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Ombudsman registered 68 new complaints in 2014

PHILIPSBURG--The Ombudsman Bureau registered 68 new complaints in 2014 while four cases from 2012 and 24 from 2013 were handled last year. A total of 130 investigations were closed in 2014, of which 54 were new complaints registered from that year.

In 30 cases, the Ombudsman issued recommendations, according to the bureau's Year Report 2014. Some 26 to 43 per cent of the 62 recommendations were followed up by the year's end by government.

A highlight for the past year was Ombudsman Nilda Arduin making use of her competence provided for by law to inform Parliament immediately upon closing the investigation of a case regarding the findings and the decision.

By letter of June 10, 2014, the Ombudsman reported, pursuant to article 23 of the National Ordinance Ombudsman, to Parliament regarding the findings in a complaint filed by a resident against Kadaster and Hypotheekwezen (Land Titles and Mortgages). This action was taken due to continued disregard by Kadaster of the laws and failure by the Ministers of Public Housing VROMI and Finance to adequately respond to appeals by the Ombudsman to look into this private entity charged with public authority.

Apart from meetings held with the Central Committee of Parliament, this matter was not dealt with by the end of 2014.

Propriety, the standards of proper conduct, was highlighted as the main focus in 2014 in preparation to "step up our game" in 2015, said the bureau. However, the performance of government in dealing with the public was a matter of concern as the year started.

This was the reason why the Ombudsman expressed her concerns to the Prime Minister in a letter dated April 10. The Ombudsman plans to discuss these concerns with the Prime Minister when presenting the Year Report.

The Ombudsman presented the Year Report to Parliament Chairman Dr. Lloyd Richardson on Monday. Same will be presented to Governor Eugene Holiday and Prime Minister Marcel Gumbs today, Tuesday. The report was finalized with financial reporting on budget allocated by government and funding agency USONA.

Country’s dependence on tourism down six per cent

PHILIPSBURG--St. Maarten appears to be slowly weaning itself from heavy dependence on tourism.

The Central Bank of Curaçao and St. Maarten stated in its Annual Report 2014 that the country's dependence on direct tourism income had dropped from 79 per cent in 2000 to 73 per cent in 2014.

The six per cent decline was noticed in the contributions made to the country's foreign exchange income over the years.

"Other services," covering real estate income and tourism related businesses, have almost doubled in income generation in the past 14 years. The segment grew from seven per cent in 2000 to 13 per cent in 2014.

Making a contribution in 2014 where there was none almost 14 years ago is fuel bunkering. Bunkering accounted for one per cent of the country's foreign exchange income.

Merchandise contribution to foreign exchange income has dropped to nine per cent from 10 per cent in 2000.

Income from international financial services has declined by half. It stood at two per cent in 2000 and was down to just one per cent of the foreign exchange income in 2014.

Contributions from the transportation sector have stayed at a constant two per cent for the past 14 years.

The tourism sector, in general, has continued to grow since 2010, tallying NAf. 1.6 billion in 2014. The income for 2013 stood at NAf. 1.5 billion.

Curaçao, the sister Dutch Caribbean country with which St. Maarten shares a monetary union, registered only NAf. 1.1 billion income from tourism in 2014 and NAf. 1.04 billion the year before.

Man locks himself to fence, claims abuse by employer

page1a055MARIGOT--A man chained himself to the entrance gate of Inspection du Travail Monday morning at 8:30 in protest at what he claimed was abuse of power by his employer.

It was understood the man's first name is Julio and he had been working for a company called Bâtiment des Iles du Nord for eight months. He was wearing a cut-out face mask and had passed a chain around his neck and through the fence of Inspection du Travail and locked it with a padlock.

While his appearance looked seriously threatening, he said he was only there to stand up for his rights and for justice.

The man claimed he had been tricked into signing a voluntary resignation document by his employer without understanding what was written in the document or understanding French law.

As a consequence of resigning, he is unable to draw the State's unemployment benefit (ASSEDIC) and has no money to support and feed his family and pay his bills.

"I had a contract from this employer and he said he would pay me every month and he never did; he paid me any how and any time he wanted, every two or more months," the man protested. "I was desperate. There is a lot of abuse by employers here and everybody is closing their mouths. But when it gets too much, a revolution must come. I will stay here until I get justice. When you don't have papers, you get abused and when you do have papers you still get abused."

The man's protest got the attention of the Gendarmes and officials of the Préfecture and the Employment Office, who came to see what his protest was about.

President of Rambaud St. Louis Fête Association Etienne "Rocky" Andrew just happened to be walking past the area when he noticed the man chained to the fence.

"I believe this man is entitled to his rights, like everybody, and justice should be served," said Andrew. "It's a sad situation to see, but I'm sure there are others in the same situation as he is. The difference is he had the courage to make a firm stand."

Andrew assisted in drawing the man's situation to the attention of the Employment Office and Inspection du Travail's, who are looking into his case. He indicated that the man should also receive some help from the Department of Solidarity and Families.

Capitaine Sylvain Jouault said the man ended his protest at 10:30am and released himself from the chain.

Efforts to contact the employer for the other side of the story were unsuccessful.

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 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.

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