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Foster homes outline challenges to MPs

~Midwives withholding birth paper a concern~

PHILIPSBURG--Midwives withholding the birth certificates of babies, whose parents did not pay for the delivery was one of several concerns expressed by representatives of three children's homes during a meeting of Parliament's Permanent Committee of Justice on Tuesday morning.

Representatives of the homes outlined the challenges that children in foster care, who are without the birth paper, face during the meeting. I Can Children's Home President Cassandra Gibbs said there were two undocumented children in I Can who do not have birth certificates, as these were withheld by the midwife for lack of payment for the delivery.

She said not having a birth certificate is an impediment to many things for these children. Questions about this concern which were emailed to two midwives on Tuesday, were not immediately answered.

Homes represented at the meeting were I Can; New Start Foundation Children's Home operator Sally Benjamin; Hope Outreach Children's Home official Antonia Hodge.

The homes were concerned after not receiving any follow-up to a meeting they had with Justice Minister Dennis Richardson on February 14. The homes felt that a number of articles of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, were being violated. Some of their concerns were addressed during a meeting with the minister and other officials on Tuesday afternoon.

Ageing out

A common concern expressed was the absence of facilities to help foster children, who age-out of foster care when they turn 18. Gibbs said she has a child who has been in foster care since age four. This child is turning 18 and "where he goes is still up in the air."

She said this child's case is not isolated. During his years in foster care, no relationships were fostered with his birth parents and his mother is homeless so the child has nowhere to go. She said the boy had been doing "side jobs" from last year, but this was suspended as he is in his last year for his General Equivalency Diploma (GED) studies. He aspires to become an Aviation Mechanic and he needs a GED to obtain a scholarship.

Benjamin said there were children in New Start who will be turning 18 and "have nowhere to go. I would seriously want something to be done."

Funding

Another common concern was the amount of funds foster homes receive from government for the sustenance of children in their care. Gibbs described this as "one of the most troublesome areas" for her home.

Foster homes receive NAf. 500 per child, which Gibbs said is insufficient. She said NAf. 2,000 per month would be more sufficient to cover the various needs of a child in foster care, some of whom have various after school activities that they engage in. The amount per child was last increased almost 10 years ago when the home had been receiving about NAf. 275 at the time.

She said certain legislation is still lacking and her home was still struggling with accessibility to certain departments and officials.

She raised a concern where a child had been taken to the home by the police and for two months no Foundation Judiciary Institute Windward Islands SJIB official had visited the home to follow up on the case of the child because it was said that proper procedures were not followed. She questioned whether the procedures superseded the safety of the child and urged MPs to look into this matter as well as into the procedures.

Hodge said the concern for Hope Outreach had to do with undocumented children, who have difficulties accessing, amongst other things, health care. She said assistance had been requested for this and a plan is being put in place to have children registered and covered.

Hodge said some of the children in her care were born in French St. Martin to Dutch nationals and their births were never registered at the Dutch side Department of Civil Registry. This, she said, poses a challenge as the children do not get medical coverage at Social and Health Care Insurances SZV.

She said another issue developed lately when efforts were made to renew the medical insurance of children who had medical insurance. SZV indicated that legal guardian which they consider to be the parent had to pass by SZV. However, when parents went in, the medical insurance renewal was denied because parents did not meet the criteria.

In one case, for example, SZV said the mother worked only half days. Hodge said parents in these cases are not the legal guardian of their children as guardianship is given to social workers appointed by a judge.

Hodge said there were 17 children at Hope Outreach. Benjamin said 19 at New Start and I Can has 17 children, who are predominantly boys.

Floodgate project

page5a002The floodgate project at A. Th. Illidge Road is nearing completion. The final touches are being carried out on the waterline and cable of utilities company GEBE. The electrical installation of the floodgate is being tested and the provision for the automatic transfer of current in the event of a GEBE power outage has been made. The project will be delivered by contractor Windward Roads Infrastructure to government in "a matter of weeks" once all contractual details have been fulfilled, said Claudius Buncamper of the Ministry of Infrastructure. (John Halley photo)

Ministers to face MPs this week about missing info

PHILIPSBURG--Ministers of the Marcel Gumbs Cabinet are to be called before Parliament's Permanent Committee for Kingdom Affairs and Inter-Parliamentary Relations to provide information the committee has requested for several months.

The committee became displeased two weeks ago with the sluggish pace of government's response and issued a 48-hour deadline for all information to be submitted. This deadline was partially ignored by the ministers.

Members of Parliament (MPs) serving on the committee needed the information in its meeting in Parliament House on Monday, especially on the economy, energy, health and education, to prepare for the Tripartite Consultation and the Inter-Parliamentary Kingdom Consultation IPKO to be held in The Hague, the Netherlands, May 25-29.

Committee Chairwoman MP Sarah Wescot-Williams (Democratic Party) said answers on several topics had been received from ministers, but not covering all areas requested by the committee.

Independent MP Cornelius de Weever asked about the follow-up on the deadline for government to provide the information. He was informed that government had been sent a letter outlining the deadline, but the cabinet had not properly adhered to it.

Independent MP Leona Marlin-Romeo said the ministers should be called in post-haste and should come prepared to present the information the committee needed for its preparations.

Wescot-Williams also urged MPs to submit requested information about their party structure and ways of dealing with integrity matters, if this had not yet been done, to Parliament's Secretariat by 5:00pm Monday.

Also present for the meeting were MPs Dr. Lloyd Richardson and Franklin Meyers of United People's party.

UFA, port sign two-year performance-based CLA

~No more mandatory increases~

 POINTE BLANCHE--United Federation of the Windward Antilles (UFA) and the St. Maarten Ports Authority (SMPA) signed a two-year performance-based Collective Labour Agreement (CLA) on May 18.

A performance-based CLA means that the salary increases of employees will be based on their performance. Workers will no longer receive a “mandatory” increase. The CLA is retroactive from January 2015 and will expire in December 2017.

SMPA said it introduced a performance appraisal system in 2011. The system involves two official meetings between a manager and employee. The interview is reviewed in June every year and the final evaluation is given in November of every year.

The Port said in a press release on Monday, that the just-signed CLA was agreed to after a long period of negotiation between UFA and SMPA’s negotiating team. This is the second performance based CLA between the two parties. The first performance based CLA was from January 2011 to December 2013. The latter agreement was in effect until the new CLA was signed.

“There were various items to discuss which needed input from different individuals; calculations needed to be made to reach to the right formulas and decisions needed to be made from both sides, if the outcome was to be to the satisfaction of the UFA and the SMPA,” a press release from the port said.

SMPA said it is “satisfied” with the outcome of the negotiations and thanked UFA for its “time and patience” during the negotiation period.

Electoral Council may soon consider penalty for party

PHILIPSBURG--The Electoral Council may soon be forced to consider imposing a financial penalty on one of the eight political parties registered for the 2014 Parliamentary Election that has failed to submit its annual report to the Council.

All registered political parties had up to February 1 to submit all their donation registries and annual financial reports to the Council as required under the National Ordinance on the Registration and Financing of Political Parties. To date, one party is in default of its legal obligations.

Electoral Council Chairman Attorney Bert Hoffman told The Daily Herald the Council would inform the party via letter that it must get its financial business "in order or face penalties." The Council still has to decide on the exact amount of the penalty.

Hoffman declined to give the name of the defaulting party, only saying they know who they are. He also did not comment on the quality of the financial reports and annual reports received from the parties that have lived up to their legal obligations. "I will leave that to the Audit Chamber," he said.

By law, the General Audit Chamber has to review and comment on the political parties' reports.

Only three parties – Citizens for Positive Change (CPC), United People's (UP) party and Social Reform Party (SRP) – had submitted their donation registers and other statements by the February 1 deadline. National Alliance and United St. Maarten party submitted their donation registers to the Electoral Council after the deadline.

The three parties were urged in a press statement issued early February to submit their donation registers to the Electoral Council "urgently" to avoid measures being taken against them as laid down in Article 44 of the National Ordinance. Two of the three parties have submitted the required information to the Council since then.

The Daily Herald contacted the three parties and received confirmation from two that their reports had been submitted to the Council.

Democratic Party leader Sarah Wescot-Williams and Concordia Political Alliance leader Jeffrey Richardson told this newspaper via e-mail that all had been submitted to the Council.

One St. Maarten People Party leader Lenny Priest did not respond to this newspaper's e-mail or calls.

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