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Harbour: Zebec legal claim ‘without merit’

POINTE BLANCHE--The St. Maarten Harbour Group of Companies (SHGC) has said that it considers the legal claim by Zebec Development N.V. – which is taking SHGC and its Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Mark Mingo to court for over US $100 million – to be "wholly without merit," adding that Zebec's published claims were "blatant misrepresentation of facts" that aimed to shift the blame of the failed project on the Harbour.

The reaction comes after Zebec announced that it was taking the Harbour to court over alleged breaches to the contract, having filed the claim on August 20. "The claim stems from the Harbour's repeated failure to meet its contractual obligations as defined under various agreements." The story was published in The Daily Herald the following day.

A SHGC press release issued on Sunday announced that the Harbour plans to defend the case vigorously before the Court, and that it "has complete confidence in the positive outcome of these proceedings."

According to SHGC, "the Harbour never failed to honour signed agreements between the parties. On the contrary, the Harbour has repeatedly given Zebec the opportunity to proceed with the project...Zebec, however, has not been able to progress beyond the initial phase of the project even though some two-and-a-half years have passed since the signing of the development agreement."

The press release went on to say that Zebec recently took the position "that it would not pursue the project anymore unless previously agreed conditions, as laid down in signed agreements, would be altered in its favour.

"When the Harbour maintained the position that the project should be completed in accordance with the signed agreements, Zebec chose to abandon the project and issue a frivolous lawsuit, in an obvious attempt to shift the blame of the project's collapse towards the Harbour," the Harbour's legal team was quoted as saying in the press release.

The Harbour said that it regretted that Zebec abandoned the project after SHGC invested "significant time and funds, inter alia for preparing the development land for the project." It added that it will now "seek alternative opportunities to develop the land for the benefit of St. Maarten, its economy and its people," and look into options of recovering damages from Zebec.

Zebec management could not be reached for comment on Sunday.

Pantophlet resigns as PSS board chairman

PHILIPSBURG--Vice Chairman Stuart Johnson has been appointed Interim Head of the Supervisory Board at Postal Services St. Maarten N.V. (PSS), after Chairman of the Board Hubert Pantophlet officially resigned from his position. His resignation is connected to an ongoing court case between PSS, the Government of St. Maarten, and former PSS Director Denicio Richardson.

Pantophlet is said to have stepped aside due to his direct involvement with the case. Prime Minister Sarah Wescot-Williams, who is PSS shareholder representative, accepted his resignation in a letter on July 26, after he had initially submitted his resignation on July 9.

The PM, who met with board members recently, along with her legal advisor Hensley Plantijn, stated that she would appoint a new Chairman.

Pantophlet, however, is still a member of the board, along with Johnson and Julien Lake.

Post Office completes delivery of voting cards

PHILIPSBURG--Postal Services St. Maarten (PSS) says it has completed delivery of voting cards for the August 29 Parliamentary elections. Of the 24,053 voting cards presented to the Post Office for delivery, 1,276 have been returned to the Civil Registry (commonly called the Census Office) on Pond Island.

The total number of voting cards received by PSS far exceeds the number of registered voters. That number stands at 21,457. Attempts to obtain an explanation about the discrepancy in the number of voting cards yielded incomplete results.

PSS officials said the figure of 24,053 was derived from the tally of the three batches of voting cards received from the Civil Registry. That figure was duly noted in the paperwork PSS received and signed off on from the Civil Registry.

When this newspaper asked the Civil Registry about the total from PSS, officials there said the PSS figure was incorrect, as only approximately 21,457 voting cards had been delivered to the Post Office. The figure is approximate because it did not include the cards for prisoners and cards collected by voters at the Civil Registry.

Voters who have not received their voting cards via Post Office delivery can collect them from the Civil Registry on presentation of a valid form of identification: Dutch passport, driver's licence or ID card.

PSS urges voters who have not yet received voting cards to contact the Civil Registry as soon as possible, as PSS has executed its contractual obligation to deliver voting cards to postal addresses as provided within the contractually specified time frame.

"We consider our delivery of voting cards as a major success, considering the many challenges faced by postal staff when making deliveries to addresses without a post box for receiving mail, or to addresses where persons no longer live. In such cases, we have to rely on the experience and knowledge of our postal delivery staff, who exercise their own initiatives in the field to connect customers with their delivered mail," PSS stated in a press release.

PSS urged residents to make sure their house/apartment has a mailbox and to ensure changes of address are known to the Civil Registry, banks and all other companies from which regular statements and/or billing invoices are expected. "Cooperation in these areas will greatly assist PSS N.V. to operate a more complete delivery service island-wide," it said.

Positivity is key for new youth facility

CAY BAY--The eagerly anticipated Youth Rehabilitation Facility in Cay Bay is nearing completion. The original building, which was designed as a boarding school-type facility has been restructured for use as a closed facility for boys between the ages of 12 and 18, who are to be detained whilst receiving counselling, treatment, guidance and education, in order to enable them to have the best possible chance of succeeding in society.

The new facility will be a closed institution. When the facility is up and running, 10 places will be available for boys sentenced by the criminal court. There will also be 10 places for boys with severe behavioural issues, who have not been sentenced by a criminal court, but who have received a placement order by a civil court. This could be in cases where a boy can no longer be maintained at home and/or school due to severe behavioural issues.

Project Manager Sandra Voorneman has more than 25 years experience in youth care, having been manager of an institution for 150 youths with severe behavioural problems. She has previous experience with setting up similar projects, and has been living in St. Eustatius for the past three years. She has been involved with youth work in both Statia and Saba, to develop and establish a Youth and Family Centre, including youth care and family guardianship.

"The Youth Rehabilitation Facility is very much aimed at giving the youths a chance to make something of their lives. Tailor-made education is the key. Every child deserves a chance, and these boys are no different. Currently, there is no facility in St. Maarten where these boys can be detained, and they end up in adult prison. Children need education, a daily structure and treatment suited to their needs, which is not available in an adult prison. The new Youth Rehabilitation Facility aims to close this gap," says Voorneman. "We want to give these youths an opportunity for the future, teach them perspective and new skills."

Also in the dedicated working group are Director of the Court of Guardianship Richelda Emmanuel, Youth Prosecutor Karola van Nie, and acting director of the Foundation Judiciary Institutes Windward Islands, Cynthia van Samson-Filemon, Carmelita Smits-Rombley and Ron Verhaar.

The four first named members of the group, all of whom have shown themselves to be dedicated advocates to improve facilities for troubled youths on the island, have recently visited "Opa Doeli," a closed Youth Detention Facility in Suriname. "We learned a lot and obtained a lot of ideas for our new facility," says Voorneman.

"In the Netherlands, I worked for Horizon Institute for Youth Care and Education, a facility for youths with severe behavioural problems," she says. "There were a number of Antillean boys at the facility. St. Maarten is in the process of creating a formal cooperation with Horizon. The partnership still has to be formalized, but Horizon will be offering support to the new rehabilitation facility."

The working group has the full support of Minister of Justice Dennis Richardson, who has been supporting and pushing the plans for a youth care facility for a long time.

The project phase of the new facility is two years, Voorneman explains. "The idea is that at the end of the project phase, the facility can be run and managed by mostly local people. At the moment, for certain vacancies, it is very difficult to find qualified staff locally. We have also advertised in the Netherlands, but we have created the task to set up an in-house training programme, as certain theoretical knowledge and experience is a necessity to work in a facility like this."

Recruitment for staff has started, and closing negotiations are ongoing with a number of candidates. "We aim to start in October," says Voorneman."The facility is still looking for a Behavioural Science Expert, as well as for a team leader with experience with the target group. Particularly a Behavioural Scientist is hard to find," says Voorneman. "We did advertise in the summer holidays, so we will advertise the vacancy again next week."

Suitable candidates from the Netherlands would be considered for vacancies. "But it is important to have a good balance," Voorneman says. "And of course, the person would have to have a very good knowledge and understanding of St. Maarten and its culture."

"It is very important to recruit the right people," says Voorneman. "We need people who can really make contact and connections with the youths, to show them that there are other ways they can live their lives. Of course, youths have to learn that their behaviour has consequences. If someone kills someone, of course we have to deal with that. But in the new facility, we want to focus on the future: where do we go from here?"

Each youth who arrives at the facility will have a tailor-made action plan, depending on their problems, their capabilities and their ambitions. The aim is to put a support network in place. If the parents are not in a position to support their child, other adults will be sought to provide support.

Staff in the facility will work closely together with the Prosecutor's Office, the Court of Guardianship, and the Probation Service, but also with other external partners, such as community police officers and potential employers or people who are willing to further train youths as apprentices.

"It is very important that there is a support network in place when a youth leaves the facility again," says Voorneman. "Maybe we won't be able to help every youth, but we will be able to help many of them. A lot of behavioural issues can be improved with structure and clarity.

"In helping these youths, we need the support of the community," she says. "We are asking the community to support us, to support the youths. Everyone deserves a second chance in life. We need the community to help us, we cannot do it alone. We need the support and trust of the community to show these youths that they too are the future."

Voorneman says that the group is working very hard on preparing for the opening of the facility. "We want to formally introduce the facility to the community. We are currently discussing the best way to do this. There will be an opportunity for the community to speak to us and to ask any questions they may have."

But the initial focus is on completing the building, which is expected to be finished, in time, before the end of October. "Decoration is an important aspect," says Voorneman. "We would like the facility to have a friendly character, both inside and outside. On the inside, there will be an opportunity for the youths to have an input too.

"The most important thing is to provide a positive approach, a responsible quality approach in which the youths play a central role. Many people talk about making things better for troubled youths, but actions are what really matter," says Voorneman.

Dutch, French to do joint health study, launch health observatory

page3b082~ 'Diseases don't stop at the border' ~

CONCORDIA--Dutch St. Maarten and French St. Martin health officials launched a regional Health Observatory on Friday and announced plans to embark on a joint public health study to assess the health situation amongst the population on both sides of the island.

Some work has already begun under the Health Observatory, which is based initially at the Louis Constant Fleming Hospital in French St. Martin. The entire project will cost 1,184,095 million euros. The St. Maarten government will cover 25 per cent of the cost and French St. Martin 75 per cent via Interreg Caraibes.

Health Minister Cornelius de Weever (St. Maarten) and Second Vice President of the Collectivité of St. Martin in charge of Social Affairs Ramona Thomas signed an agreement for the health initiatives at the end of the launch ceremony at the Chamber of Commerce of St. Martin in Concordia.

The study is expected to start late in September or early October and will run for about a year and a half, Ministry of Health of St. Maarten official Fenna Arnell told reporters at a press conference at the end of the launch.

In giving an insight into the initiative, Dr. Monique Rakotomalala said the primary objective of the project is to conduct a study on public health on the island and establish a regional observatory for the island.

She said St. Maarten is one of the smallest islands around and it is divided into two sovereign states. She said the island's population of about 100,000 persons is very diverse with over 90 different nationalities, some 30 per cent of whom are immigrants. The diversity of the island is an important factor in the study and the various aspects of this diversity will be taken into consideration for the study and during the analysis of the data.

The findings will be available for authorities on both sides of the island to better plan policies tailored to the island's unique situation.

Rakotomalala said conditions such as hypertension, diabetes and obesity are prevalent on the island. The constitutional changes on both sides of the island mean that both sides have additional responsibilities in public health. "Diseases don't stop at the border so we have to consider the issues in health," she told guests, adding that the current barriers that exist have to be removed.

The first aspect of the policy will be to identify common areas and differences and establish an assessment. The second aspect of the study will be to identify public health policies on health and adapt them to the current situation.

"This will be the role that the observatory will play," Rakotomalala said. "Cooperation is necessary."

The goals of the health observatory will be to harmonise strategies for health on the island, evaluate the lifestyle of residents and their behaviours related risks and preventative practices and how the population relates to these. "The health observatory will help with a better understanding of health on the island," she said noting that it will help to gather data on health risks and on vulnerable groups in society such as seniors, women and immigrants and evaluate how easy it was for these groups to access health care.

The initiative will also allow for the exchange of data in areas such as mental health. A number of stakeholders in health from both sides of the island are participating in the initiative.

In brief remarks, De Weever said it makes sense to work with the French side on such a project. He said the island is small and a clear picture of the health situation is needed. He listed several areas of cooperation between the Dutch and French side that have been executed in the past.

Also speaking at the ceremony were Director of the Louis Constant Fleming Hospital (a technical partner in the project) Roland Toussaint, Territorial Counsellor Louis Fleming and Connor.

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