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Frans and Leona to address ‘rumours’

PHILIPSBURG--United St. Maarten Party leader Member of Parliament Frans Richardson and MP-elect Leona Marlin-Romeo are to hold a press conference at Parliament House today, Friday, at 10:00am "to address the rumours" circulating in the community about Marlin-Romeo leaving the party to go independent.

Richardson told The Daily Herald about the press conference last night. He also said there was no truth to the rumours about issues within the party and by extension the fledgling National Alliance/US Party/Democratic Party coalition.

WICLU: GEBE elderly relief is discriminatory

~ Says all consumers deserve relief ~

PHILIPSBURG--Windward Islands Chamber of Labour Unions (WICLU) wants utilities company GEBE to provide non-discriminatory relief across the board to all of its consumers instead of just a select few.

WICLU First Vice-President Claire Elshot said that while the temporary six-month relief GEBE offered qualifying senior citizens was "all good and well," this approach was discriminatory. Elshot contended that GEBE's concession stipulated that it should not have discriminatory practices.

She said many consumers were in need of relief and urged GEBE to extend non-discriminatory relief to all workers, who are also consumers. She said too that the criteria for which the selected seniors had been granted relief was still unclear.

"It is time that GEBE stops this discriminatory practice and offers relief to everyone across the board," Elshot contended during WICLU's bi-weekly press briefing on Thursday. "This is a very urgent matter that needs to be addressed."

She said the extremely high utility rates affected many workers in the country. She said the effects had been very evident this year with the high number of parents who could not come up with the school fees for their children at the start of the new academic year in August. The high cost of living and high utility rates are directly responsible for this.

She alluded to the motion passed unanimously by Parliament on January 15 for GEBE to provide relief to consumers. The motion, passed towards the end of the public meeting of Parliament on the 2014 budget, requested that the GEBE Shareholder Representative ensure that the operational loss subsidy formerly paid by GEBE for its operations in Saba and St. Eustatius go directly towards decreasing the fixed cost charged by GEBE to residential consumers.

MPs wanted the NAf. 5-7 million that GEBE now saves annually to benefit consumers. Elshot said the relief the motion had called for still had not been granted to consumers to date.

She said now that elections were over the persons elected to Parliament should handle this as one of the issues that had been championed during the election campaign.

‘Janchi’ re-elected, in spite of tie with Buncamper-Molanus

page1a092PHILIPSBURG--Incumbent Member of Parliament (MP) Johan "Janchi" Leonard (United People's (UP) party) can be considered the big winner after the validation of the votes from the August 29 Parliamentary Elections by the Central Voting Bureau on Wednesday. Leonard was short two votes to be re-elected to Parliament. He received those votes when the bureau reviewed ballots deemed invalid by the polling station on election night.

Leonard (UP #7) is an MP-elect for UP, in spite of the tie with former Minister Maria Buncamper-Molanus (UP #21), because of his placement on the party's list of candidates. Article 100 of the Electoral Ordinance states that in the event of a tie, the candidate first on the list will be deemed elected.

Leonard was two votes short of being named the seventh MP-elect when the preliminary individual vote tally was released by the bureau on Saturday afternoon. Buncamper-Molanus had two votes more than him.

Leonard was one of several candidates and voters who asked for a recount of all ballots at the start of the bureau's public meeting in A.C. Wathey Legislative Hall. The bureau decided only to review the invalid ballots of all 20 polling stations. That review yielded Leonard's two votes, which tied him with Buncamper-Molanus.

Leonard was not the only candidate to gain votes. Several candidates on all six parties that contested the election gained votes in the review.

The meeting of the bureau on Wednesday was in accordance with the Electoral Ordinance to validate the results of the election.

Bureau Chairman Jason Rogers said at the opening, and maintained at the close of the meeting, that there was "no reason to doubt the validity and accuracy" of the election results.

Protest

Two letters of protest were lodged at the state of the session with the bureau – one from Social Reform Party (SRP) leader and lone candidate Jacinto Mock and Leonard.

Mock cited as reasons for his protest: "no transparency" based on the bureau representatives not visiting polling stations when ballots were counted, voters not receiving voting cards, and a number of voters "did not understand English."

Leonard asked for a total recount as a way of trying to find his two additional votes to be re-elected to Parliament.

Jim Rosen, a registered voter and campaign rep for Democratic Party (DP) candidate Emil Lee, lodged a verbal protest, calling for a recount of polling stations #8, St. Maarten Academy, and #15, Melford Hazel Sports and Recreational Centre. His reason was the high number of invalid ballots from those stations.

Claret Connor (UP #10) also called for a recount of all districts, saying that he was six votes short of being elected to Parliament.

Sidharth "Cookie" Bijlani (DP #9) requested a recount of all districts due to the high number of invalid votes and because the votes he received were "lower" than he expected.

Richinel Brug (United St. Maarten (US) Party #7) wanted a recount of all districts, especially because party representatives were not given the opportunity to see if the ballots were really invalid on election night.

Herbert Martina (National Alliance #23) asked for a recount of all districts, in particular, #8 and #15.

Narda de Windt (NA #16) also asked for all districts, especially polling stations #5, Dutch Quarter Community Centre, and #8.

Octavio Ogando-Garcia (DP #16) wanted polling station #14, Belvedere Community Centre, and the St. Peters station recounted.

After a 30-minutes recess to deliberate, Rogers reopened the public meeting and informed party representatives that the bureau still found "no reason to doubt" the validity of the numbers from the polling stations. Mock's protest about voters not receiving voting cards was also deemed not applicable as the bureau made several statements informing voters about collecting their voting cards.

Leonard and Connor were told by Rogers being short votes to be elected to Parliament was not a valid reason and "does not indicate the voting or counting was not done accurately and to the law."

The protests of Ogando-Garcia and De Windt were ruled inadmissible as no grounds were given for the request for the recount. Article 88 of the Electoral Ordinance required all protests to be supported by reasons.

To the other protests about the high number of invalid ballots, Rogers said the protests were void as the bureau, based on the electoral regulations, had to check those ballots.

Opening suitcases

Before stating the review of the some 382 invalid ballots, Rogers informed the gathering that the invalid ballots for polling station #7, Rupert I. Maynard Youth Community Centre, was not separated from the other ballots. The bureau had to open the locked suitcase in which the ballots from that station were stored to find the invalid ballots. This was carried out after all invalid ballots were dealt with from the other stations.

The bureau has had to open the suitcase with the ballots of polling station #6, Milton Peters College. It was found during the review that all the invalid ballots were not set aside by the polling station staff.

Moving from polling station one through 20, the bureau reviewed each ballot and determined whether each was indeed invalid or could be deemed valid. Each ballot was shown to the gathering in the hall. A number of ballots were deemed valid.

The locks on the suitcases had to be broken because the keys did not work.

Polling station #8 saw the most invalid ballots deemed valid by the bureau. The majority of those votes went to UP.

Those ballots saw the total number of valid votes climb to 14,556 from 14,500.

The US Party, headed by incumbent Member of Parliament (MP) Frans Richardson, saw its votes increase from 1,636 to 1,647.

NA, led by incumbent MP William Marlin, had an increase of votes from 4,011 to 4,055.

UP, headed by incumbent MP Theo Heyliger, saw an increase of votes from 6,156 to 6,211.

DP of Prime Minister Sarah Wescot-Williams got 2,342, down from 2,398.

SRP and One St. Maarten People Party (OSPP) gained one vote each.

The new, now final vote tally does not affect the Parliament seat allocation to the parties as announced by the bureau early Saturday morning. UP still has seven seats, NA four seats, and US Party and DP two seats each.

The total number of eligible voters also changed again. The tally after the review showed 21,439, an increase from Election Day, when that tally stood at 21,433. The official voter count was determined as 21,457 prior to Election Day, but that number was changed to 21,433 due to several court orders that reduced the number of people who could vote.

Invalid ballots

A significant number of invalid ballots saw voters selecting two or more candidates on various lists, colouring the number of candidate they preferred instead of the circle next to the candidate's name, marking the ballot with a blue or black pen instead of the regulation red pencil.

A number of ballots were written on by voters.

One voter at polling station #5 wrote "f**kers" and drew a smiley face on ballot.

A voter took the time at polling station #7 to completely scratch off the list of US Party with a pen and selected NA candidate #10, Romeo Pantophlet.

At polling station #8, a voter wrote: "This island needs God for direction."

"An invalid vote is also a vote" and "I refuse to vote for any of these crooks" were written on two ballots at polling station #10, Raoul Illidge Sports Complex.

"Be there for the people. Not for money" and "Marijuana legalize it – boom (including the drawing of a marijuana leaf)" were written on two ballots at polling station #11, Charles Leopold Bell School.

UP #3 candidate Deputy Leader Franklin Meyers almost gained a vote at polling station #14, Belvedere. The voter correctly filled out the circle with the red pencil next to his name, but added her name – Virginie van Putten – on top of the ballot, rendering it invalid. "No, no, no" and "None" were written on two other ballots at this station.

"Rastafari" on a ballot at polling station #15 caused the ballot to be invalid. Heyliger would have gained a vote at this polling station had voter Leroy de Windt not signed his name on the ballot. Another ballot has the drawing of a smiley face.

Heyliger lost another vote in polling station #16, Methodist Agogic Centre, when the voter correctly filled in the circle, but drew a slash mark across the photos of the NA and DP leaders. One vote for the DP was deemed invalid in this same district because the voter signed the ballot.

At polling station #6, four ballots were written or drawn on. "UP makes SXM a better place," "Jesus Christ Saviour for SXM" and a message in French were on three ballots. The fourth ballot has what appeared to be the Eye of Providence (a pyramid with an open eye), which is usually associated with Freemasonry and is found on the Great Seal of the United States.

Two-year-old’s body arrived in Netherlands for autopsy

PHILIPSBURG--The body of a two-year-old boy who died at St. Maarten Medical Centre (SMMC) last week has arrived in the Netherlands, where an autopsy is due to take place on Thursday or Friday, spokeswoman of the Prosecutor's Office Tineke Kampen confirmed. "I don't know if we will receive the results immediately afterwards, and when we receive the results, I don't know if the results will be made public, because they may be relevant for further investigation and also, we need to inform the family first."

The male suspect who was arrested in connection with the death, a Haitian, remains in pre-trial detention pending the investigation.

The child died after having been taken to SMMC after reportedly having seizures. Doctors called police after they became suspicious, reportedly having seen blood on the child. A man who had been with the boy immediately before he was taken to the hospital was arrested.

Council approves one tablet per child project

PHILIPSBURG--The Council of Ministers has approved the "One tablet per child" project aimed at providing elementary school pupils with a tablet, starting with those in public education which fall directly under the ministry.

A total of NAf. 4,277,775.46 has been secured from the division of assets from the Antillean Bureau of Telecommunications and Post for the initiative. The St. Maarten Development Fund will manage and supervise the disbursement of the funds for the project.

Education Minister Patricia Lourens-Philip said on August 26, she had presented the Council of Ministers with several policy documents to ensure that the project was embedded in an Information Communication Technology (ICT) Policy in Education in general and in particular in an ICT policy for the schools.

"The preparation of this project took several months to be completed because I wanted to ensure that everything would be in place to guarantee the sustainability and continuity of the project after the transition of government," Lourens-Philip said in a press release on Wednesday. "When I took office a little over a year ago I put together a list of goals that I would have liked to accomplish during my short tenure as minister."

She said introducing ICT in education topped her priority list as she was convinced that providing pupils with the necessary skills and knowledge in the use of information and communication technologies will guarantee accelerated sustainable economic and social development for St. Maarten.

"Only through an ICT-literate labour force will St. Maarten be able to dispose of a critical manpower pool of highly-skilled professionals such as engineers, technicians and software developers who will support a growing local ICT industry," the minister said.

"This industry has the potential to contribute to the diversification of our one pillar economy. The one-tablet-per-child project will also provide career opportunities for talented St. Maarteners and others to participate in the ICT knowledge generation. Where the schools are concerned the administration and management of these institutions will also benefit from this project through effective use of ICT tools in their day-to-day operation, thereby transforming the educational landscape of St. Maarten."

This innovative step in education is the realisation of one of the minister's dreams for education.

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