rescue service to receive replacement lifeboat in July

MARIGOT--French-side sea rescue service SNSM will take possession of a lifeboat this coming July to replace the extensively damaged SNSM 129, it was disclosed at a press conference Saturday with Vice-Admiral Jacques de Solms, Inspector General for the national SNSM.

The Vice-Admiral was here in May 2014 and on this occasion made a special visit to announce the good news as well as have meetings with Préfet Philippe Chopin and President Aline Hanson to solicit financial support.

The replacement SNSM 121 "Patron JM Camenen" comes from Brittany and is a reconditioned vessel of 14 metres in length with similar characteristics to SNSM 129 which was driven onto the rocks attempting rescues during Hurricane Gonzalo.

At the same time SNSM 121 is delivered SNSM 129 will be shipped back to France for specialised repairs with a view to putting it back in service in France. An expert's evaluation at the end of December concluded that the vessel should be returned to France. The cost of the two operations was estimated at 150,000 euros but much of this sum has to be raised through the generosity of donors.

"Part of this sum has been raised by donors and service clubs but we are still looking for more," explained Admiral Solms. "If we don't get the full amount SNSM in France will pay the balance as the decision has already been made to send this vessel to St. Martin."

In the meantime SNSM is actively seeking to purchase a second-hand semi-rigid inflatable boat (RIB) in the region of 30 to 50,000 euros to fill the time gap before the replacement vessel arrives. The former RIB was no longer operational.

SNSM Director Jean-Claude van Rymenant acknowledged that currently there is no sea rescue service available, neither on the French side nor Dutch side.

"The two vessels on the Dutch side are waiting for parts which apparently are hard to obtain," van Rymenant explained. "And in St. Barths there is a problem there with not having a full crew but that is expected to be resolved soon. For the moment there is no one who can carry out a rescue mission and that is very regrettable."

Using a private vessel is not an option either as it would not be covered by insurance for rescues.

SNSM normally responds to some 55 call outs per year from Centre Régional Opérationnel de Surveillance et de Sauvetage (CROSS). Since Hurricane Gonzalo, SNSM was unable to respond to 16 distress calls, volunteer Arnaud Bourdier noted.

Van Rymenant reminded the scope of operation SNSM provides includes the islands of Anguilla, Saba, St. Eustatius, and St. Kitts and Nevis.

It was noted that 15,000 euros has already been raised through the actions of the service clubs (Rotary, Lions etc.) and does not include proceeds from the recent classical concert held in the Catholic Church. The funds have been placed in an account "SOS for SNSM."

The respective presidents of Rotary St. Martin Nord and Lions Club Fort Louis, Thierry Desplanches and Denis Blondel, thanked all the persons who responded to the fundraising campaign. US Embassy Warden Lloyd Tackling was also thanked by the Admiral for his efforts in trying to secure an appropriate vessel from the US Coast Guard.

They disclosed a fund-raising gala will be organised at the Hotel Mercure in March. President of SNSM Jean-Paul Fischer announced a new communication and fund raising campaign will be launched shortly.

Persons wishing to make donations to SNSM can do so at the SNSM offices opposite Fort Louis Marina.

Advisory Council wants timeshare law in Dutch

PHILIPSBURG--The hold up in the processing of the draft initiative laws to regulate the timeshare sector has come down to a matter of language. The two draft laws are written in English, one of the official languages of the country, but the Advisory Council has requested the law to be re-submitted by the Democratic Party (DP), the initiator, in Dutch.

All of the country's laws are in Dutch and the judicial system, which executes the laws, is almost entirely in Dutch.

DP Leader Member of Parliament Sarah Wescot-Williams said at a press conference held in Parliament House on Monday, she intends to take up the law with Tourism and Economic Affairs Minister Claret Connor, when they meet on February 5. A package of documents related to the draft law has been sent to the minister.

She hopes government will decide to pursue the completion of the law process, as it has the apparatus to readily change the law from English to Dutch. Parliament in its fifth year of existence still does not have a legislation department.

Should government take charge of the laws, the initiative law will have to be pulled back from Parliament by DP.

The Advisory Council motivated its position about the laws being in Dutch, saying that the laws sought to amend the Civil Code, a body of law that is in the Dutch language with no companion English translation. This was communicated to the then DP Parliamentarian Leroy de Weever and this resulted in the draft being made into an ordinance separate from the Civil Code.

Wescot-Williams said it was thought that making the draft an ordinance, while keeping the language in English would have aided the situation. However, the Advisory Council still requested the law in Dutch. "The language remained a stumbling block," she said.

The reason for presenting the law in English, according to Wescot-Williams, was to match the language of the timeshare sector. Timeshare owners and timeshare companies are generally English speakers or have English as their language of business.

The need for better timeshare regulation to protect timeshare owners and the country has been a pending issue for more than two decades. The Timeshare Action Committee had discussions about plotting the way forward since the 1990s.

RCI and Sapphire Beach relationship ‘suspended’

CUPECOY--Timeshare owners at Sapphire Beach Club and Resort have been informed unexpectedly by popular timeshare exchange network RCI that the property "has been placed on suspension status and we must suspend your privileges in both the RCI Weeks and RCI Points Programs" effective immediately.

The suspension apparently is tied to the property's multiple maintenance issues, although no reason was specified in the letter.

According to a confidential source, RCI suspended the working relationship with Sapphire as a result of numerous complaints concerning maintenance issues, allowing for three months to rectify the situation. The relationship might be reinstated at a later date, pending a thorough inspection by RCI in May.

Confidential sources said all the timeshare owners, some of whom were very upset, had been notified of the development.

A copy of the RCI letter obtained by The Daily Herald was dated January 20. Questions that remain unanswered since then have been sprouting up on the property's profile on social media as well as TripAdvisor. Many of these comments are similar in character, referring to a once-beautiful property that has deteriorated seriously over time.

Not far off from other reviews, one recent comment read: "This once outstanding St. Maarten Resort has been neglected by management for several years now and has finally been removed from RCI affiliation by RCI. 2014 was the last visit I had taken to my time-share at SBC.

"Total disappointment. My room smelled of mold. It appeared that it still has the original mattress which was moldy smelly. The bed sheets were so old they had become transparent. The microwave did not work. Only one stove top burner worked. The fridge was rusty. Its freezer compartment completely frozen over.

"The compressor made such a loud sound it kept everyone awake at night. One of the Aircon units leaked and management placed towels on the floor as a 'fix'. The furnishings had never been changed since 1994 and it looked it. The toilet never flushed correctly. It took 4 flushes to move toilet paper down and out.

"The only building elevator quit working after the second day of our vacation, forcing everyone to use the stairs with luggage in tow for a day. Workmen arrived and did some repairs to get it working again but the very next day it broke down again and remained down for two more days."

Some timeshare owners also said that RCI should have notified them of the situation before maintenance fees were due.

Rumours that could not be confirmed are circulating that the property might be sold soon.

In its letter, RCI refers timeshare owners to Sapphire Beach Club for any further questions, but multiple attempts by this newspaper to reach Sapphire proved futile.

Online tourism newsletter SXM Weekly News author Jeff Berger said in his latest publication that both parties had "been remarkably silent about who initiated the split between these entities, why it was initiated, how long it will last, and whether there will be any changes after this has been resolved."

In regard to the rumour of a sale, the author said, "There appears to be no immediate interest by a new, professional operator for the resort," adding that a sale "has been the subject of an unending train of rumours for several years."

The RCI letter stated, "... during this suspension, RCI is unable to accept any deposits made by or on behalf of RCI members from Sapphire Beach Club, or allocating any RCI Points based on an ownership at Sapphire Beach Club."

RCI explained, "Any unused RCI points on your account for Use Year 2015, 2016, or 2017 which may have previously been allocated based on your ownership at Sapphire Beach Club, or any unused vacation time from Sapphire Beach Club deposited into the RCI Weeks or RCI Points Exchange Programs will remain available for use through the original expiration date" pending a few conditions.

Numerous unresolved complaints by tenants, timeshare and condominium owners previously prompted a surprise day-long control of the property by the Economic Affairs Inspection Department TEZVT and several other government entities, which took place in June 2014.

The Ministry of Tourism, Economic Affairs, Transportation and Telecommunication subsequently said the property needed "a massive renovation" and called the situation "totally unacceptable" after an inspection carried out by some 40 controllers revealed exposed wires, wastewater in the basement, mould and mildew, and possible sewage water.

A Cabinet official said at the time that the control was the first of its kind and that additional TEZVT controls were to be expected in the coming months, in collaboration with other ministries.

Whether those follow-up inspections took place could not be ascertained on Monday.

Miss Universe

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Miss Colombia, Paulina Vega was crowned Miss Universe 2015, at the 63rd Annual Miss Universe Pageant in Miami. In photo the new Miss Universe left stands with the other top winners Miss Jamaica Kaci Fennell who placed forth, Miss Ukraine Diana Harkusha Second runner up, Miss Netherlands Yasmin Verheijen third and Miss USA Nia Sanchez was first runner up.

 

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