~ Checkmate gets $2.2 million increase ~
PHILIPSBURG--The Harbour Group of Companies is expected to finalise a new agreement with Checkmate Security Services this week that will see the security company earn three times as much in 2015 as it did over the last year for services rendered at the port.
The Daily Herald understands that the Harbour subsidiary St. Maarten Ports Authority has budgeted US $3,138,300 for 2015 to spend on outside security services (Checkmate Security), up from $963,715 spent in 2014.
According to the Harbour's 2015 budget, a copy of which this newspaper has in its possession, the hourly rate charged by the security company increased in September 2013 from $6.75 to $7.07, a hike of roughly 5 per cent. Now, however, the rate is scheduled to increase by some 48.5 per cent, from $7.07 to $10.50.
This newspaper sent a list of detailed questions to both Minister of Tourism and Maritime Affairs Claret Connor and Harbour Group of Companies Chief Executive Officer Mark Mingo last week Wednesday to ascertain whether there is a security problem at the port with which this massive increase in the budget for Checkmate Security is meant to deal. Connor responded with a statement via the Government Press Secretariat, whereas Mingo promised via e-mail to respond, but never did.
Connor hosted a "scheduled meeting" with officials of St. Maarten Ports Authority on Thursday to go over several regulatory and compliance standards to ensure that all International Ship and Port Facility Security ISPS measures are in place as they regard the operations of the port facilities, his press release stated.
The ISPS Code is an amendment to the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) Convention (1974/1988) on minimum security arrangements for ships, ports and government agencies that came into force in 2004. It prescribes responsibilities of governments, shipping companies, shipboard personnel and port/facility personnel to detect security threats and take preventative measures against security incidents affecting ships or port facilities used in international trade.
The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) states, "The International Ship and Port Facility Security Code (ISPS Code) is a comprehensive set of measures to enhance the security of ships and port facilities, developed in response to the perceived threats to ships and port facilities in the wake of the 9/11 attacks in the United States."
"It should be noted that the Harbour Facilities has completed its ISPS certification, which is valid until 2018," Connor assured this newspaper. "Additionally, the Port Facility Security Assessment report has been completed and will be forwarded to the Department of Civil Aviation and Maritime Affairs."
This newspaper understands this second audit is being carried out by a private contractor. It is this audit that brought up some areas of concern that need to be addressed. Several issues that stood out were the fencing around the property and the security camera system, neither of which falls under the purview of the Checkmate Security contract, this newspaper was told.
While Connor did not confirm these issues in his statement, he said he had "discussed all mentioned concerns and agreed to have regular meetings to discuss and subsequently eliminate all concerns going forward. The minister is of the opinion and concurs with the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) that the ISPS Code is important in enabling government to offset changes in threat with changes in vulnerability through determination of appropriate security levels and corresponding security measures."
This newspaper also was reliably informed that there were no issues with the number of security personnel at the Harbour. It was in fact deemed sufficient. Some 10 security officers were added recently, particularly to add more security to the cargo area.
How then to explain this massive increase in the Harbour budget for Checkmate Security, this newspaper asked the minister. Does the Harbour think there is a need for an even bigger increase of personnel?
However, Connor said he was not aware of any statement regarding the number of security personnel in the ISPS audit.
"Government is about continuity," he stated in his release. "As such, the minister re-iterated the instructions and position of the previous administration to the Harbour Holding Company, to make sure that all measures be taken to assist the current security company at the port to be stable, which would mean the availability to provide more jobs in the future. The minister supports the recruitment of more local workers at the government-owned companies."
Connor suggested in Parliament recently that the increase in the Checkmate Security budget came from the intention to replace non-national employees with locals. He also said the increased contract amount was to allow for training of the guards.
This newspaper asked the minister whether there is a salary double standard approved by government and the Harbour for nationals on the one hand and non-nationals on the other. (This newspaper understands that none of the foreign workers have received a salary increase recently.)
This newspaper also asked the minister whether, in his opinion, it is common practice for the Harbour to pay for training personnel of a third-party contractor it hires to perform a service of their expertise and whether there was any specific reason the guards need such extensive additional training. Did the latest ISPS audit indicate that?
Connor's only reply to these questions was that "security personnel will be trained to the levels deemed appropriate to maintain a high level of readiness."
Meanwhile, efforts to reach Checkmate Security General Manager Chet Euton for comment proved futile.
Checkmate Security was sold last year by then owner Michael Kuiperi. Euton told this newspaper at the time that the new owners of the company wished to remain in the background.
According to the St. Maarten Chamber of Commerce registry, O'Neal Edward Arrindell Junior is the company's director. It is unclear whether Arrindell, who was Frans Richardson's campaign manager during the last parliamentary elections, is also the owner or a representative of the owner(s).