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Sandy Ground youths protest unfinished basketball court

page1a153SANDY GROUND--A crowd of youths blocked the main road in Sandy Ground on Monday afternoon, protesting a still unfinished basketball court that apparently had been promised to be delivered completely renovated in July.

The disturbance began around 3:00pm with barricades of garbage bins placed in the middle of the road, as well as a basketball post and hoop. A section of the road near the Cultural Centre was completely blocked to traffic for a few hours.

Gendarmes and Territorial Police were on the scene immediately to control a gathering crowd, but the Gendarmerie indicated that despite the tension, the situation remained calm and the youths were not aggressive. Some of them were even playing basketball and soccer in the middle of the road.

Gendarmerie spokesman Capitaine Sylvain Jouault said the youths demanded an explanation about the state of the basketball court from President of the Collectivité Aline Hanson and Préfet Philippe Chopin. Hanson and Préfecture Chef de Cabinet Emmanuel Effantin duly went down to talk to the young people, but what was discussed was not known. Neither could be reached by phone last night.

Union General de Travailleurs de Guadeloupe (UGTG) representative Cedric André, who was representing the young protestors, said: "There is a much wider issue here about the lack of sports facilities and activities, and a Maison de Jeunes in Sandy Ground, but the focus today was on the basketball court.

"You do not see this lack of infrastructure in places like Guadeloupe and Martinique, only in St. Martin. The President at first was reluctant to meet the youths, but eventually she came down when they said they would not remove the barriers until she talked to them."

André said a meeting had been arranged for November 24 at 10:30am, to resolve the matter.

Capitaine Jouault said the barricades had been removed at 6:00pm and the crowd dispersed.

District Six representative Georges "Bajan" Richardson said he had not been in Sandy Ground at the time of the incident, but said the situation could have been handled in a better way, rather than blocking the main road and inconveniencing everyone, especially when school is out.

"It seems the young people are getting too frustrated now at the time it is taking to get the court finished," he said. "They were trying to send a message to authorities that they want a court to play on. The young people were told that the court would be ready in July.

"The renovation had already started, but apparently the posts to hold the rims were on a boat that broke down with engine problems and so has been delayed. Quite a bit of work has been done on the court to date. Even after Gonzalo, technicians were installing lights for the court. It's up to the authorities to explain the situation to the young people. Keeping silent on the matter is not a good thing."

No contact could be made with any of the young people for a more detailed explanation of their grievance.

Mixed emotions during Statia/America Day 2014

page10b152ST. EUSTATIUS--Statia/America Day was observed on Sunday in a sombre and subdued way this year as the island was shocked by the sudden death of Civil Registry Head Ricardo Tji-A-Loi and the gutting of a house in the historical core of Oranjestad.

Not far from the location of the fire, the official opening ceremony was held at Fort Oranje.

At 6:00am the flags of the Netherlands, the United States and St. Eustatius were hoisted, after which the national anthems were played. Several speeches were made by among others Island Governor Gerald Berkel (see related article) and by Commissioner of Constitutional Affairs Reginald Zaandam, who called for a different content to the commemoration of Statia Day in honour of the island's ancestors.

The official commemoration was closed-off with the re-enactment of the First Salute by island residents and the US Coast Guard. This was followed by an inspection of uniformed troops, which then marched out of the fort for a parade through the streets of Oranjestad. Several festive activities followed throughout the day.

Report: Turnover tax at 4% earned less revenue than 2%

MARIGOT--The Collectivité recouped less revenue from the increase of Taxe Général sur le Chiffres d'Affaires (TGCA) to four per cent than it did when it was at two per cent, Independent Territorial Councillor Jules Charville has disclosed, citing a 2013 report.

He warned that now the TGCA has been imposed across the board to all services at four per cent the result will be more business closures, more unemployment, and significantly more people applying for the Revenu Solidarité Active (RSA) benefit, potentially bumping its cost to the Collectivité up to 20 million euros per year from 16 million.

"People could either not pay the four per cent for whatever reason or businesses closed because they were in trouble," he explained. "All these recent tax measures will have the opposite effect to what the President (Aline Hanson) is expecting."

According to Charville one solution for the financial predicament is for the Collectivité to cut back on its own expenses to see where money is being wasted.

"It needs to tighten its belt, which it doesn't do. Secondly, there is money due to us which the State is sitting on but what is lacking is the political will and courage to go after it. The State was supposed to continue paying us the 12 million euro share from the Octroi de Mer pay-out from 2009 but they never did. That's 60 million euros right there due to us, retroactively, from 2009 to 2014.

"Despite the cost of RSA having quadrupled the State is only compensating us today with 3.2 million euros on 16 million euros based on 2010 figures. In addition the Collectivité has to reimburse Caisse Allocation Familiale (CAF) for paying out the RSA and it owes a lot. It's the responsibility of the President to demand that we be compensated at least12 million euros on 16 million. Then there is the issue of getting the right compensation from the transfer of competencies which we are currently contesting in court.

"If we could get all this money we would not have a financial problem in the Collectivité. We wouldn't need to be imposing these tax measures that aim to raise 10.9 million euros. The battle should be with France, not by hitting the poor man by taxing 30 per cent of his RSA benefit. Instead of arm wrestling with the Government the President is taking the easy way out."

Charville said he did not agree in principle with taxing the RSA as it is illegal in the French constitution, but the Collectivité got around it through its own autonomous tax structure, separate from France. He added it is imperative the Collectivité tackles abuse of the system by policing who is entitled to RSA and who isn't.

"I don't see anything being done about it concretely to stop it. It has to be pursued actively. The abuse is not a reason to punish the people who really need the RSA to survive. The Collectivité feels it can cut the money because the RSA benefit is more than the minimum wage on the Dutch side."

On other decisions at the last Territorial Council, he said he objected to the way the increase in gasoline tax (doubled to 0.12 cents a litre) was handled as it was based on a report showing figures and profit margins from Dutch-side retailers, Guadeloupe, and St. Martin.

"But there were no figures showing profit margins in the column for St. Martin and that was what I needed to see. The gasoline retailers didn't get a chance to be heard first. And there is no guarantee retailers will not pass on the increase to the consumers."

A change in the car registration fee for a "carte grise" from a flat 150 euros regardless of vehicle to 36 euros per fiscal horsepower also did not sit well with the Councillor.

"Bigger cars and SUVs with more horsepower are going to be hit hard by this, take a Ford Explorer for example at, say 20 horsepower times 36 euros, they are going to be paying 720 euros. This is a huge and sudden increase. I argued why it cannot be introduced gradually seeing that the economy is still in a downturn. People need a break, not more taxes."

Commenting on the incident over protocol between Gendarmes and Dutch-side police escorts on St. Martin/St. Maarten Day, Charville said it was indeed embarrassing to all of the dignitaries present.

"It's a mystery to me that they did not let it go at that moment and discuss it later instead of causing that embarrassment," he said. "It could have been handled differently."

The Préfecture has since said the incident was a "misunderstanding."

Government establishes Integrity Project Bureau

PHILIPSBURG--The Council of Ministers approved the organisational structure for an Integrity Project Bureau.

The recommendation to install a work group tasked with the implementation of the various integrity reports was handled in two meetings of the ministers held between October 31 and November 13.

This workgroup, now established as a project bureau, consists of the Acting Secretary General of the Ministry of Finance, the Secretary General of the Ministry of General Affairs and is led by the Acting Secretary General of the Ministry of Justice and supported by the Secretariat of the Council of Ministers.

The preparatory meetings of the project bureau have been ongoing since October 2014, and the plan of approach is being further detailed. For effectiveness, the recommendations of the reports were categorised into six priority areas. Each priority area will be headed by a project leader for the actual execution and drafting of policies, laws and other products needed according to the recommendations. The categories are defined as Legislation, Integrity Chamber, Public Relations/Communications, Human Resource Management, Governance Development, and the Maintenance of Law, Order and Governance.

The initial time schedule for the implementation of the integrity measures covers a period of nearly two years, in which phase one concerns implementation activities determined for the period until the January 2014, phase two: between January 2015 and July 2015, and the third phase from July 2015 until the middle 2016, whereby new legislation is the most time consuming factor. This planning is being further detailed at the moment.

Independent Oversight

In addition, an independent oversight committee has been established to monitor the progress and to ensure that the plan of approach meets the required deadlines. The government is in the process of approaching high profile persons both on a local level and abroad to sit on this committee.

Already President of the Constitutional Court Judge Jacob Wit and Advisory Council members Jan Beaujon have agreed to serve on the oversight committee. A third candidate in the Netherlands is being approached.

Integrity Controller

High priority for the Council is also the establishment of an integrity chamber. Awaiting the necessary legislation, an independent person meeting high standard qualifications will be appointed as Integrity Controller ("Toezichthouder Integriteit"). The main responsibility is reporting directly to the Council of Ministers as a body on integrity breaches, recommended sanctions and remedies. Finalization of this appointment will occur within short.

Integrity Weekly Topic

On a weekly basis the Council of Ministers will be discussing the topic State of Affairs Integrity and its progress to be based also on reporting of the Project Bureau Integrity, the Integrity Controller and the Oversight Committee Integrity.

Conflicts of Interest

The Council also decided to give follow-up to the recommendation to avoid a possible conflict of interest by ministers, by addressing this matter at the onset of every Council of Ministers meeting. Ministers will have to state if there is any conflict of interest with matters to be discussed and/or decided on in the meeting.

In the event that such is the case the chairperson will see to it that there will be no participation in the decision-making process on that topic or topics by the respective minister or ministers.

Heightened Security

The Minister of Justice has taken measures and is taking more measures to heighten the security at the airport and harbours to prevent abuse of these critical infrastructures by criminal elements.

A project organisation is being put in place to coordinate the efforts in this regard between all law enforcement agencies. The port authorities are being requested to participate.

Prosecutor's Office

Permission has been granted to the Public Prosecutor's Office to expand its support staff with two "parket secretarissen." Also, the National Detective Service has permission to expand the organisation with four full-time detectives/specialists this year; however, recruitments will take time.

Furthermore, the Prosecutor's Office will appoint one of the five prosecutors as coordinator for the investigations by the National Detective Service, who will then be able to help give content for the implementation of the recommendation to execute an anti-corruption campaign.

Netherlands' input

Reacting on Thursday, November 13, to a last communicated offer of the Netherlands to be allowed to provide input to St. Maarten's plan of approach on integrity, Minister of Justice Dennis Richardson stated that the Council of Ministers is receptive to any constructive offers of support to St. Maarten as an autonomous country in addressing integrity matters.

However, as St. Maarten has been accused (albeit wrongly) of "doing too little too late" and "being not aware of the urgency of the matter" too much is momentarily at stake to permit a possible delay, he added.

Pending receipt of a concrete written offer and/or suggestions from the Netherlands, therefore, the trajectory to improve integrity and to fight integrity breaches and corruption as set out by government continues.

Lee calls on ‘opposition’ to form ‘united coalition’

DAWN BEACH--Democratic Party (DP) candidate hotelier Emil Lee has called on the "opposition" in Parliament, which now includes his party leader Member of Parliament Sarah Wescot-Williams, to form "a united coalition" to provide "quality opposition in Parliament."

Lee was the 12th highest vote getter out of 90 candidates who contested the August 29 Parliamentary Elections and was the third highest vote getter of his party. He failed to gain a seat in Parliament as DP maintained its two seats in the legislature.

His statement about the formation of an opposition bloc comes as Wescot-Williams tendered her resignation Thursday as Parliament Chairwoman. That resignation was the result of DP minister candidates not being submitted for screening. Lee was the party's candidate for Minister of Public Health, Social Development and Labour.

DP's candidates were not submitted by formateur of the new cabinet United People's (UP) party leader MP Theo Heyliger. Instead, DP Parliamentarian Cornelius de Weever's minister candidates were submitted. De Weever joined with the seven UP parliamentarians on October 3 to form the current coalition that later was supported by Wescot-Williams and independent MP Leona Marlin-Romeo.

Lee said in a press statement he issued on Sunday, "It has been reported to me that some politicians felt that it would be too disruptive to have me as a minister."

The reason for that feeling, according to Lee, is that he would have put ministerial budgets in line with regularly updated reporting on expenditures, develop a clear Ministerial Business/development plan with updates, develop and implement a clear departmental travel and expenditure policy, be transparent on all ministry expenditures, revise the public tender procedures to allow small and micro businesses to participate in government projects, make government-issued licences and permits like for buses, taxis and vending public record and review of ministerial expenditures to see where savings and improved efficiency could be achieved.

Lee said he entered the political arena, because he believed that real change for St. Maarten would only come from real change in government and that government would only change from within. "It is unrealistic to expect the beneficiaries of a broken system to change that system."

Lee said he will continue to make contributions by supporting the DP's opposition efforts in Parliament. "When and if the time comes that DP can find its goals of open government in a governing coalition, I will also be able to support this as well."

"It is my hope that our current cast of political players will put the interests of St. Maarten above the political games which are destructive to St. Maarten and only serves to deteriorate the people's already sceptical perceptions of the stability, sincerity and effectiveness of government," he said.

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