Thursday, Mar 05th

LATEST:
You are here: Home

Best_of_2015_587x57_Results

Plasterk mum on integrity chamber

page3b235ROTTERDAM--Dutch Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Minister Ronald Plasterk on Wednesday steered clear of the progress in the negotiations with St. Maarten about the integrity chamber. As he presented a guest-lecture at the Erasmus University of Rotterdam, the minister only revealed that the negotiations are "interesting."

The former University Professor who taught at the universities of Amsterdam and Utrecht was at Erasmus at the invitation of student association Ius Mobile and the legal faculty. "A pretty captivating legal discussion has unfolded about this matter," Plasterk told the approximately 150 students who attended his lecture.

With publicised demands from the Dutch Government that the Kingdom Council of Ministers take a decision before March 6 about an integrity chamber – preferably in cooperation with St. Maarten – expectations were high that the Minister would go deep into the ongoing discussions.

He didn't delve further though, only giving his audience a general explanation about the governmental decree about the compilation and tasks of the integrity chamber and repeating earlier views that local politics should be kept as much as possible away from measures being taken to tackle corruption and fraud.

He also mentioned the "challenge" to reach an agreement with St. Maarten about the tasks and the statements about an arbitration committee. He said the warrantee function of the Kingdom should be considered an instrument that helps prevent problems from materialising in an early stadium.

The law students also showed interest in matters regarding the new municipal zoning of the Netherlands and the functioning of the Second Chamber, which prompted varying questions about the Kingdom. One student for instance asked whether small Caribbean islands have sufficient manpower and expertise to draft laws, while another questioned whether the current make-up of the Kingdom is the most ideal.

Plasterk explained that among the four countries within the Kingdom there is strong cooperation in the areas of legislation and justice. He mentioned the commonwealth proposal of the VVD and the SP parties as an alternative to the current structure, but warned that if that would be implemented the countries would no longer have the duty to help each other.

The Minister contended that the current structure has other positive elements as well, like the cooperation in the fields of economic development, poverty eradication and children's rights.

Checkmate attempts to justify increase, but Kuiperi says comments unfounded

PHILIPSBURG--The new management of Checkmate Security Services on Tuesday attempted to justify why it is in line for a massive US S $2.2 million increase in its contract at the Harbour Group of Companies this year.

However, former owner of the company Michael Kuiperi said some of the statements from the company were "unfounded" and questioned whether the harbour had "a new policy in investing in external security by accepting the additional price increase."

In a letter to The Daily Herald on Tuesday, Checkmate's new management accused this newspaper of a "frivolously fact find information" and said "no one has attempted to contact the owners, Managing Director, or any Management of Checkmate Security Services pertaining to security services in the port of St. Maarten."

It should be noted that this newspaper placed several calls to Checkmate General Manager Chet Euton on Monday afternoon to seek a comment on this issue, but all calls went unanswered. And none of the calls were returned.

In its statement, issued by Euton, Checkmate said the focus and responsibilities of the Harbour were to improve and enhance its security measures as well as its facilities becoming compliant with International Ship and Port Facility Security ISPS Code. "These measures come with an expense, i.e. the compensation of employees, operating costs, taxes, cost-of-living adjustments and minimum wage increases."

Checkmate said the cost of living had increased by 4.7 per cent from August 2011 to August 2012 and 5.4 per cent over 2012 and since 2010, minimum wage had increased gradually approximately 14 per cent up until December 2012. "As per January 2014, the minimum wage was indexed by 2.8 per cent."

"It should be understood that these are statutory-based adjustments for which Checkmate Security Services nor the St. Maarten Harbour have control over and that based on these increases Checkmate Security has no alternative but to adjust its rates to reflect these changes, something that was not done by the previous management and owners of Checkmate Security services, which basically absorbed these increases with no modifications."

The new management also claimed that Checkmate had been providing security to the harbour from 2002 to 2015 without an increase.

Unfounded

In an invited comment on the allegations from the new management, Kuiperi said Checkmate had had numerous price increases under his watch. He said he currently had zero contact with Checkmate and could not comment on the rate increase to which current management was referring.

"What I can state is that throughout the years that Checkmate has been providing security services to the harbour we had numerous price increases. In 2010 we signed a five-year contract that will end December 31, 2015, and once more a price increase was successfully negotiated, so the statement of the General Manager that Checkmate never increased their price to the Harbour Holding is incorrect," Kuiperi said.

"If I was the General Manager I would have perused the files in the office before making unfounded statements. He will also see how difficult the Harbour Holding was doing for a ten-cent increase in those days. Perhaps the Harbour Holding has a new policy in investing in external security by accepting the additional price increase," Kuiperi added.

He wished the new management and shareholders "the best and hope that they are able to move forward another 23 years of business."

The new Checkmate management said the average security personal/unit (not including supervisory or administrative staff) earned US $5 per hour and because of the shift scheduling and number of personnel on site 24 hours they made an additional $2.50 in overtime, which brought them to $7.50 per hour.

"Add in SZV, ABZ, AWB and all applicable taxes for another $1.10 and we are at a cost of $8.60 per unit per hour. A difference of $1.90 versus the $10.50 mentioned in the article; and we still haven't calculated operating cost on a monthly basis such as trainings, radios (Zenitel), uniforms and equipment, daily consumables. All of this at roughly $22,000 to $25,000 man-hours overall monthly with the possibility of $42,000 to $47,500 in revenue."

The Daily Herald made a rough calculation, based on the above figures, that if a security guard works an average eight hours a day without overtime in a six-day workweek, with four weeks per month, he or she would earn a gross salary of $960 (8 x $5 x 6 x 4). If he/she is paid additional overtime for working eight hours longer every week than the normal 40-hour work week dictates, he/she would receive an additional $240 (8 x $7.50 x 4).

If a security guard works an average 12 hours a day because of the long hours cruise ships stay in port, he/she would earn a gross salary of $1,920 per month. This newspaper understands that Checkmate employs 60-70 guards at the Harbour.

The current Checkmate management asked, "Why is it that foreign businesses can establish themselves in St. Maarten with less inspection and inquiry? Why is it that when a local man/owner tries to run a local business correctly and successfully he is dragged through the proverbial mud? And who in their right mind tries to run a business at a loss or to fail?

"The article suggests that $7.07 an hour is a feasible number, based on what, an old agreement and bad business decision that was signed below practicable operating margins by the previous owners?

"We are here to use good business sense and a five per cent increase is to assist in correcting some of these previous bad business decisions! Is that not the objective of good business?"

It should be noted here that the actual rate increase from $7.07 to $10.50 is 48.5 per cent and not five per cent as Checkmate management claims.

"To date the new management of Checkmate Security has had to pay NAf. 2.3 million in back taxes to SZV," Checkmate management added. "So should Checkmate Security continue to throw good money after bad? Currently Checkmate Security Services employs 350-plus personnel, 190 of which are locals, 89 of which were hired by the new management within the last year."

The release did not indicate whether the Harbour considers the necessity to pay arrears in SZV contributions a valid argument for a rate increase.

Checkmate concluded by saying it was "striving to be sustainable" and "provide quality security services at standard and conventional rates."

Local businessman and former Democratic Party (DP) President Michael Ferrier waded into the issue on Tuesday by questioning why the Harbour's "lucrative" security contract had not been put on bid to give all security companies in the country a chance to vie for the contract.

In a letter to this newspaper on Tuesday, Ferrier also called on the harbour to request that Checkmate disclose the names of its owners.

"Being that the Harbour Group of Companies is government-owned, when an existing contract has to change so much that the cost to the client (the Harbour Group) increases by 300 per cent, should the Harbour Group not put the security contract out on bid again, thereby offering all security companies a chance to bid on what is obviously a very lucrative contract?" Ferrier asked.

 

Illegal footings removed from Mullet Bay beach

~ Laville calls manipulation ~

MULLET BAY--The physical setting up of water-sport business facilities at Mullet Bay by Romain Laville, the building permit for which was requested but has not yet been granted, ended almost as quickly as it began this week, when Mullet Bay representative Clarence Derby ordered it removed from the property.

The Daily Herald was alerted to the situation on Tuesday through a beachgoer's letter that expressed surprise at the pouring of cement taking place on the beach on Monday. It caught his attention, as he thought no more development was allowed on the beach.

Former Member of Parliament Laville had put forward the beach access motion, passed in Parliament in April 2013, which discourages building on the beach as it is "annoying and disfiguring," amongst other aspects.

In talking to this newspaper he said the concrete was to be used only for footings, meant for securing a container that mainly would be used for storage of water-sport equipment such as kayaks and snorkel gear. According to the plans described, the container will be surrounded by teak and a small window will cut into it.

Laville said he held a business licence, had been allotted a space where he could operate his business and had been awaiting approval of a building permit since he requested it on December 12, 2014.

He said he could not be expected to haul all the equipment for his family-owned water-sport business, Majula Water and Beach Activities, on and off the beach, and was placing the container within his allotted space.

Derby told this newspaper in an invited comment that he had seen on Monday that that eight concrete pillars were being built on Mullet Bay property. He called Ministry of Public Housing, Spatial Planning, Environment and Infrastructure VROMI, which issued a warning letter and subsequently ordered the illegal footings removed.

VROMI Secretary-General Louis Brown confirmed that no building permit had been issued and that an Inspector of VROMI's Inspection Department had been onsite on Monday to deliver a warning letter in regard to the "illegal construction." Brown said, "There was a letter requesting permission submitted, but this has not been handled as yet."

After the concrete was poured and the warning letter issued on Monday, Laville said he had returned to the site on Tuesday with a Department of Economic Affairs Inspection representative, whose identity was not disclosed, only to find the footings removed. The department representative was brought along to look at the area allotted and used.

Laville said that from the markings, it looked like a bulldozer had been used on the area. Dismayed, he said that after the inspections, he was willing to wait to find out how to move forward. He also asserted that in the case that any building work was considered illegal, a letter should be issued by VROMI, but that others did not have the right to take it away.

Although he saying who might have removed the footings, he referred to "those who think they own the beach."

There have been long-standing issues between Mullet Bay business owners and management of the surrounding property. Business owners complain of harassment by security guards and Laville said this could happen multiple times per day.

This newspaper understands that private property lines run all the way into the water. However, the sandy strip up to 50 meters from the high-water line is considered public under country beach access policy and this policy is in the process of being turned into an ordinance that will give it more legal backing.

'Manipulation'

Laville claims that VROMI is wilfully not processing his permit and said he knew the permit had not yet reached VROMI Minister Marcel Gumbs' desk as yet. He said he had been told, after multiple times of reaching out to VROMI, that no one wanted to process the permit.

The permit is "wilfully not being worked on," he said, and after having all other documentation in order he cannot refrain from operating his business because the permit is taking too long.

He said the ongoing situation of manipulation by Government, VROMI and Mullet Bay property owners needed to stop and that he had reached the point where he planned to take legal action. He said he already had spoken to a lawyer. "It has to come to an end," he said, adding that no one who "thinks they own the beach" should be able to stop people from rightfully setting up a business.

Govt has until March 2 to respond to CFT’s concerns on 2015 budget

page3a234~ Until May to settle SZV, APS arrears ~

PHILIPSBURG--Government has until March 2 to respond to the concerns of the Committee for Financial Supervision CFT regarding the 2015 budget and to demonstrate "that the remaining issues" in the budget "will be dealt with in a timely and orderly manner, and that the budget is in line with the stipulations of the Kingdom Law on Financial Supervision."

Also, government has until May to prove that it can generate the NAf. 445 million income set for the 2015 budget and o settle the long-standing payment arrears of NAf. 200 million owed to Social and Health Care Insurances SZV and General Pension Fund APS, CFT Chairman Age Bakker told reporters at a press conference on Tuesday.

Bakker said that although St. Maarten had met the January 31 deadline for adopting the 2015 budget, not all recommendations on the draft budget had been taken into account.

The budgeted income maximum is NAf. 445 million, an amount that exceeds the recommended cap of NAf. 426 million that includes the long-pending payment arrears of NAf. 200 million to SZV and APS. These outstanding debts have not been settled yet despite earlier commitments to do so and the deficits of past years have not been compensated. The total deficit accumulated since St. Maarten assumed its new status of country within the Dutch Kingdom on October 10, 2010, stands at NAf. 55 million.

Bakker, who along with the CFT board met with government on Monday and Tuesday, said CFT had submitted its advice on the adopted 2015 budget to Finance Minister Martin Hassink, who now has until March 2 to respond to CFT's recommendations.

"We need a full explanation how the figure of NAf. 445 million will be reached. In the past we have seen that there were measures foreseen, but in the end did not materialise," Bakker told the media. "In our talks with Hassink, he has agreed that in his response to our remarks, which is due for next week Monday, he will address this and substantiate how he thinks more than 20 to 50 million is in reach."

He said Hassink had indicated that he had been in discussions "with public entities" on dividends and concession fees. Bakker said too that "economic grounds are doing a little better" and revenues seem to be increasing "a little bit." The tax figures for January show "quite a rise if you compare to January 2014. Income for November, December has also increased."

"We are always happy to be proven wrong, so we will see what Hassink comes up with and if it can be substantiated, we will be more than happy to accept this," he said.

Bakker alluded to the NAf. 8 million deficit in the NAf. 430 million budget of 2014. He said CFT had given a negative advice for the 2015 budget when it originally had been presented by the former government based on the revenue level of NAf. 445 million last year. Bakker said this income level seemed "unlikely" given the fact that revenue had been NAf. 420 million to NAf. 425 million over the past few years.

CFT will be back in St. Maarten this June to "scrutinise" the income figures from the first four months of the year and possibly also May, to analyse whether revenues are on the forecast level. "If this is not the case," Bakker said, "a budget amendment will have to be made and cuts will be necessary to get the budget back in balance."

In a release issued after the press conference Bakker said, "Possible solutions were discussed during the meetings with government. Supporting documentation on the expected increase in revenues of NAf. 15 million will be provided by the Government."

He said personnel and healthcare cost affected the budget. He also noted that personnel cost was "a bleeder" in the budget, not just because of the number of employees in government and the salaries they were paid, but also because of funds expended on social contributions and overtime pay.

"We have advised the government to urgently look into personnel cost," Bakker said. Personnel cost is are going up all over the world, he noted, and "it's very difficult to keep it in the set limits."

SZV, APS arrears

Bakker described the situation with government's arrears to SZV and APS as "disconcerting." He said the arrears had been long pending, were causing persons to become "scared" and would "undermine confidence" in authorities. The issue will be the foundation for people to question what will become of their pensions, he noted.

Bakker is confident that this matter can be settled. He said there had been proposals on the table "for a long time," such as the deal that was being worked out with APS for the new Government Administration Building.

"We have agreed with government that by the end of May – the same deadline as with the revenues – these arrears will be settled. Government thinks it is do-able and we think it is do-able," Bakker said, noting that hopefully a lid could be placed on this issue when CFT returned to St. Maarten in June.

The CFT board met with Governor Eugene Holiday, Deputy Prime Minister Dennis Richardson, Finance Minister Martin Hassink, the Council of Ministers and the Financial Committee of Parliament on February 23 and 24.

Bakker said St. Maarten was preparing a multi-annual vision document to stimulate the economy that would enable the country to increase revenues and realise a budget surplus as of 2016 to compensate for the prior years' deficits.

"This document consists of four pillars: an economic development programme, reorganisation of the tax authority; redesigning the tax legislation; and intensifying the current programme of increasing income and decreasing expenditures," Bakker said in the release issued after the press conference.

"The CFT applauds this multi-annual approach. It has advised Government to involve an external, independent authority to review the plans and provide an expert seal of approval. This would also increase public confidence and should attract private investors, since Government cannot execute this plan on its own."

Harbour Group to give MPs info on development plans

PHILIPSBURG--St. Maarten Harbour Group of Companies will make a presentation to Parliament's Permanent Committee for Tourism, Economic Affairs, Transport and Telecommunications at Parliament House on Thursday starting at 2:00pm.

Committee Chairman United St. Maarten party leader Member of Parliament (MP) Frans Richardson organised the meeting with the expressed goal of hearing directly from Harbour Group Chief Executive Officer Mark Mingo and his team about a number of pressing issues. The meeting convocation was sent out last week.

Richardson told The Daily Herald on Tuesday that he saw it fit to call the meeting for MPs to hear directly from the Harbour Group about its plans and to "iron out" many of the issues raised in Parliament in the 2015 budget debate and on other occasions.

The committee meeting is open to the public, available on St. Maarten Cable TV Channel 120, via video broadcast on

www.sxmparliament.org and

www.pearlfmradio.com and via audio broadcast on Pearl Radio FM 98.1.

All government-owned companies will be called before the committee in this Parliamentary year. St. Maarten Telephone Group of Companies TelEm and Princess Juliana International Airport SXM are among the companies to be invited by the committee.

Richardson said that although the airport already had given MPs a presentation on its plans last week, a number of issues still needed to be addressed by the committee.

The Bankers' Association is on the list of organisations with which the permanent committee intends to have discussions. "We need to hear from the bankers what's going on in the economy. We have heard not many construction loans are being given out. This, of course, means a slowdown of the economy," said Richardson.

A request also will be sent to the Department of Statistics to outline to the committee the findings of the household and other surveys conducted. Richardson also said the department needed to provide information on the review of the "basket of goods."

Page 8 of 1196