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First 11 guesthouses receive star ratings by Collectivité

page6a231MARIGOT--Plaques were presented by elected officials at a ceremony on Friday to proprietors of the first eleven guesthouses that were classified and rated by the Collectivité in 2014.

The awards bring guesthouses into focus with a guarantee of quality while diversifying the hospitality sector's range of accommodation options available to tourists.

The guesthouses have a maximum 10 rooms or less and received ratings from one star to five stars. Each star a guesthouse earns comes with the guarantee that a set of standards has been met and in some cases surpassed.

In the French system guesthouses are not classified, but the Collectivité decided in February 2014 to adopt a classification system for St. Martin using different criteria. In December the classification committee completed the ratings for 11 guesthouses.

The list of awardees includes Over the Hill Guest House (La Savane), Couleur Café SXM (Mont Vernon), Les Alizés (Grand Case), Sol et Luna (Mont Vernon), Le Shambala (Grand Case), Residence Adam and Eve (Orient Bay), Hevea (Grand Case), La Source (Orient Bay), La Plenitude (Friar's Bay), Le Ti Colibri (Orient Bay) and La Palmeraie (Lowlands).

Just two guesthouses received five stars, Sol et Luna and Le Shambala.

St. Martin Tourism Office President Jeanne Rogers-Vanterpool noted in her introduction that the guesthouse tradition dates back to the 1950s when St. Martin families welcomed visitors into their homes with warm hospitality, a warmth that soon led to St. Martin being referred to as "The Friendly Island".

As a result of tourism and development policy a new standard of classification is being implemented in the industry today based on criteria that are also applicable to restaurants and hotels.

"Our goal is to improve our tourism offering by standardising what is offered to our visitors across the board in all establishments offering accommodation," Rogers-Vanterpool explained. "Our new standards combine the best of American and European and the unique traditions of warmth and welcome that is very much part of St. Martin. Our development policy is geared towards creating a high-end product."

She said the guesthouse industry was very "hands-on," with owners and employees in contact constantly with the guests, and catered to visitors who want a more personal experience than they can have in a hotel setting.

"Many of these establishments have customers who have returned time and time again for the past 20 years and brought their children and grandchildren. Many guests we spoke to at various locations said they were made to feel like family. It is truly time to recognise the efforts of guesthouses and encourage them where necessary to improve their product."

Vice-President Wendel Cocks said the classification system was "an important reference for consumers when choosing accommodations."

"I'm very pleased to see the first 11 classified guesthouses," he said. "All of you, from one star to five stars, are equally important to us as you deliver a recognised service. We want to assure you that the Collectivité is at your side. Make us proud of you so we in turn can be proud of St. Martin."

Cocks said financial aid would be available to guesthouses soon, partly from the Collectivité and partly from European funds.

Philippe Thévenet of the French-side hoteliers association AHSM said he was pleased guesthouses were now an integral part of the hospitality sector recognised for "quality and professionalism."

Customs strikes again with cash, cocaine finds

SIMPSON BAY--Customs officers have had a busy week with two large finds involving a large amount of cash and a haul of cocaine, a press release stated.

On February 13, Custom Officers at Princess Juliana International Airport SXM found more than US $80.000 in cash during a routine control at an outgoing flight to Curaçao.

The money was placed in a suitcase which belonged to a male passenger with the initials R.D.

The owner of the money had not declared the money to customs officers. Any amount larger than US $11,000 should be declared by passengers both arriving in, and departing from St. Maarten.

The man was arrested and an investigation is currently taking place to verify where the money has come from.

On February 19, also at the airport, Customs Officers found almost six kilos of cocaine packed in two suitcases. The packages were hidden in false compartments, which were discovered after a routine control of an incoming flight from Curaçao. The suitcases belonged to a male passenger with initials R.S. and a female passenger with the initials S.R., who had both travelled from Surinam.

Both passengers were arrested and taken to Philipsburg Police Station, where the case is under investigation. Due to ongoing investigations, further information could not be released.

The Customs Department has been busy recently, with a number of drug finds over the last months. A large number of these finds have been linked to flights from Curaçao.

Travellers are advised to familiarise themselves with rules about what exactly can be imported or exported to and from the country. Customs Officers are always willing to answer questions.

However, they also do a lot of routine checks and anyone found to be breaking the laws regarding import and export of prohibited items will be dealt with and in most cases will be arrested.

Caravanserai owners unique amongst victims of takeover

BEACON HILL--A California couple who cashed in part of their retirement fund to invest in buying a unit at the former Caravanserai Beach Resort have been thrown into the same basket as approximately 2,200 timeshare owners who had their rights at the same property annulled when it was taken over by Alegria Real Estate BV. The couple received an eviction order earlier this month, after a trial of which they reportedly had not been informed took place.

 

Chasing ownership

John and Shandrea Degen signed the relevant paperwork with Caravanserai in 2007. They have proof that the purchase was “paid in full except for closing cost” to Kildare at US $100,000 and a “private unit” plaque was mounted on the door of their condominium. Another $30,000-35,000 was spent furnishing and fitting the condo.

The same paperwork states that the title to the unit “will be transferred in ownership to the buyer … through a notarial deed … no later than 90 days after the completion of the final stage of its construction.”

However, the title never was transferred and the purchase never closed through a notary. The unit actually was located housed in the property’s timeshare building, although it was an outright purchase, but the building was not subdivided – a necessary procedure for the title transfer.

The Degens later took Kildare to court, but were informed by their lawyers in June 2014 that the unit could not be transferred. According to written correspondence, their “right to obtain the property in ownership was established” and Kildare would be obligated to transfer the property once the bank – Scotiabank, which was not called by name – authorised this.

However, the bank did not “wish to cooperate” in signing a deed of division, which would need to be created by the developer, and was not willing to remove the mortgage because of debts owed by the resort.

The court ruled that if the bank did authorise the division and if Kildare carried it out the Degens would be “entitled to damages that would equal” their “investment and losses,” according to the lawyer’s correspondence.

Shortly afterward, Kildare declared bankruptcy and Alegria Real Estate purchased the Caravanserai property in August 2014 through an auction commissioned by Scotiabank.

The Degens were said to have spent some three years and $12,000 on the lawsuit against Kildare and to have contacted new management shortly after the takeover concerning the issue.

 

The last trial

This contact, shortly after the takeover, was the last that they had with new management until a mid-January 2015 verdict by the Court of First Instance was delivered to them, in Dutch.

As reported in The Daily Herald on January 17, the court verdict stated that the Degens had lost an injunction that Alegria had filed against them, as they held no long-lease rights to the unit. They were ordered to vacate the apartment and hand over the keys within two days of officially receiving the verdict.

Alegria would be entitled to seek assistance of the “strong arm of police and justice” to enforce eviction if necessary, the judge added. The defendants also were ordered to pay legal expenses, estimated at NAf. 1,703.

As they were unable to interrupt work on short notice and fly to St. Maarten, a friend moved their belongings from the unit for them around a week ago.

Although the verdict was addressed to the couple’s California residence, the couple was listed as living in St. Maarten and as not having shown up for the court hearing. The Degens had not been made aware of the court case, according to a trusted source.

Although documents were provided to this newspaper with their consent, the Degens, who are trying to put the experience behind them, chose not to be interviewed. Instead, they provided a short statement on the matter.

John said the problem stemmed from the contract not being “deeded, or notarised, or even a 99-year lease. … We should have had a lawyer proofread it for us and we didn’t. That was our fault for not knowing better in a foreign country.”

 

Notaries

Buying property in St. Maarten is noticeably different than doing so in the United States (US), where the process is more centralised and coordinated between buyer, realtor, notary and bank. It is not uncommon for all needed legal paperwork to be completed within one sitting.

Another point of difference in St. Maarten is that the notary ultimately says who legally owns what; notaries play a less central and critical role in the US.

When asked by this newspaper, a local notary’s representative said. “The law requires two things” for ownership to be established, “a notarial deed and registration at the kadaster’s office. The purchase agreement is a private document between parties.”

She further said in an invited comment that properties usually were subdivided before being sold and that this even could be done before construction.

A reason purportedly given by former Caravanserai owner Haresh Manek for the building not being subdivided was that the resort still was under construction. As stated in the contract, the title transfer was to take place a maximum of 90 days after completion of the unit’s construction. However, as explained above, this was not supported by the bank.

 

‘Disgusted’

One former Caravanserai sales director told this newspaper he was “heartbroken for them as well as the timeshare owners” and was “disgusted” that nothing was being done about it by the Government or Prosecutor’s Office.

“Why is the prosecutor not looking into Scotiabank and Manek?” he questioned, pointing out that, besides all obvious issues, the property is located on Government-owned land.

This former sales director is not alone in saying so. The large group of timeshare owners affected by the takeover have questioned publicly why the bank and former owner were not being held responsible. Manek has been said to have been collecting fees until shortly before declaring bankruptcy. Many affected also blame Government for not being able to protect them.

 

The end

The Degens also reportedly had invested in timeshare at Sapphire Beach Club and Resort and Royal Islander Club. Sapphire timeshare owners were informed unexpectedly by timeshare exchange network RCI in late January that the property, along with their privileges, had been “placed on suspension,” a move apparently tied to the property’s multiple maintenance issues.

However, any issues with Sapphire, as with any progress made in timeshare owner protection, will hardly affect the Degens. A source close to them said they did not want to return to the island. Like many of the duped timeshare owners, they had been repeat visitors who normally brought their family along with them.

Life sentence kept in murder of Wiels

WILLEMSTAD--The Court of Appeals has ruled in Curaçao's "Magnus" case involving the murder of PS-leader Helmin Magno Wiels on May 5, 2013 confirmed the life sentence of triggerman Elvis "Monster" Kuwas.

The Attorney General, on behalf of the prosecution on January 29, 2015, just as in the Court of First Instance on 29 August, 2014, again demanded 18 months, 8 years and life in prison for the men Carlos "Kalo" Pieters, D'angelo "Pancheck" Damascus and "Monster," respectively.

The Court maintained the original sentences of life in prison for Kuwas, 18 months for Pieter and 8 years for Damascus. The latter two were actually not convicted in the Wiels-murder due to lack of evidence, but for armed robberies and in the case of Damascus for other killings as well.

A further appeal to the High Court in The Hague against all three verdicts is still possible for both the accused and the Public Prosecutor's Office.

New foundation for psychologists and orthopaedagogists established

PHILIPSBURG--St. Maarten Foundation for Psychologists and Orthopaedagogists (SFPO) has announced, via a press release, that its existence as a foundation which caters to the professional needs of mental health professionals such as psychologists, orthopaedagogists (child behavioural experts) and counsellors on St. Maarten, has been established.

The board of the foundation consists of President E.V. John-Roberts, Secretary J.J. Kolfin-Baly and Treasurer X.S.C. Balentina.

The objectives of SFPO were stated as follows: to support continuing, culture-sensitive education and research in the field of pedagogy and psychology through seminars, publications, workshops and other related activities; to promote responsible and ethical practices in the areas of psychology and pedagogy; to build professional relationships with professionals within the field in the region in order to develop psychological practices relevant to the Caribbean; to promote the increase of knowledge and efficiency among psychologists, educationalist and counsellors; to seek, establish and maintain affiliations with other psychological organisations within the region.

The press release explained that SFPO is committed to execute the objectives and is looking forward to establishing positive relationships with sponsors, community, press and professionals in the field.

SFPO aims to pursue its objectives by disseminating information of common interest to the general public through discussion groups, seminars, lectures, workshops, bulletins, journals, newsletters, conferences and other media. For more information, please e-mail This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

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