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Work to resume on bank building by mid-August

page4d054PHILIPSBURG--Renovations to the Central Bank of Curaçao and St. Maarten building on W.J.A. Nisbeth Road are slated to resume with a new contractor in mid-August.

Central Bank President Emsley Tromp said on Thursday that the Bank "hoped to finalise a contractor by the end of this month."

The renovations were started in December by then-contractor Taliesin Construction. Work halted in April after the Bank terminated the contractor prior to completion.

The contractor has since taken the bank to court for damages and full payment. The case is expected to be called in August.

The total price tag for the renovation of the Central Bank building in St. Maarten is NAf. 5.6 million. Work started in December and was to span 16 months.

Taliesin Construction NV had placed a "mechanic's lien" on the building and adjoining properties owned by the Bank as a means of obtaining payment from the bank for the termination of its contract for the renovation of its building on W.J.A. Nisbeth Road.

The company is claiming NAf. 3.7 million from the Central Bank. Bank officials informed Taliesin Managing Director Carl Critchlow via letter on March 13 that the Bank would end the construction contract, because they said in the letter the Bank had received "signals" of possible malfeasance regarding Taliesin's possible involvement with integrity issues related to the now-former managing director of St. Maarten Housing Development Foundation (SMHDF).

The company was a subcontractor for a housing project carried out by SMHDF.

The Central Bank has offered to pay Taliesin only NAf. 520,000. That amount is significantly smaller than the remaining contract amount, thus the company's claim of NAf. 3.7 million was communicated to the bank. The claim includes damages to cover payment to employees. Some 14 workers are employed on the project, six subcontractors and Taliesin's in-house staff.

The Bank had carried out an investigation into the operations of St. Maarten Housing Finance Foundation, the financing arm of SMHDF, which falls under the Central Bank's supervision. From the undisclosed findings of that investigation the Central Bank opted to end its contract with Taliesin Construction NV for the renovation of its building in St. Maarten as of April 17.

Tromp had said that early termination of its construction contract with Taliesin was enshrined in its agreement with the company signed at the commencement of the contract in December 2014. That contract does not stipulate that termination by the bank has to be based on any specific reason.

Tromp could not divulge the findings of the investigation, based on confidentiality regulations, or state what actions would be taken by the Bank as the foundation's supervisor. However, he said the Bank had "received indications" from the investigation that there might be some issues that put the contractor's integrity into question.

Tromp refuted Taliesin Managing Director Carl Critchlow's claim about two outstanding invoices. The company is yet to submit its last two invoices for work carried out on the building prior to the termination of the contract. As the invoices never were submitted, the "mechanic's lien" was "not valid," Tromp said.

Govt: Ensure surroundings safe, use remainder of cleanup campaign

PHILIPSBURG--The Ministry of Public Housing, Spatial Planning, Environment and Infrastructure VROMI is prompting residents to prioritise cleaning up their surroundings during the last two weeks of the Hurricane Cleanup Campaign to ensure surroundings are free of any unwanted items, hazardous objects and any other waste that might pose a danger during a hurricane.

“Unkempt surroundings can pose a serious threat during hurricanes with strong winds and severe torrential rains. VROMI has experienced it all during the past, including obstruction of emergency vehicles needed to rescue residents, severe flooding due to blocked trenches, etc.,” said Public Works Department Head Claudius Buncamper.

“Residents have two more weeks to clean-up and dispose of any unwanted items and it is essential they prioritise this responsibility.”

The ministry has been implementing various hurricane preparedness practices, including the recent construction of the floodgates, cleaning of primary trenches, preparation of the Great Bay channel and storing of backup diesel for the pump houses, among other responsibilities.

“Despite our ministry responsibilities, the island as a community must take initiative in securing their surroundings from danger. Branches of trees, zinc and other items that can fly into the sky can cause severe damage to structures and, worse yet, human beings and livestock. If the necessary precautions are not taken by all stakeholders, our hurricane preparedness executions will have been in vain,” said Contract Manager Eustaquio Richardson.

Loose items and other debris from private properties can block trenches, resulting in quicker flooding, damage to homes, blocked roads, and other events that make it difficult for response personnel to assist the public or assess affected areas.

The Hurricane Cleanup Campaign schedule runs until August 3 and is published weekly in the newspapers, on the Government website

sintmaartengov.org and on VROMI’s Facebook page.

The cleanup ends August 2 for the Cul de Sac Basin, led by Meadowland (542-8862). Upcoming cleanup dates are: St. Peters and Retreat Estate – July 20-21; Zagersgut, Bush Road and Dutch Cul de Sac – July 25-26; Cay Hill – August 1; Welgelegen Road and Belair – August 2.

The cleanup ends August 3 for Lower Princes Quarter, led by All Waste in Place (543-0551). Upcoming cleanup dates are: Belvedere – July 20; Sucker Garden and Arch Road July 25-27; Defiance and Oyster Pond – August 1-3.

The cleanup ends July 20 for the Great Bay area, led by Clean St. Maarten (543-0155). Upcoming cleanup dates are: Residential Pondfill, A.Th. Illidge Road, Long Wall Road and Fort Willem – July 20.

Through the cleanup, residents are able to dispose of any unwanted garbage, including loose household appliances, old furniture, pieces of wood, tree branches from pruning, zinc, or any pieces of garbage that can become airborne during a hurricane.

Garbage should be placed in heavy-duty bags or boxes in managed piles or groups and can be placed outside of household walls, fences and in the additional larger garbage bins that are placed strategically in every district by each hauler to ensure intake of the increase in disposed waste during the campaign period.

However, residents should refrain from disposing of garbage around utility outlets such as water meters or pipes, and disposing of garbage in isolated piles of individual items that can be blown away.

If garbage should go unnoticed, residents can contact their community councils or assigned district hauler to collect the waste.

Each district/area community council is in contact with its district hauler and is currently taking inventory of residents who do not have personal garbage bins. Residents who wish to submit a request for a personal garbage bin should communicate such as soon as possible for timely preparedness.

Dutch Caribbean LGBTI groups jointly call for marriage equality

PHILIPSBURG/ORANJESTAD/WILLEMSTAD--The main Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) organisations of St. Maarten, Curaçao and Aruba have issued a joint declaration, calling for marriage rights to be viewed as necessary civil and human rights, and for them to be extended to the remainder of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

St. Maarten/St. Martin Alliance for Equality (SAFE) President Lysanne Charles-Arrindell signed and issued the declaration on behalf of SAFE, Alternative Lifestyle Federation Aruba (ALFA) and Curaçao Pride Foundation Fundashon Orguyo Korsou FOKO over the weekend.

The document will also be submitted to Government after some more research into the process, and a tripartite meeting is planned for the near future to discuss how to further proceed, Arrindell said in an invited comment.

The groups opened by jointly declaring “that the only acceptable end result of the struggles for the rights of committed LGBTI couples is the granting of full marriage rights to same-sex couples in each of the Caribbean countries within the Kingdom of the Netherlands.”

The groups explained that “the demand is not that churches be forced to marry LGBTI people in their places of worship. Personal emotions and theologies have no place in this discussion. That's why the religious institution of marriage on one side and secular civil marriage on the other side, are two different things that should remain separate.

“We urge lawmakers to consider the very notion of having their civil and legal rights removed or limited due to one aspect of their person, be it race, ethnicity or sexual orientation.

“What is being demanded is that access to the package of legal protections, rights and benefits included in civil marriage be inclusive of all citizens, whether heterosexual or LGBTI.”

In drawing from international examples, the groups said that: “The emotion of marriage is something that remains intact within all of our societies; the notion of caring for another, protecting that individual and growing together in life is an ideal that any individual can appreciate.

“What is missing from this equation for those LGBTI citizens of our societies are the legal protections and obligations that come with marriage. It should not be that legal protections are extended to LGBTI citizens in some parts of the Kingdom (the Netherlands and the Caribbean Netherlands) and continue to be denied to LGBTI citizens in ...Curaçao, Aruba and St. Maarten.”

SAFE, ALFA and FOKO, said they strongly call on the parliamentarians, political parties, lawyers and community leaders of these islands to, while recognising religious differences and those based on other convictions and beliefs, accept that LGBTI rights are civil rights and as such human rights, and cannot be limited by religious or personal beliefs.

They ask that these influencers “recognise that the universal principle of equality demands that LGBTI people and couples are not excluded from basic rights, nor limited in their access to these rights. This includes the right to marry the one you vow to love and care for.”

 

Extended struggle

The groups assert that the struggles of the LGBTI community on the islands is an extension of the struggle against slavery and forced labour, the struggle for equal rights for women, and the struggle for autonomy of the 20th century movements of the people against racism and colonialism.

The resolution was written “with the recognition that LGBTI rights are human rights, and that marriage equality falls within the scope of human and civil rights.”

Based on the advocacy, counselling and educational work of the respective organisations, they emphasised that the “declaration is in line with the deepest wishes of the LGBTI and allied individuals within our local societies. This is in strong contradiction to the often-heard notion and argument that marriage equality in our countries is being imposed by the Netherlands.”

This resolution, the groups said, “disqualifies that notion. These diverse communities have always existed in significant numbers on each island, contributing to the development of their communities through their work in governmental, private, cultural and other sectors of society, often in leadership positions.

“They have always fulfilled the imposed legal obligations of our countries, while being unable to benefit from the same legal protections as other people meeting those obligations.”

Equality was defined as three, equal things: protection against stigma and discrimination such as bullying, homelessness, termination of employment, refusal of housing; LGBTI inclusive policies and legislation on areas such as inheritance, pension, family-life; and marriage and relationship equality.

Their fulfilment “cannot continue to be postponed due to the belief that society is ‘not ready.’ The greatest civil rights moments in the history of the world and our countries did not wait for society to be ready or for society to provide activists with permission to demand their basic rights.

“What if human rights fighters like Tula, Betico Croes, Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, would have decided to postpone their struggle for that reason? We have not undertaken a journey to change the religious beliefs of our respective societies, nor do we wish to do so.”

 

Netherlands, USA

The groups point to the situation in the Netherlands and United States as “two countries that our people like to look up to where democracy and civil rights are concerned.”

The law of the Netherlands “granted marriage rights to LGBTI couples, defined marriage as an act of commitment and mutual obligation between two people, harbouring no objective reason to restrict it on the basis of sexual orientation.”

In the US, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy was quoted in his assenting vote for LGBTI marriage earlier this year as saying: “The nature of injustice is that we may not always see it in our own times... The nature of marriage is that, through its enduring bond, two persons together can find other freedoms, such as expression, intimacy, and spirituality.

“This is true for all persons, whatever their sexual orientation. …There is dignity in the bond between two men or two women who seek to marry and in their autonomy to make such profound choices... Marriage responds to the universal fear that a lonely person might call out only to find no one there.

“It offers the hope of companionship and understanding and assurance that while both still live there will be someone to care for the other.”

Cooperation underscored by country’s justice officials

page5d053POND ISLAND--The strength that comes from cooperation and the need for it within the justice chains and with the wider community was the common thread in the messages given to mark International Justice Day on Friday. The Ministry of Justice hosted a ceremony in Festival Village to recognise those that have given long and outstanding service to the community.

Justice Minister Dennis Richardson told the gathering a lot is being said about what is wrong in St. Maarten, but those naysayers are not aware or do not fully understand the challenges the country faced when it started to build its justice ministry with very little almost five years ago.

St. Maarten’s justice chain has “all the responsibility of a large country with the resources of a small country,” the minister said.

There is still a lot to be carried out to better the system and all of it will get done, the minister said. “It may not get done today. It may not get done tomorrow. But, if I know the people of St. Maarten, it will get done the day after tomorrow.” The country’s people have “an attitude to get things done.”

It is “absolutely necessary” for cooperation within the sectors of the Justice Ministry, with the community (public and private sectors) to ensure “better security” for the country, said Richardson. He called for partners in the community and further afield “to sit with each other” rather than to back one another to bring about change.

Prime Minister Marcel Gumbs made an appeal for closer working relationships within the Dutch Kingdom in the justice field to put an end to the “very toxic climate in the kingdom.” That climate is “not good for growth and development” of the countries in the kingdom.

“Understanding and working together” with St. Maarten to aid its progress are very much needed, he said.

Cooperation in the justice sphere not only covers countries in the Kingdom, Gumbs said St. Maarten has to work together with the French side and Anguilla.

Often the country is “accused of not doing much” about cross-border crimes, but St. Maarten does work with neighbouring countries, he said. The country employs the old adage of “better to have good neighbours than faraway family.”

Government officials from Anguilla and the French side were present for the ceremony.

Acting Police Chief Carl John spoke about the need for the Police to continue to work as one unit and not to allow outward differences to divide. He noted that in his four years as a member of the force’s management team he has not been confronted with any complaint of racism within the force or in the wider justice chain. He called on officers to keep it that way.

“A lot is expected” from the police by the community, said John. While the force strives for excellence, he said. “We are not there yet, but we have a lot to build on” in terms of the strengthening of the force and building stronger ties with the community.

John presented Justice Minister Dennis Richardson with a police shield – the patch placed on the officers’ uniform when they complete training – as a motivational tool. John said the police understand “the pain” and pressure Richardson is often faced with and hopes Richardson will look to the shield when he needs a boost.

Acting Governor Reynold Groeneveldt said all partners in the community “must make all efforts to provide a good and functioning justice system.” He called for the establishment of a law faculty at the University of St. Martin to further boost the justice chain (see related story).

A moment of silence for the victims of the Malaysian Flight MH-17 crash a year ago was observed at the gathering. Flags throughout the Dutch Kingdom were at half-mast in remembrance of the victims who were predominantly Dutch.

 

Justice recognitions

Some 16 persons from throughout the justice chain were singled out for their time in the Civil Service. The longest serving employee was Illeen Bryson of the Police Department who has 40 years of service under her belt.

Edson Kirindongo (National Detective) was recognized for 35 years in the Civil Service as were Deborah Rombley (Police) and Amparo Sabina-Martiena (Prison).

Freddy Pinto of the Police Force was honoured for 30 years in service.

Those who have been in service for 25 years are Linda Arrondell, and Doris Dedier (Court of Guardianship), Belinda Bryson and Sharon Cathalina (Police), Jacqueline Evers-Maria and Sharon Simmons (Court of Justice), Ruthsella Felicia, Omyra Gario, Ronald Lake, Norwin Reemis and Rikson Martina (Prison).

A number of officers and justice personnel were recognised for their outstanding work at their post. The recognition was a surprise to the awardees as they were chosen by their supervisors. The criteria included dedication to the job and striving for excellence.

Winners of the Justice Day Shooting Competition were presented with their trophies by the minister. Team Douane (Customs Department) were the winners of the competition. Richardson jested that he wondered why there were no huge drugs busts in the local area, but after he saw these shooters he understand they have the country well protected.

The Prison Guards Team took second place. Congratulating the team, Richardson light-heartedly said that after hearing about the skill of the team, the prisoners in Pointe Blanche House of Detention have all decided to not attempt any breakouts.

Rounding off the top shooters was the Immigration and Border Protection Team in third place. The team included one woman in its ranks. She was the only woman among the top shooters.

Preceding the recognition ceremony, Minister Richardson inspected an honour guard of some 90 uniformed officers in Festival Village. Also observing the marching and display, which included just 14 women, were Acting Governor Reynold Groeneveldt, members of the Marcel Gumbs Cabinet, Police Chief Peter de Witte, St. Martin Vice President Wendell Cocks, members of the high councils of state and the judiciary among others.

Groeneveldt calls for law faculty at USM

POND ISLAND--Acting Governor Reynold Groeneveldt issued a strong call to government, the private sector and the University of St. Martin (USM) to work together post haste on the establishment of a law faculty at the university.

A “concerted effort” to get the law faculty in place must be made “without further delay,” said Groeneveldt at the ceremony in Festival Village on Friday afternoon to mark International Justice Day. Among those listening to his call were members of the Marcel Gumbs Cabinet, the Judiciary, uniformed services and private sector representatives.

The law faculty, when established, will “help strengthen” the justice chain and “provide opportunities” to people in the justice sector.

“Many people” in the community want to study the law, but are unable to go abroad to study due to job and other commitments. “They will gladly make use of the opportunity,” he said.

The faculty here in St. Maarten would offer them an alternative to study close to home and provide, in the long run, more qualified and educated people for the country.

“We must continue investments in our people,” Groeneveldt said, adding that education lays the foundation for a brighter tomorrow of “peace, security and tranquility.”

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