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Plasterk: ‘St. Maarten must pay its own debts’

THE HAGUE--The Dutch Government is not obliged to financially help out St. Maarten if the latter country fails to reach an agreement to pay off the debt to St. Maarten's General Pension Fund APS and the St. Maarten Social and Health Care Insurances SZV.

Dutch Minister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Ronald Plasterk stated this in response to written questions by the members of the Permanent Committee for Kingdom Relations of the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament.

The committee had expressed concerns last month about what it termed as St. Maarten's "deficient" financial administration and the ability to comply with its payment obligations. St. Maarten owes the APS and the SZV NAf. 70 million and NAf. 87 million respectively.

Plasterk confirmed that the Committee for Financial Supervision CFT has urged the St. Maarten Government to find a solution to settle these arrears before the end of May this year. "The Netherlands is not legally obliged to financially support St. Maarten in case St. Maarten doesn't comply with its payment arrears. Therefore, solutions must be found within St. Maarten's own budget," he stated.

Referring to the committee's concerns about the "deficient administration" of fixed assets, debtors and creditors in relation to proper financial management, Plasterk stated that the fact that St. Maarten's financial management behoved improvement didn't mean that there was no proper financial management and that the financial information was not credible. He stated that the CFT has found "no great risks" for St. Maarten's 2015 budget.

According to Plasterk, most government entities had complied with the obligation of having an approved annual account. The annual accounts of St. Maarten government-owned companies were generally in order. Most of the companies have published their annual accounts on their website, be it in an abbreviated version, while the documents are also in possession of government.

The members of the Committee for Kingdom Relations had further expressed concerns about the collection of taxes in St. Maarten and the fact that the collection of taxes was deficient in comparison to the economic growth.

Plasterk explained that the CFT reports had shown that St. Maarten's Tax Department was not properly functioning. A reorganisation of the Tax Department is being planned. The measures concern the collection of back taxes, increasing of control, simplifying of the tax system and the integration of the Receiver and Inspection.

Overall the Tax Department will be strengthened with more personnel. The effect of the measures will be monitored by the CFT through the results of the tax revenues in relation to the budget.

On May 21 a general debate will be held in the Second Chamber in which the government finances of Curaçao and St. Maarten in relation to the biannual report of the CFT on the second half of 2014 will have a central role.

Rita supports decriminalisation of marijuana for medicinal use

PHILIPSBURG--Acting Minister of Public Health Social Development and Labour Rita Bourne-Gumbs said on Tuesday that she "is completely for the decriminalization of marijuana and cannabis-related products for medicinal use."

She was at the time responding to several questions posed by this newspaper on the subject via the Press Secretariat. In her brief response, the Minister said as well that she "is completely against the decriminalization of marijuana for personal abuse." She said however, that the actual decriminalisation or changing of the law must happen in Parliament.

When asked to weigh in on the issue, Minister of Justice Dennis Richardson said he was unable to comment at this time as this topic needed careful consideration and consultation with all persons and organisations involved.

There have been some talks about the subject lately. The decriminalisation of marijuana in the correct way was supported during a discussion at a forum at the Belair Community Centre on April 18.

United St. Maarten (US) party leader Member of Parliament (MP) Frans Richardson said recently that it was time to talk about regulating marijuana for medical use. The MP's comments were made in a parliamentary session on heels of the death of taxi driver Johan Alberto "Chach Man" Romney (55).

The MP said "Chach Man" had spoken to him several times about getting marijuana legalised as its medicinal qualities were helping with his chronic illness. Chach had been battling sickle cell anaemia for many years. Richardson believes Parliament should look at not the full legalisation of marijuana, but at regulating for medical use.

Chach Man, as he was affectionately known, was found dead in his taxi in the parking lot of Caribbean Cinemas Megaplex recently.

Businessman Arun Jagtiani had said recently that there are many reasons why the conversation on marijuana needs to happen. "Let's look at the facts: anyone who wants to consume marijuana in our society, whether tourist or local, has relatively easy access to obtaining it and very little risk of being arrested for purchasing small amounts. If anyone disagrees with that statement, they are extremely naive and not really in touch with what is happening on St. Maarten... I am only in favour of legalising hemp/cannabis if it will be done in a responsible and well thought out manner. It should become an industry that creates wealth and opportunity for many on the island, not created into a monopoly. Anyone who chooses to get involved in this industry should be held to a very high standard, in regard to not selling to minors and also be required to contribute towards youth development and educational initiatives."

In the just ended Carnival season, Police had issued a fine-sheet listing that the possession of five to 20 grams of marijuana was equivalent to a fine of

NAf. 250/US $141. The possession of 20 or more grams of marijuana, but less or equal to 30 grams carried a fine of NAf. 500/US $283.

Unlike the Netherlands where marijuana was legally sold in coffee shops for many years, St. Maarten has always criminalised the planting, possession and use of the herb.

Body found in Dawn Beach flown to Holland for autopsy

PHILIPSBURG--The body of the unknown person found in the Dawn Beach area on Wednesday, April 29, has been flown to the Netherlands for an autopsy.

Police Spokesperson Ricardo Henson said the body was flown out last Saturday, but declined to go into any further details. He said no one has responded to the call from authorities to identify the body and the corpse remains unidentified.

The badly decomposed body was found "a few yards" from the road in the bushes in Dawn Beach. Someone who went wandering in the area stumbled upon the body and contacted the police. Due to the stage of decomposition, the ethnicity of the body could not be immediately ascertained. The body had been lying at the location for a lengthy period. Foul play is suspected, but authorities were still looking into the matter to determine the exact cause of death.

The Daily Herald was originally told that an autopsy will be performed as soon as the pathologist could visit St. Maarten. It could not be determined why the body had been flown abroad for an autopsy.

Anyone having information that can lead to the identity of the person should contact the police department or call police tip line at tel. 9300.

Natalee Holloway's Father, Dave Holloway, Pursues New Lead In Aruba

page5a225The Huffington Post :  By Ed Mazza

The father of Natalee Holloway, the 18-year-old who went missing in Aruba a decade ago, has returned to the island to investigate new clues in the disappearance and presumed death of his daughter.

Inside Edition reports that Dave Holloway is working with a private investigator and a cadaver dog to follow up on recent claims from a witness who said he saw longtime suspect Joran van der Sloot with Holloway, and later saw him with her body.

I saw Natalee Holloway on the last night she was alive. I was the eyewitness,” Jurrien de Jong told Inside Edition. "I saw that Joran was chasing Natalee into a small building under construction. In about five minutes he came out with Natalee in his arms, and slammed the body of Natalee on the floor, and then he made an opening in a crawl space…I knew she was dead.”

Holloway said in March that de Jong told him about what he had seen last year. De Jong also made the claims to a Dutch newspaper.

De Jong told the Algemeen Dagblad newspaper earlier this year that he didn't come forward sooner as he was involved in illegal drug activity at the time, and did not want to go to the police.

Eric Olthof, Aruba's prosecutor, told Inside Edition he was looking into the claims and expected his investigation would take up to two months.

Natalee Holloway disappeared on May 30, 2005 while celebrating her high school graduation in Aruba with friends. Witnesses say she was seen leaving a club with van der Sloot, who was 17 at the time.

Van der Sloot is currently in prison in Peru, where he is serving a 28-year sentence for the 2010 murder of Stephany Flores in a Lima hotel room. Once his sentence is complete, he will be extradited to the United States, where he will face charges of extorting and defrauding Holloway's mother.

There have been a number of supposed leads in the case over the years, including conflicting statements from van der Sloot himself, who was arrested twice but never charged. Van der Sloot has claimed to have left Natalee alone and drunk on a beach; he was also caught on hidden camera apparently confessing to the killing, and told Fox News that he sold her into slavery.

The case, however, remains unsolved.

"I always thought the answer was right around the corner," Holloway told HuffPost in March. "Here we are nearly 10 years later and we still don't know."


Semsamar gives tour of social housing projects

page8b294MARIGOT--Officials from mixed-capital company Semsamar including its President Wendel Cocks gave the media a tour on Friday of some of the ongoing social housing projects in Concordia and French Quarter, including an overview of maintenance in existing residences.

A recent development has been the realisation of eight playgrounds in the different homes that have been financed 50 per cent by Semsamar and 50 per cent by Caisse Allocation Familiale (CAF).

Cocks explained the housing schemes each have their own tenants associations that include a member from Semsamar which enables the company to get feedback on needs and social activities in each area. This also allows certain activities to be created where they are lacking.

A site inspection of a large project located above the Louis-Constant Fleming Hospital in the Spring, Concordia, consisting of 92 apartments ranging from one to three bedroom configurations was the next stop.

They are split into 62 apartments in the social housing category and 30 for very low income families. The latter receive co-financing from CAF making the apartments more affordable for these families.

Twenty three apartments have a floor area of 53m2, 46 at 65m2 and 23 at 78m2. All the apartments are available for rent. The project which has a panoramic view of Marigot is due to be completed at the end of this year.

"This is probably the last of the social housing projects for now because Semsamar's emphasis is more on ownership, helping occupants to own their property," Cocks added. "Semsamar is not only involved in construction, it is also engaged in quality of life and activities important for social cohesion."

In the hills above the project a large basin has been created to capture rain and flood water which is then redirected down through a massive flow pipe to safely bypass the buildings. The cliff's face has also been secured with netting anchored to prevent falling boulders. This technique was also used for the water reservoir located in the upper flanks of Concordia.

The project was budgeted at 14 million euros, 6 million of which was attributed to construction. After a pause due to lack of financing, the project re-started in 2013. Semsamar is the supervising contractor and some 40 construction workers from various local companies are working speedily to finish the project.

In 2015 Semsamar is due to reinforce its actions in favour of young people ages 15 to 20 years with cultural and sporting programmes as well as innovative programmes in the field of professional insertion. In the coming weeks meetings will be organised with the young tenants of the homes to better understand their needs.

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