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Harbour debts stand at US $202.2 million

POINTE BLANCHE--St. Maarten Harbour Group of Companies had some US $202,252,000 in debts as of December 2014. This is the total of the figures given to Parliament by Tourism and Economic Affairs Minister Claret Connor on Friday in response to questions from Members of Parliament posed in the first round of debate on the draft 2015 budget.

The harbour has a bond loan from the Central Bank of Curaçao and St. Maarten of $155,913,000 (loan and interest repayment) for the refinancing of the Harbour Group in 2012 and for the construction of the Simpson Bay Causeway.

The Harbour Group owes a total of $39,536,000 to Carnival Corporation and Royal Caribbean Cruise Line for the cruise pier.

For the underground fuel tanks and related infrastructure, it owes Windward Roads Infrastructure and SOL $282,000.

Still pending to be repaid to the Development Bank OBNA for the widening of the Lejuez Bridge (Simpson Bay drawbridge) is $2,188,000.

The Harbour Group is still paying for its two Gottwald mobile cranes. A total of $2,561,000 is owed to Octavio for the 2008 model crane and $272,000 to Royal Caribbean Bank for the 2001 crane.

The Harbour Group also has another payment of $1,500,000 pending to Windward Roads for the construction Walter Plantz Pier (across from Sea Palace).

Responding to queries about the Harbour Group possibly competing with marinas for yacht traffic, Connor said the its company sold fuel exclusively in the Great Bay Port concession area to (small) cruise vessels and to transit giga-yachts. The aim is not to compete with the lagoon, but to service those vessels that cannot transit the lagoon channel.

On the hosting of the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association (FCCA), Connor said the total net cost had been $6.5 million. That amount includes the site build-up at Dr. A.C. Wathey Cruise and Cargo Facilities due to lack of suitable conference space. Government's requested contribution to the actual event was $1.5 million.

The Bureau Telecommunication and Post (BTP) paid to government NAf. 1.5 million in 2011, NAf. 1 million in 2012, NAf. 3 million in 2013 and NAf. 2.2 million in 2014.

The ministry has some 13 "critical" vacancies, including an administrative assistant, casino controllers, maritime and shipping expert, and an analyst.

The ministry is still working on the Gaming Control Board and the Consumer Protection Agency. The latter agency is under development via a law and the structure for the Competition Authority. The draft law is with the Department of Legal Affairs for vetting.

Speaking about the tourism sector, Connor said the destination had "lost its lustre" due to the focus "more on numbers than quality of service." The country needs to understand what service is and what it means to grow as a people and product, he added.

"Any place that is a good place to live and work is a good place to visit," the minister said, pointing to the need to take care of the districts to better residents' living areas. This will help residents feel proud of their neighbourhoods and will encourage them to be better hosts. "A host is not only the person at the hotel. The host is all of us," he said.

St. Maarten is "still working" to meet the criteria set out by the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) audit. St. Maarten uses a flight inspector from Curaçao, as the country does not have a St. Maarten inspector, a shortcoming that will be remedied in the future.

An economic vision summit will be scheduled for the middle of the year to chart the way for the economy via medium- and long-term goals.

French forces kill newspaper attack suspects, hostages die in second siege

PARIS/DAMMARTIN-EN-GOELE, France (Reuters) - Two brothers suspected of a bloody
attack on the offices of French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo were killed
when police stormed their hideout on Friday, while a second siege ended with the
deaths of four hostages.
The violent end to the simultaneous stand-offs followed a police operation of
unprecedented scale as France tackled one of the worst threats to its internal
security in decades. The heavy loss of life over three consecutive days also
risked fuelling anti-immigrant voices in the country and elsewhere in the West.
Officials said Cherif Kouachi and his brother Said, both in their thirties, died
when anti-terrorist forces moved in on a print shop in the small town of
Dammartin-en-Goele, northeast of Paris, where the chief suspects in Wednesday's
attack had been holed up. The hostage they had taken was safe, an official said.

 Automatic gunfire rang out, followed by blasts and then silence as smoke could
be seen billowing from the roof of the print shop. Amid thick fog, a helicopter
landed on the building's roof, signaling the end of the assault. A government
source said the brothers had emerged from the building and opened fire on police
before they were killed.
Minutes later police broke the second siege at a Jewish supermarket in eastern
Paris. A police union source said four hostages had died there along with a
gunman, believed to have had links to the same Islamist group as the Kouachi
brothers, who was holding them.
HOSTAGES RUSHED OUT
News footage of the Hyper Cacher kosher supermarket in the Vincennes district
showed dozens of heavily armed police officers massed outside of two entrances.
The assault began with gunfire and a loud explosion at the door, after which
hostages were rushed out.
Reuters photographs taken from long distance showed a man holding an infant and
looking distressed being herded into an ambulance by police. Others were carried
in on stretchers.
French authorities have mobilized a force of nearly 90,000 since Wednesday's
attack on Charlie Hebdo, a weekly that has long courted controversy by mocking
Islam and other religions.
The Kouachi brothers were prime suspects in this attack when hooded gunmen shot
dead 12 people including some of France's top satirical cartoonists along with
two police officers.
Security sources said the French-born brothers of Algerian origin had been under
surveillance and had been placed on European and U.S. "no-fly" lists.
The violence raised questions about surveillance of radicals, far-right
politics, religion and censorship in a land struggling to integrate part of its
five million-strong Muslim community, the largest inn the European Union.
Charlie Hebdo had long courted controversy with satirical attacks on Islam as
well as other religions and political leaders. A witness said one of the gunmen
in Wednesday's attack was heard to shout: "We have killed Charlie Hebdo! We have
avenged the Prophet!"
(Additional reporting by Paris and U.S. bureaus; Editing by Mark John, Ralph
Boulton, David Stamp and Peter Millership)

Budget heads to plenary session of Parliament

PHILIPSBURG--The Central Committee meeting of Parliament on the 2015 budget wrapped up late Friday night after a marathon session that started at 10:00am. The budget will now head to a plenary session of Parliament for final handling and voting. The meeting originally started on Thursday morning and was suspended on that night after Members of Parliament posed questions to the Council of Ministers.

The plenary session of Parliament is slated for next week.

Government needs to meet the deadline of January 31 for the establishment of the budget. The budget should have been established since December 2014, but Finance Minister Martin Hassink had requested more time to tailor the budget and ensure it was within the requirement of the Kingdom Law on Temporary Financial Supervision for Curaçao and St. Maarten. That request was granted by the Committee for Financial Supervision CFT with a deadline of January 31.

The day started out with ministers delivering answers spanning a range of topics, some directly related to the budget line items – the payment of the cost of living adjustment, payment of concession fees and completion of the government administration building on Pond Island, and others of general concern such as if any new public toilets were built in 2014 to justify the increased cost under that line item.

Prime Minister Marcel Gumbs, in his capacity as Infrastructure Minister, told Parliament no additional restrooms were constructed in Philipsburg. The additional amount in the budget is related to the cost for the outsourced management of the Philipsburg marketplace restroom.

Following the delivery of the answers, Members of Parliament asked another round of questions that were later answered by ministers.

One highlight of the meeting was National Alliance (NA) Leader MP William Marlin asking for a roll call during the second round of questions. His request sought to ascertain there were eight or more MPs in the General Assembly Room of Parliament House. Before Deputy Parliament Chairwoman Leona Marlin-Romeo could make the roll call a number of coalition MPs had re-entered the hall to secure the meeting's quorum.

Several Paris hostages killed

PARIS (Reuters) - Two brothers wanted for the shooting of 12 people at the
offices of satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo were killed on Friday in a police raid
on the print works north of Paris where they had been holed up with a hostage,
officials said.
A police source said the hostage-taker at another stand-off at a kosher
supermarket in eastern Paris was dead after a police operation there. That
hostage-taker was believed to have links to the same Islamist group as the two
brothers.
One police official said the hostage taken by the Kouachi brothers at the print
works in the town of Dammartin-en-Goele was safe.
 true  The fate of all the hostages believed to have been held at the
supermarket in eastern Paris was not immediately clear.
French television showed several people running away from the premises after an
earlier shootout, however a police union source said at least four hostages were
feared dead. The source said he understood there had been up to 20 hostages.
(Reporting by Emmanuel Jarry; editing by Mark John)

Counterpart policy to be introduced in 3rd quarter

PHILIPSBURG--Government is hoping to introduce the counterpart policy in the third quarter of 2015, Acting Labour Minister Rita Bourne-Gumbs told Members of Parliament (MPs) on Friday.

She said the implementation would not have any additional budgetary impact for government. Under the policy, businesses will have to train a counterpart to eventually take over the position held by someone for whom an employment permit has been granted, for a period not exceeding three years.

"It is the Ministry's responsibility to select and appoint the suitable counterpart candidate in negotiations with the businesses," Bourne-Gumbs said, adding that the implementation of the counterpart policy would be monitored.

The counterpart regulation has been part of the labour legislation since 2008. The regulation was not executed across the board as there was no policy in place to regulate how this should be done. The policy now has been drafted and approved by the Council of Ministers after taking into account the position of the social economic council SER, the Tripartite Committee and a verdict of the Judge of the Court in First Instance.

"Therefore currently, no one has been hired yet under the counterpart article as defined in article 10. The implementation of the counterpart policy is an integral part of this government's vision, reflected in the governing accord 2014-2019, addressed in the Prime Minister's New Year's speech as well as incorporated in the Year Plan 2015 of the Ministry of VSA," she said.

"This labour policy is intended to stimulate the employment of local talent and to attract and retain students who studied abroad."

The minister said students oftentimes heard that they did not have enough experience although they possessed the right level of education. "This policy will allow them to mentor alongside a non-national worker for whom an employment permit was given until they acquire the necessary experience."

The implementation framework of the policy is currently being worked on and will include collaboration with internal and external stakeholders to ensure that the position and interest of the employer/company also will be taken into consideration, she said. "When properly executed and periodically evaluated, it is expected that this policy will serve the purpose for which it was developed."

The policy was criticised heavily by the St. Maarten Hospitality and Trade Association (SHTA), amongst others. SHTA has advised government against implementing it.

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