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New festival launches with chocolate-studded fashion

page_5d059MAHO--Chocolate aficionados were given a taste of what is to come over the weekend as the Caribbean Chocolate Festival kicked off on Friday night with a fashion show featuring nine models strutting on stage and into the crowd with chocolate-studded dresses and chocolate-coated accessories.

Each model wore a colourful monotone dress studded in hand-crafted shapes including leaves, individual petals, flowers, seashells and starfish created by award-winning chocolatier and Executive Chef Veejoruth Purmessur and his apprentice Ronald Stephen.

A highlight of the show was the final model who entered “playing” a chocolate violin, wearing angel wings and a chocolate string of pearls.

The festival at Sonesta Maho Beach Resort and Casino continues over the weekend with live professional competitions, demonstrations, and wine and chocolate pairings. Demonstrations include how to temper chocolate, decorate chocolate cake and make ganache.

It is the first time the annual event has been featured in St. Maarten. It started in Barbados in March and will continue on to Jamaica in November.

The festival is meant to showcase local, regional and international pastry chefs with emphasis on local St. Maarten chefs demonstrating the fine art of pastry-making with chocolate as a main ingredient, according to organiser St. Maarten Culinary Foundation.

Timeshare owners want their units back

PHILIPSBURG--The Court of First Instance heard an injunction Friday filed by Timeshare Owners at Caravanserai Association (TOCA) against the beach resort’s new owner Alegría Real Estate B.V. in a renewed effort by timeshare owners to get their units back.

Alegría purchased the Beacon Hill resort in a public auction organised by Scotiabank on August 13, 2014, for US $14 million. Alegría claims it is not bound by any type of timeshare agreement made by former owner Kildare’s subsidiary company Endless Vacation, or any other.

The approximately 2,200 timeshare owners claiming timeshare rights at Caravanserai were informed by letter on September 30, 2014, that their previous ownership rights had been nullified and that Alegría would offer hotel units against payment instead.

As compensation, it offered a hotel room usage agreement, which would allow usage of a hotel room and facilities at the resort against an annual fee to cover part of the operational cost of the resort.

TOCA was established in October 2014. Representing 62 of its members, who together claim to have lost US $1.5 million in advance rent payments, TOCA called upon the Court on Friday to grant its members access to their apartments.

TOCA deems the immediate annulment of clients’ timeshare agreements unjust as these would have constituted a breach of contract. “A landlord should go to Court, he cannot just change the locks,” attorney-at-law Martyn Schellekens said on behalf of TOCA.

The association is of the opinion that the timeshare agreements are, in fact, rental agreements which, as such, should be legally protected.

“Alegría has to respect the rental agreements, but illegitimately denies timeshare owners’ access to the resort,” Schellekens said. “Alegría wants to fumigate the timeshare owners and does not want to wait for the outcome of the main case,” he stated.

TOCA called upon the Court to order Alegría to grant members access to the resort, with a penalty in case of non-compliance, and with payment of damages, retroactively from November 2014.

Alegría did not defer from its position taken in a previous court procedure on the matter and is still of the opinion that it is not bound by timeshare agreements closed by Kildare or any of its subsidiaries.

“Calling timeshare agreements rental agreements a hundred times in pleadings does not make them rental agreements,” Alegría’s attorney Chris de Bres said in responding to TOCA’s position.

Timeshare agreements include the sale and use of apartments and are no rental agreements, and are, therefore, not protected by rent control, it was added.

Alegría’s legal team, which also comprised lawyer Metin Unsal, objected to TOCA members joining the procedure in class action, as they had in fact closed a wide variety of timeshare agreements.

Not only had TOCA members closed agreements with Endless Vacation, but had also purchased timeshare rights via timeshare vacation exchange network RCI. Furthermore, a number of timeshare owners had rights in Caravanserai buildings D and E, “but at this moment these buildings are not yet completed,” Unsal said.

Alegría contested TOCA’s “urgent interests” in handling this case in summary proceedings, and concluded that all claims should be rejected, with lawyer De Bres stating that fulfilling TOCA’s requirements would thwart Alegría’s plans to redevelop the resort.

In a previous injunction, filed in November 2014, the Court of First Instance ruled that TOCA had no case against Alegría, because association members had not closed timeshare agreements with Alegría or with the former resort owner, but with Endless Vacation. Efforts to come to amiable solutions all proved futile.

Caravanserai timeshare owners have vented their fury in the local media and also in the United States, blaming Country St. Maarten for not protecting them and allowing them to be victims, as many of them have lost tens of thousands of dollars. Disappointed timeshare owners also stated they would not return to St. Maarten and would spend their vacations elsewhere. The Court will give its decision August 14.

No response yet from Harbour to Prosecutors Office inquiries

PHILIPSBURG--The Harbour has not yet responded to the inquiries from the Prosecutors Office regarding its policies and that of its closely linked companies.

Prosecutor Karola van Nie told The Daily Herald on Thursday that the office had not yet received a response from the harbour.

In a letter dated July 13, the Prosecutor’s Office requested information regarding the policies and “course of affairs” from the St. Maarten Harbour Holding NV and from its closely linked companies.

The investigation is part of civil proceedings being done by the Prosecutor’s Office looking into the affairs of the St. Maarten Ports Authority. The investigation covers a range of areas including the construction of the Simpson Bay Causeway, which was financed by the harbour.

The inquiry concerns the “corporate governance” of the Port Authority and addresses issues such as its compliance with the law, compliance with the statutes, transparency and some specific issues, including the course of affairs as it relates to the construction of the Simpson Bay Causeway bridge.

The Prosecutor’s Office had said that the proceedings were prompted by claims from the community including the Integrity Inquiry report into the functioning of government that was conducted by PriceWaterhouseCoopers (US) in 2014 and the final report “Doing the right things right,” that was produced, also in 2014, by de Commissie Integer Openbaar Bestuur.

The investigation is a civil proceeding and not a criminal investigation. Van Nie said due to public interest and based on the Civil Code of St. Maarten, the Prosecutor’s Office is authorised to submit a request to the Common Court of Justice of Aruba, Curaçao, St. Maarten and Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba to investigate the policies and course of affairs of any legal entity in St. Maarten. Such an inquiry may extend to the policies and course of affairs of other, closely linked legal entities, she noted.

Minister of Tourism, Economic Affairs, Transport and Telecommunications Claret Connor had said that he hoped that the harbour “fully cooperates” with the inquiry.

Downes says investment in economy is ‘slowing down’

page3a259PHILIPSBURG--While consumers taking bank loans in recent years have been benefitting from lower interest rates, the banks themselves have been raking in smaller profits on interest.

Windward Islands Bank (WIB) Managing Director Derek Downes said lending rates have declined significantly in St. Maarten over the past two to three years resulting in banks earning less interest on new and existing loans.

Downes said too that investment in St. Maarten’s economy is “slowing down.” The WIB Managing Director was at the time responding to questions from The Daily Herald on statements made by Central Bank of Curaçao and St. Maarten President Emsley Tromp that the output has dropped in the financial intermediation sector as reflected by a decline in the net interest income of commercial Banks. Tromp made his statements during his presentation about the bank’s Annual Report 2014 last week.

Downes said the drop in net interest income is impacted by, amongst other factors, the decline in lending rates. Downes said that the entire loan market of the island has been declining for the past four years while the total deposit market has been on the increase.

“A higher amount of interest is therefore being paid on deposits (because of there being more deposits attracting interest), while less interest is being earned on a reducing loan portfolio,” he said. “This impacts negatively on net interest income for banks.”

Banks, he added, also earn less income on excess deposits invested on the international market, as interest rates in the United States and Europe are “very low.” Another factor, he adds, is that there are not many local interest bearing opportunities for banks to invest in, as no corporate bonds have been recently issued.

Downes said it’s difficult to say how each bank is being affected by this drop in net interest, “but I would imagine that most banks are being affected.”

And what does this mean for the financial sector in St. Maarten and what can it mean for the St. Maarten economy in general? “This is a signal that investment in the St. Maarten economy has slowed down, as while banks have funds to lend, less businesses and individuals are borrowing as noted by the decline in the loan portfolio of the island.”

He said the negative trend regarding the decline in net interest income and the decline in the loan market has been going on for the past three plus years.

Downes said this trend can be reversed by increased economic activity on the island. “The government must create the atmosphere to improve business and consumer confidence. Once this happens, businesses and consumers will borrow more, thereby reversing the negative trend seen in the declining loan market. The trend is also reversed by an increase in lending rates and interest rates on international investments. Already the US Federal Reserve is talking about increasing rates in the US this summer, so we have to wait and see how this impacts the Caribbean lending environment. This increase in rates in the US will bode well for investments St. Maarten banks made there from their excess liquidity. They will earn higher income from this source.”

Curacao ties, Aruba loses

cur-cubaPHILIPSBURG--Antigua and Barbuda were stunned by St Lucia in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying on Wednesday, while Patrick Kluivert's Curacao were held and Aruba lost at home.
  The third-highest ranked country involved in the second round of qualifying for Russia 2018, Antigua and Barbuda suffered a setback as they lost the first leg of their tie 3-1 to St Lucia in North Sound.
  The hosts at Sir Vivian Richards Stadium got off to the perfect start when Tevaughn Harriette struck in the 21st minute, but it was all downhill thereafter. St Lucia equalised five minutes later through Tremain Paul and they led just past the hour-mark when David Henry was on target.
  Substitute Troy Greenidge added a third in injury time to give St Lucia a healthy buffer ahead of the second leg at the same venue on Sunday.
  Antigua and Barbuda, ranked 104th in the FIFA standings, are among the best of the 20 teams involved in the second round, ranked lower than only El Salvador (89th) and Guatemala (93rd).
  Former Netherlands assistant Kluivert could not inspire Curacao to victory in Willemstad, as they were held 0-0 by Cuba.
  Forward Gianluca Maria was sent off late for Curacao, ruling him out of Sunday's return leg in Havana.
  Barbados are on track to progress after a 2-0 win over Aruba. Mario Harte and Emmerson Boyce scored for Barbados in Oranjestad, although they finished with 10 men after Akeene Brown was dismissed.
  Brown will miss the second leg at the Usain Bolt Sports Complex in Barbados on Sunday.
  

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