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Pelican numbers have ‘severely decreased’

page4a149COLE BAY--The pelican population has decreased severely over the last few decades, according to recent Nature Foundation research into the status of the brown pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis), one of St. Maarten's national symbols. The bird is depicted on the country's flag and coat of arms.

The health of St. Maarten's pelicans also reflects the general health of the marine ecosystem; with more pelicans present the better the environment, the foundation said after tallying the findings of its annual pelican research project.

An overall total of 339 individual pelicans were recorded on St. Maarten with eight chicks and 35 sub-adults recorded. It was further determined that breeding season for adult pelicans runs approximately from the beginning of June through August with the peak occurring at the end of July through the beginning of August.

The numerous threats faced by the resident pelican population on St. Maarten were also researched, with the primary threat being related to habitat destruction. The resident pelican population has "decreased drastically in the last four decades," which coincides with the building boom experienced on St. Maarten during the 1960s and 1970s when numerous breeding locations had to make way for seafront development.

The final threat to the species is related to the entanglement in fishing line and marine debris such as plastic bags and other garbage.

Nature Foundation often responds to incidents where pelicans are caught in fishing lines or hooks, fishing nets, plastic bags or soda can holders. Steps are being taken by Nature Foundation to introduce a line recycling programme which the foundation hopes will reduce incidents of marine entanglement to not only pelicans but numerous other marine wildlife.

The brown pelican lends its name to many institutions on the island. Despite this there was previously very little information publicly on the status of pelicans on St. Maarten. Nature Foundation decided to properly conserve and manage this culturally important species. This required the collection of vital information on nesting areas, number of pelicans found in the country and types of threats the birds face.

The annual pelican research was carried out from St. Maarten Day, November 11, 2013, to St. Maarten Day, November 11, 2014. Each site was counted once every two months with the public also assisting on numerous occasions.

CBCS disagrees with PwC report

WILLEMSTAD--The promised summary of the investigation report containing findings, conclusions and recommendations on the functioning of the Central Bank of Curaçao and St. Maarten (CBCS) by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) was sent to Curaçao's Parliament. The top of the bank has indicated that it does not fully agree with the contents, said Finance Minister José Jardim.

According to the auditors there is no joint management and the entire decision-making power within the Management Council is concentrated around its President Emsley Tromp. There is not enough resistance within the council against the president.

The long tenure of the president strengthens this culture. While some say he is open to arguments, PwC got the impression that the actions of other management members are all directed towards decisions of the president and his expressed or assumed opinions.

However, the two Finance Ministers also as shareholders’ representatives and the Supervisory Board have failed in their functioning.

The report notes that there are no regular meetings of the Management Council and clear systematic registration of its decisions is lacking. It suggests changing the procedure to one of joint decision-making.

There are also critical remarks about the role of the Central Bank in the issuance of corporate bonds for the port of St. Maarten.

According to the minister, the integral report is not available for the public because of the legal protection of the bank. Full disclosure could disproportionately harm the reputation of the institute Central Bank of Curaçao and St. Maarten and thus to the image of the two countries involved.

On the other hand it is important for Parliament to take note of the entire document for the sake of good democratic governance, explained Jardim. A confidential review process for the members has therefore started.

Opposition leader Gerrit Schotte (MFK) has meanwhile requested a public meeting of Parliament to debate the integral report. He believes the people have a right to know what has been going on inside their Central Bank.

No CFT green light for draft 2015 budget

THE HAGUE/PHILIPSBURG--St. Maarten's draft 2015 budget doesn't carry the approval of the Committee for Financial Supervision CFT. However, the committee did give the green light for the loan to purchase the Emilio Wilson Park.

According to the CFT the draft 2015 budget contained a number of incorrect, unrealistic figures and also doesn't include the debt to the local APS pension fund and the Social and Health Insurances Office SZV.

In a letter to St. Maarten Finance Minister Martin Hassink, dated October 21 and published on the CFT website on Tuesday, CFT Chairman Age Bakker listed the findings as to why the draft budget didn't comply with the norms of the Kingdom Supervision Law.

The CFT didn't consider the NAf. 445 million on the revenue side realistic at this moment. Considering the realisations of the previous years and the lack of revenue generating measures, the CFT concluded that a maximum of NAf. 426 million, which included the one per cent economic growth, was more realistic. The CFT advised against the increase of 4.5 per cent without an additional substantiation.

The committee pointed out that no agreement has been reached as yet about the backlog in payments and shortages of the APS and SZV. Government owes the APS some NAf. 80 million, while payment arrears to the SZV have mounted to NAf. 128 million, with a possible increase to NAf. 150 million by the end of this year. The CFT urged government to come to an agreement with the APS and SZV on this debt which has adverse consequences for the two funds and by large Country St. Maarten.

According to the CFT, these debts were breaching the objective of the Kingdom Supervision Law, namely to maintain the equity capital of the Country St. Maarten and to prevent the accumulation of debt. There is also the debt of NAf. 45 million to other creditors which needs to be dealt with.

The CFT has brought the payment arrears to the government's attention on several occasions. The committee warned that this issue might stand in the way of a positive advice of the CFT of the 2015 budget. The Kingdom Council of Ministers has also expressed its concerns on more than one occasion, Bakker pointed out. A number of measures were suggested to the St. Maarten Government, but so far these have not been taken or effectuated.

The draft 2015 budget should include a compensation of the deficits from October 10, 2010, onwards. The most recent cumulative status of these deficits showed a total amount of NAf. 12.2 million, excluding the results of 2014.

The capital account of NAf. 84.6 million showed a deficit of NAf. 31.8 million that wasn't matched by coverage from loans. Of the budgeted expenditures of NAf. 84.6 million, only NAf. 52.8 million was covered by loans.

The Kingdom Supervision Law stipulates that the budgeted capital expenditures need to comply with the non-financial asset criteria of the System of National Accounts (SNA). The budgeted capital expenditures need to be sufficiently clarified in order to carry out this assessment. "This is not the case in the draft budget which makes it impossible for the CFT to carry out this assessment at this time."

Bakker warned that the advice of the CFT had to be included in the draft 2015 budget that would be presented to the St. Maarten Parliament for handling. The budget once approved by Parliament needed to be sent to the CFT for advice no later than December 15. At that time, government should also have reached an agreement with the creditors.

The CFT was positive about the request for a NAf. 30.7 million loan to purchase the Emilio Wilson Park. In a separate letter to Minister Hassink, dated October 16 and published on the CFT website on Tuesday, CFT Chairman Bakker stated that the planned capital investment, secured via the first 2014 budget amendment, complied with the definition of the System of National Accounts.

Therefore, the loan request for the Emilio Wilson Park complied with the Kingdom Supervision Law. The interest charges of this loan will remain under the so-called interest charge norm. The loan concerned the purchase of a non-financial asset and as such it wouldn't affect St. Maarten's equity capital.

Vote-buying investigation conducted in St. Maarten

THE HAGUE--A criminal investigation has started into vote-buying fraud during the recent Parliamentary elections in St. Maarten, Dutch Minister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations informed the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament on Tuesday.

The Second Chamber's Permanent Committee for Kingdom Relations had asked Plasterk for a clarification regarding the suspicions that "certain politicians" had committed vote fraud in the period leading up to the elections in August this year.

"I can confirm that from the side of Justice an investigation is indeed being carried out into vote fraud during the last elections. The National Detectives confirm that an investigation is taking place. However, no information is being given on its content by the Prosecutor's Office," stated Plasterk.

In his letter, the minister also addressed the political developments in St. Maarten, the instructions that St. Maarten received in September 2013 and October 2014 relating to integrity and the formation process of a new government.

Plasterk was critical that St. Maarten had not indicated as yet what action it would take and when this would take place based on the recommendations of the two separate integrity reports of the Wit-Samson Committee and the PricewaterhouseCoopers audit team, supported by the Oosting Committee.

According to the minister, the Dutch Government had offered St. Maarten assistance in carrying out the recommendations of these reports because the Kingdom Council of Ministers "doubted whether St. Maarten was able to do so on its own due to its small scale and the size and significance of the problem."

"Unfortunately, we have not been informed what action the St. Maarten Government is concretely taking, when the first results can be expected and what timeframe is being planned. The Kingdom Government deplores this and is of the opinion that the St. Maarten Government cannot afford a wait-and-see-attitude due to the gravity and size of the problem," he stated.

Plasterk stated that, contrary to the conviction of the St. Maarten Government, the second, October 17, 2014, instruction, ordering an in-depth screening of the candidate ministers of the new government in Philipsburg through the Governor, did not "put aside, defer or disable" the regulation of Country St. Maarten.

"To the contrary, the Royal Decree makes an extended screening possible by making technical assistance available to the Governor," stated the minister. He remarked that cooperation with the screening audit was of "crucial importance" and that refusal would result in "no other finding" than that the person in question could not be appointed.

The Kingdom Relations Committee will discuss the recent St. Maarten instruction with Plasterk in a general debate today, Wednesday.

Sarah Wescot’s ‘fire in the belly’ speech reaffirms solidarity on St. Martin Day

page6b148FRENCH QUARTER--Words such as unity, togetherness, and cooperation have become clichéd over the years in St. Martin Day speeches but while this was still a favourite theme on Tuesday's 66th November 11 celebration, some speakers looked at it in a different context, alluding to derogatory remarks about tearing up the Treaty of Concordia and establishing borders attributed to a French Parliamentarian some months ago. It caused a stir on the Dutch side.

No one dismissed such outside threats more forthrightly than caretaker Prime Minister Sarah Wescot-Williams in a typically rousing and patriotic speech that elicited rounds of applause.

"In the hearts of St. Martiners the Treaty of Concordia is alive and kicking," she said. " It is we that need to bring this across to the young people; it is we who need to give thanks and continue to talk about St. Martin the way it used to be. We get indications of proposals to close the border. Then you wonder why I would become very preoccupied by any indication or notion that I would not be able to come to this side to pick up my birth certificate.

"When it comes to outsiders seeking to destroy that unity we will stand together. We must put up a front to those outside who want to divide St. Martin. It's up to us to keep this country together. Our legacy is a strong one, our resilience comes from generations past but I hope it will come from generations to come. Without fire in your belly we will not have the determination to stand up when the going gets tough."

On cooperation, Wescot-Williams said "it's a long and hard road and we spend hours together on it. It is not just talk. I want to thank the Collectivité, the Préfet, and all the technicians who work continuously for cooperation to have a formal basis."

The French side hosted the official ceremonies this year under a marquee at the Thelbert Carti Stadium in French Quarter. Dignitaries from both sides of the island attended, as well as from Anguilla and Saba. Also present was a representative from the European Commission, a Member of Parliament for French Guiana Chantal Berthelot, and the Mayor of Fort-de-France, Martinique, Didier Laguerre. Those two islands are about to become Collectivités d'Outre Mer (COM).

Dutch-side Minister of Education, Culture and Sports Patricia Lourens-Philips reminded that friendship, unity, and family connections are very much alive and present.

"These are bonds that know no borders or boundaries, and it is what has kept us together for the past 366 years. They cannot be broken by any nation outside of this island as this is what sustains us," she said in her address.

President of the Collectivité Aline Hanson highlighted cross border cooperation in her address.

"We are advancing in the general interest of St. Martin," she asserted, noting a cooperation meeting had been held Monday between Dutch side and French side. "We know what we have to face to keep growing and becoming stronger."

She outlined the challenges that the French and Dutch side have taken up to, "improve basic infrastructure, preserve the environment, consolidate the island's position in a very competitive tourism industry," among other concrete plans in the context of cooperation. She thanked the technicians who work behind the scenes on cooperation.

Hanson congratulated the population on its efforts to clean up after Hurricane Gonzalo noting "this is the St. Martin way." In a reference to the Collectivité's battles with the State of France, she said St. Martin will "fight" to get what is owed to it financially.

Governor of St. Maarten Eugene Holiday in his address said challenges the island faces should be guided by values embedded in the spirit of St. Martin day; devotion to St. Martin and unity of purpose, two essential values for good governance.

"It is a call to be mindful in the preservation and building of our island, our home, he said. "It is a call to each person, each home, each family, and each neighbourhood. I trust that all of us, builders of our homes, will heed this builder's call and embrace these values. It is my hope that in addressing these challenges we face, we will be known to all people by these values. By their observance our heritage, our inheritance, our sweet St. Maarten land will, through our devotion continue to grow in unity, culturally, socially and economically."

Speeches were also given by Senator Guillaume Arnell and Préfet Philippe Chopin.

Earlier, wreaths were laid at the monument in Belle Plaine by Sarah Wescot-Williams and President Aline Hanson and by Préfet Philippe Chopin and Governor Eugene Holiday following the church service.

The dignitaries were then taken by bus to the Delta Petroleum station on the RN7 to watch the parade of troupes. Taking part were the Explorateurs, the police from the Dutch side, Boys and Girls Brigades from both sides of the island, Pathfinders from Dutch and French sides, the New Generation Status Band, and Turning Point Extreme Convention.

An unexpected cloud burst of rain interrupted the parade halfway through its march to the stadium but troupes had no choice but to continue. The rain, however, ceased at the stadium and activities were able to continue. Several food stands had been set up outside the stadium for the population to enjoy. Speeches by the elected officials ended with the customary champagne toast.

Traditional games and a basketball match were due to take place later in the afternoon inside the stadium. Live music and entertainment was also on the programme for the rest of the day.

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