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Integrity Committee advises to set up Integrity Chamber

By Suzanne Koelega

PHILIPSBURG/THE HAGUE--Establish a permanent Integrity Chamber as a new High Council of State to advise the Government of St. Maarten, invited and uninvited, on the general progress of integrity of the entire public sector, including government-owned companies and the appointment of top civil servants.

That is one of the most important recommendations of the Public Administration Integrity Committee, the committee that was requested by the St. Maarten government in October last year to look at the proper functioning of government with regard to integrity.

The 81-page report titled "Doing the right things right" dates from July 12 this year, and was released unofficially to The Daily Herald on Tuesday. The committee consists of Jacob "Bob" Wit (chairperson), Rieke Samson-Geerlings (vice-chairperson), Ron van der Veer (secretary) and members Ronald Bandell, Jan Beaujon, Richard Gibson Sr., Dick van Putten.

The committee presented 40 recommendations on various aspects dealing with integrity, including Parliament, the Council of Ministers, the Justice sector, government-owned companies, the housing of government offices, corporate governance, the role of the public, the issuance of permits and human trafficking.

The new Integrity Chamber would play a big role in promoting and supervising integrity matters in Country St. Maarten. It should have the specific authority to advise on the appointment, suspension and dismissal of persons in the boards of directors of government-owned companies and top civil servants, and to investigate the process of public tenders.

The independent and authoritative Chamber would serve as an advisor and, if necessary, a strict watchdog. It should have the authority to carry out audits, publish its advices and establish a hotline for alleged integrity violations.

Its members would be appointed based on a proposal by the president of the Joint Court of Justice, the vice-president of the Advisory Council, the president of the General Audit Chamber and the Ombudsman.

A number of recommendations have to do with the Parliament of St. Maarten, an organ about which the committee is particularly concerned. "The legislature should have an exemplary function, but both the institution as well as the individual members are too often, and often with good reason, negatively projected in the news, and don't seem to realise that because of that, the authority of the public sector as a whole suffers," it is stated in the report's conclusions.

Side-jobs

One of the recommendations is to create a public register of paid and unpaid side-jobs of Members of Parliament (MPs) and the gifts that they receive, and to publish this on the Parliament's Website, just as in the case of the Dutch Parliament.

The full-time versus part-time functioning of MPs should be looked at again. If it is qualified as a full-time function, then certain side-jobs should be prohibited, according to the committee. If the job of an MP is deemed part-time, then the salary should be reduced accordingly. Conflict-of-interest situations should be taken into consideration.

MPs' financial positions should be recorded just before their appointment and shortly after their retirement, just as is being done in the case of members of the Council of Ministers. A public code of conduct for integrity issues should be made for Parliament.

The chairperson (prime minister) and the secretary of the Council of Ministers should supervise more strictly the possible conflicts of interest in the deliberation and decision-making in the Council.

Screening

Legislation regarding the screening of ministers and the registration of their financial positions at the start and end of their terms should be revised, using the screening method of Country Curaçao and the Curaçao National Ordinance on Integrity of Ministers as an example.

Draft a manual for incoming St. Maarten ministers that includes integrity issues. Give more priority to human resources management issues in the public administration and include integrity issues.

Parliament should have a debate on the General Audit Chamber's baseline institutional care assessment 2014 and implement the recommendations of that report. Also, organise an annual debate in Parliament on the annual report of the Audit Chamber, and possibly the annual reports of the Advisory Council and the Ombudsman.

Make sure that the basic organisations of the ministries are put in order, using the expertise of the Audit Chamber, the Ombudsman and the Association of Dutch Municipalities VNG. Government should strive for a professional public organisation with clear definitions of tasks, authorities, responsibilities and mandates. There should be clear rules for the political Cabinets of ministers as well as their size, appointment and tasks.

Rented offices

The purchase and renting of government offices should be investigated with the help of financial experts in the area of real estate. According to the committee, citizens have the right to know exactly what happens with tax money when government rents or buys offices, and to know what price is being paid and from whom the property is rented or bought.

The National Detectives ("Landsrecherche") are in dire need of structural strengthening. The committee advises drafting a multi-annual cooperation programme with the countries of the Dutch Kingdom and other partners like the US and France. There should be special attention for financial fraud cases.

Make more use of the public to report alleged integrity violations. The importance of integrity and the combating of fraud and corruption should be promoted at schools through a specific public relations (PR) programme, with the participation of groups in the civil society.

All information relating to the issuance of permits should be published online and otherwise. It should become public knowledge who has requested and received certain permits, the criteria used and for how long these permits are valid.

Organise periodic investigations into the safety, corruption, vulnerability and integrity of the harbour and airport, especially where it concerns drugs and human trafficking, organised crime and the combating of terrorism.

Govt-owned companies

Government-owned companies should be obliged to provide information about their business operations on their Websites, including the publication of annual reports, annual accounts, business plans and the names and CVs of their management and board of directors.

Corporate governance experts should investigate to what extent the relations between government and government-owned companies should be revised to realise more transparency in these relations. Organise external, independent supervision on all public tenders of both government and its companies.

Directors of government-owned companies who are subjects of criminal investigation of serious integrity violations should resign until the investigation has been terminated. The new Integrity Chamber would give advice in these cases.

Existing legislation in the area of corporate governance should be revised, improved and strengthened. A corporate governance code should be implemented. The Corporate Governance Council should be terminated and its advisory role placed under the Integrity Chamber.

Plan of approach

The committee predicted that it will take a few years to institute the recommended Integrity Chamber, as the Constitution of Country St. Maarten will have to be adapted. In the meantime, a short-term plan of approach should be formulated to start with the execution of the committee's recommendations. A progress committee would monitor the subsequent steps.

The report also contained several recommendations to combat human-trafficking and the control of brothels and casinos. A National Human Trafficking Coordinator should be appointed and placed at the Prosecutor's Office. A critical evaluation of the Immigration Department should be carried out before 2015.

Brothel inspections should focus more on the combating of human trafficking. Equip the Tax Office so it can carry out more inspections in vulnerable sectors like casinos. The Gaming Control Board should be established within the short term.

The Daily Herald will be publishing more details of the integrity report in the coming days.

Borsboom says goodbye before he leaves as Navy Commander

page5b078POINTE BLANCHE-- An important change is taking place within the Dutch Defence Forces, as Vice-Admiral Matthieu Borsboom, Commander of the Royal Netherlands Navy, including the Netherlands Royal Marines is leaving his position. He is also the operational director of the Dutch Caribbean Coast Guard. Borsboom will take up the position of director of the Defence Material Organisation (DMO). His replacement will be Major General Rob Verkerk of the Marine Corps.

Borsboom was in St. Maarten with Commodore Hans Lodder, who has recently taken over from Brigadier General Dick Swijgman as commander of the Netherlands Royal Navy and the Coast Guard in the Dutch Caribbean.

On their visit to St. Maarten, Borsboom is saying his goodbyes, and Lodders is introducing himself to the governor, the prime-minister, the minister of justice, partners of the Netherlands Royal Marines and the Coast Guard.

Borsboom has been Commander for nearly five years. During his time, he has seen many changes. Asked to reflect on low and high points for the Netherlands Caribbean, particularly St. Maarten. Borsboom responded that he doesn’t like to speak of low points. But there have been challenges, of course, he said. The main challenge was three massive budget cuts over the last five years, translating to some 1.7 billion euros per year.

It was difficult to decide which part of those budget cuts should be applied in the Dutch Caribbean. If you look at the islands, they are compact areas, so budget cuts are felt more strongly. But on the other side, if you make fewer cuts in one area, it means you have to make larger cuts in another area.

The Dutch Caribbean has its own challenges; there is the Coast Guard and the more traditional defence of each country. Everything you can’t reduce here comes off the budget in the Netherlands. Despite those budget cuts, we managed to intensify the Coast Guard, as well as the Marines. In St. Maarten, there is the new rotational detachment with a new task. The Coast Guard also has new officers, and we managed to have two local officers in leadership positions, as captains of two cutters. But to manage those increased expenses, we’ve had to make cuts elsewhere, he said.

Borsboom spoke of the experience that comes from the years and years of presence of the Netherlands defence forces in the Dutch Caribbean. We have learned there are two kinds of security. One with a capital S and one with a small s. Security with a capital S refers to international relations within the region and the political stability. There are a number of countries in the area with varying internal dynamics. It is very important to maintain good international relations with countries in the region, whilst simultaneously showing that we have capacity.

There is also security with a small s. This refers to security against criminality. A lot of criminality takes place on the water. Not just trafficking of drugs, but trafficking of just about anything.

Borsboom goes on to explain that criminal organisations can be run like multinationals. They make financial investments; they purchase information, bribe people. It’s not just about the health issues related to drugs. Their activities can disjoint entire societies. On top of that, many criminal organisations have links with international terrorism, because they will make money any way they can.

All those parties put together benefit from creating as much chaos as possible. So we have to remain proactive. You don’t find out what is really happening unless you have people there, on the spot.

A huge positive of Borsboom’s time as commander was the close cooperation, despite the budgetary challenges. There is very close cooperation between the Netherlands Marines and the local authorities. The Marines have received a lot of appreciation; they are being regarded as an important partner by local authorities. The presence of the Netherlands Royal Marines is something we have been able to provide upon the request of the local authorities. Whether they should run the organisation individually. The Coast Guard has been maintained as a joint institute for the Kingdom, says Borsboom.

We all work very closely together to see how we can build on, and expand the concept. Within that, we have managed to attract more and more local people to join the organisation, including on management level. A recent example of this is Humberto Alberts, who took over on Friday as commanding officer of the cutter Poema.

The most important aspect to remember is that we should provide a service to society. To do that, we have to be visible, and that visibility has been greatly improved recently.

On the Social Development Project, Borsboom recalled his involvement in the project. I first spoke to the governor about it some three years ago. I explained what we had been doing in Aruba and Curacao.

The plans have progressed a lot since then. Before the project could be started in St. Maarten, laws and procedures had to be instated, and budget allocated. This is still work in progress, but recently, a project work group has been instated to drive the project forward. It is very clear that the wish to proceed is still there. The project work group now has to continue its preparations before the project can go ahead. We are still willing and ready to assist, says Borsboom.

With regards to the rotational detachment, Borsboom says: We’re currently halfway through the posting of the second rotational detachment. After the third detachment, we will be a year in. We will then have an evaluation to see if this is the correct formation of Marines on the island. It is unlikely that there will be a second detachment; it’s not something we are considering. An option would be, at some point, to move forward to a permanent detachment.

On the Marine Base Pointe Blanche, which was opened as a temporary accommodation, Borsboom confirms that a permanent building is still in the planning. But it is still in the planning phase. The location will remain in the harbour, which is a good strategic position. We are in consultation with the harbour. It is in the early stages yet. The planning is being made, but then we have to start the project of building the new base. Decisions have to be taken as to whether we are going to manage the construction project in-house, or whether we will outsource it.

Commodore Lodder, who was also present, mentioned that there weren’t any specific big plans on the horizon for the Netherlands Royal Marines on the island. The country St. Maarten is in charge of the plans. We just support. As soon as they tell us of a specific plan, we will be on board. We are planning on more talks, more concentration. How can we support St. Maarten? If anything is going on at the island, we are willing to be a part of it, says Lodder.

Take the Hurex for instance, adds Borsboom. In the past, the Hurex was arranged from a distance. Now, it is managed and directed from inside St. Maarten. There are more possibilities for improvement. The operationalisation of not just the executing agencies, but also of the directing agency springs to mind.

Increase projected for tourism figures

PHILIPSBURG--The quarter-year 2014 Macro-Monitor report released by the Department of Economic Affairs, Transportation and Telecommunication EVT shows projected 2014 increases in GDP growth (1.8 per cent), cruise arrivals (2.0 per cent) and stay-over tourism arrivals (3.2 per cent).

It also shows a projected unemployment rate of 11 per cent and a decrease in the inflation rate of 2.2 per cent. Both import and export values also are projected to increase, at 1.6 per cent and 1.8 per cent respectively.

The global economy, including that of St. Maarten, is improving continuously, a trend expected to continue at a moderate pace.

Concerning international markets relevant to St. Maarten, growth in the U.S.A. is accelerating, with unemployment dropping and inflation remaining stable, while Europe has come out of recession and is recovering slowly.

Locally, there has been an upsurge in the consumer price index (CPI: 0.5 per cent) on items monitored. However, EVT projects a decrease to an estimated 2.2 per cent in connection with an expected deceleration of international oil and food prices.

 

Stay-over and cruise

Cruise arrivals and stay-over tourism have improved considerably.

“It is important to stress the need for all stakeholders within the industry to continue combining and strengthening the efforts for the remaining quarters of 2014. This is necessary so as to capitalise on the projected growth within the targeted markets, thereby luring and securing the projected growth of the sector.

“As indicated, cruise and stay-over are expected to grow respectively,” the Ministry stated in its report.

Stay-over tourism arrivals increased 5.1 per cent to 157,437 in comparison to the first quarter of 2013. For the year, they are projected to increase by 3.2 per cent, from 467,259 arrivals in 2013 to 482,006 in 2014. All target markets considered – the Caribbean, North America, Europe, South America – are expected to grow.

Projected 2014 stay-over tourism arrivals increased for the Caribbean by 4 per cent to 25,884, for North America by 2.9 per cent to 300,941, for Europe by 3.9 per cent to 108,026 and for South America by 0.7 per cent to 15,926.

According to St. Maarten Hospitality and Trade Association figures, which account for 60 per cent of St. Maarten’s room stock, the average occupancy rates for the hotel and timeshare industries were 79 per cent and 84 per cent respectively for the first quarter of 2014, representing decreases of 2 and 1 per cent respectively, compared to the same period in 2013.

Deemed “exceptional performance,” cruise arrivals for the first quarter of 2014 rose 7.7 per cent to 736,045 passengers, compared to the same period in 2013. There was a 6.9 per cent increase in number of ship calls, from 276 calls in first quarter of 2013 to 295 calls in the first quarter of 2014.

There is currently a conservative 2 per cent growth estimate set for the year, totalling 1,821,951 passengers. This is partially attributed to the promotion of four-day trips as opposed to seven-day trips.

 

Import and Export

Exports grew by an estimated 4 per cent to NAf. 780 million, in comparison to the first quarter of 2013. Tourism’s importance again was outlined, as 71 per cent of total exports, or NAf. 537 million, was gained from travel and other tourism-related activities.

Imports also grew by 4.9 per cent to NAf. 631 million in comparison to the first quarter of 2013. St. Maarten’s import bill “has the tendency to grow with the output growth of the wholesale and retail sector and the hotel and restaurant sector.”

 

Government

According to the report, “considerable progress” was made in Government’s efforts in cutting cost and increasing revenues. Government revenues increased by NAf. 10 million, representing an 8.2 per cent increase.

Indirect taxes increased 3.1 per cent. Where direct taxes are concerned, profit tax increased 26.3 per cent, wage tax increased 4.0 per cent, and transfers from households (e.g. licensing revenues, concession) increased 22.5 per cent.

Government expenses increased to NAf. 99.4 million, representing a 2.5 per cent (NAf. 2.4 million) increase from the first quarter of 2013. For the first quarter of 2014 a surplus of NAf. 33.2 million was achieved on the current account of the government budget.

The report concluded that sectors in need of stimulation of economic activities are the transport and storage sector (inbound flights and cargo movements), manufacturing sector (yachting activities), the business sector (stimulation of new businesses) and the construction sector, which depends on the labour market and access to credit. “Vibrancy is needed in these sectors, hence cushioning the overall reliance on the tourism industry.”

The publication is considered a critical part of the observation and monitoring of economic developments done by EVT and discusses developments and policies in St. Maarten and internationally. Updates are expected on these figures as the year progresses.

To view the report, go to

http://www.sintmaartengov.org , select “Policies & Reports” under the “Business” tab, scroll down to the “Report” section under “Ministry of Tourism, Economic Affairs, Traffic and Telecommunication” and select “Macro-Monitor Economic Report – First Quarter 2014.”

MPs agree to motion on dispute committee

page4c078PHILIPSBURG--The tripartite meeting of Members of the Parliaments (MPs) of St. Maarten, Aruba and Curaçao to discuss a uniform stance on the installation of the kingdom dispute committee had a bit of a rocky start in St. Maarten Monday afternoon, but by early night the delegations had a draft motion worded the way they desired.

The motion and other related statements from the meeting are set to be signed at Parliament House this morning. More information about the content will be made public at that time. The opening of the meeting was public; afterward, the deliberations were held in camera.

Rene Herde, head of the Aruba Parliament Committee for Inter-Parliamentary Affairs and Kingdom Relations, said, "Solidarity was not enough. We need action." He said what had occurred in Aruba was "a symptom" of the growing issues in the kingdom. Those issues need to be worked out via "an independent organisation or institution" as provided for by the Statute of the Kingdom. MPs of the kingdom already have agreed to such a body, but it never has been executed.

A major hitch during the meeting was a request from the Curaçao delegation to change the wording of the meeting's agenda that dealt with the intervention of the Kingdom Government in the affairs of the Dutch Caribbean countries without proper basis.

This led to a suspension of the meeting by President of Parliament Gracita Arrindell, who chaired the opening session, before MP Roy Marlin (Democratic Party) took over in his position as chairman of the St. Maarten Parliament Committee for Inter-Parliamentary Affairs and Kingdom Relations.

The issues with the agenda were worked out and the meeting continued with another suspension of the session for about two hours to allow the delegations to review the text of the joint position they are expected to sign off on today and take back for the approval of their Parliaments. When that approval is given, the motion, which is expected to outline the way forward for the installation of a kingdom dispute committee or institution, will be sent to the Kingdom Government.

All three Presidents of Parliament expressed in the opening session that it was important for the countries to support each other, especially with two clear cases of the Kingdom Government compromising the countries' autonomy. Those cases are the instruction to the St. Maarten Governor to carry out an integrity investigation into government and an instruction to Aruba's Governor about that country's budget.

The Inter-Parliamentary Affairs and Kingdom Relations Committees of the three Dutch Caribbean countries came together for the urgent meeting in St. Maarten at the request of Aruba. The meeting originally was scheduled to start at 2:00pm, but flight delays hampered the arrival of some MPs, so the meeting started after 3:30pm.

North America, strong April result in 7.5 increase in 2014 arrivals thus far

PHILIPSBURG--Air arrivals at SXM Airport are up 7.5 per cent for the first five months of 2014 compared to the same period of 2013. The figures were provided by the St. Maarten Tourism Bureau. June's figures are not yet complete to give a half-year assessment of arrivals.

The figures lends credence to opinions of hoteliers that occupancy figures for 2014 are slightly better than 2013. Arrival figures increased every month and in every source market that the destination targets.

The 7.5 per cent increase in arrivals was buoyed by an 11 per cent increase in arrivals from the North American market, St. Maarten's primary source market for visitors. For the first five months of the year, arrivals from North America totalled 165,178 compared to 147,055 in 2013.

A very strong month of April also contributed to the 7.5 per cent increase. April 2014 saw a 12 per cent increase in arrivals compared to April 2013. Arrivals in this month increased from 48,743 in 2013 to 55,337 in 2014.

Much of this can be attributed to Carnival and substantiates claims by the St. Maarten Carnival Development Foundation (SCDF) that its new marketing efforts will in time result in more arrivals to the island. In fact, the SCDF announced last month that hotel occupancy in Philipsburg alone for Carnival was at 91 per cent in 2014, after coming in at 89 percent in 2013.

According to the figures, April did particularly well with Caribbean visitors, Carnival's primary source market. Arrivals from the Caribbean for April 2014 totalled 2,839 compared to 1,969 in 2013, an increase of 44 per cent.

As for the other regions, European arrivals were up 3 per cent compared to 2013 and South American arrivals were up 1.2 per cent. Brazil continues to be the country from which St. Maarten attracts most of its South American visitors. Arrivals were up 10.5 per cent from Brazil.

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