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BES islands will cost 101M euros per year

THE HAGUE--The annual price tag of taking up the BES islands Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba in the Dutch Constellation as "public entities" exceeds 101 million euros.

The biggest chunk of expenditures is for the so-called "free remittances" (vrije uitkeringen in Dutch), which total 21.3 million euros. The Dutch ministries will spend 80.5 million on services for the BES islands, which brings the annual total cost to 101.8 million euros. Caretaker Dutch State Secretary of Kingdom Relations Ank Bijleveld-Schouten stated this in a letter that she sent to the Dutch Parliament's Second Chamber Monday.

Parliament's Permanent Committee for Antillean and Aruban Affairs NAAZ, specifically Member of Parliament (MP) Johan Remkes of the conservative VVD party, had been asking for a financial overview of the cost involved in integrating the BES islands for several months. The figures are just time for the handling of the financial laws for the BES islands by the Second Chamber.

The Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment SZW will spend most on the BES islands at 19.2 million euros, followed by the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science OCW at 15.7 million euros, and the Ministry of Public Health, Wellbeing and Sports at 13.6 million euros.

Expenditures of the other ministries have been estimated at: Home Affairs and Kingdom Affairs BZK 12 million euros, Justice 8.7 million, Finance 3.2 million, Traffic and Water Management V&W three million, Economic Affairs EZ 2.2 million, Youth and Family Affairs J&G 1.7 million, Public Housing, Physical Planning and Environment VROM 0.6 million, and Agriculture, Nature and Livestock 0.6 million. The figures are only an indication, as Bijleveld-Schouten was still talking with fellow cabinet members in preparing the 2011 budget.

Translated into cost per citizen of the BES islands, it means the Netherlands will be investing some NAf. 15,000 per inhabitant. This can further increase when a definite agreement has been made with Bonaire, because that island has not been included in the 21.3-million-euro component "free remittances."

Bijleveld-Schouten explained in her letter that the 21.3 million in free remittances was an indicative figure because the Netherlands hadn't been able to conclude negotiations with Bonaire about the future division of tasks. "The calculation of the free remittance is based on agreements with Saba and St. Eustatius about the division of tasks," she said.

The Second Chamber had mixed reactions about the 101.8 million-euro calculation. "This is a lot of money. I am sure that the Frisian Islands [Waddeneilanden-Ed.] cost a lot less," said Member of Parliament Ronald van Raak of the Socialist Party (SP). He said he would be asking the State Secretary for clarification.

MP John Leerdam of the Labour Party PvdA wasn't shocked by the figure. "We are letting an entire Dutch establishment loose on three islands that are separated by an ocean and depend on themselves, where it comes to facilities," he said.

Leerdam agreed that it was a lot of money, but he added, "You can't compare the islands to regular municipalities in the Netherlands. Municipalities can share facilities. Bonaire, Saba and St. Eustatius each need to have their own airport, seaport and hospital." He said that 6,000 euros per BES resident might seem a lot, but when looking at it from a Dutch perspective it wasn't that much: six euros per capita.

SMITH courses never recognised, were not fulfilling their purpose

~ Education Dept. recommended discontinuing programme ~

PHILIPSBURG--The Education Department issued a damning report last year about St. Maarten Institute for Technology and Hospitality (SMITH), which was launched by former Education Commissioner and Democratic Party (DP) leader Sarah Wescot-Williams.

The department said the courses had never been accredited. The usefulness of the certificates issued now comes into question.

The ordinance to create the framework for SMITH's legal operation was passed in 2008, making it possible for it to receive government subsidy.

Attendance at the programme has been "shockingly and unjustifiably low for the institute to be allowed to continue operating in its present form," it was stated in the report. The department advised the Executive Council to discontinue SMITH and have the students taken over by other programmes.

The report prepared by the Education Department before the sitting Executive Council took office was requested by the Democratic Party (DP) faction during the Island Council debate on the budget, which wrapped up Monday with the budget being passed by seven votes to four and with two motions presented by the DP faction being turned down.

In its report, the Education Department said SMITH had not netted the intended results. Students had also complained to The Daily Herald that they had been repeating the same courses year after year.

"In November 2008 the ordinance for Secondary Vocational Education (SVE) was passed, making it possible for such institutes as SMITH to exist legally and come into consideration for funding based on guidelines stipulated," it was stated in the report.

"Based on the ordinance, SMITH cannot exist in its present form and offer SVE training. Furthermore, the courses offered cannot be approved, considering that the institute does not have formal statutes nor is it attached to a school board or a board of directors.

"Also, to come into consideration for funding, the courses offered must meet the approval of the Minister of Education and requests for funding must be brought by the Executive Council to the Island Council for approval," the report continued.

In an effort to correct these issues, the former Director of SMITH had been working feverishly to get the programmes accredited.

"The organisation submitted its curricula and background information of its teaching staff to the Ministry of Education in order to gain the needed recognition for the programmes that it had been offering. Questions continued to be sent by the Ministry asking for clarity on the status of SMITH and its statutes.

"In its present status, there are no statutes. SMITH is an institute that came into being out of a need and prior to SVE becoming a reality. Hence, fitting it into the system that was now legally established proved to be quite an undertaking. Further, the operational cost continues to rise," the report stated.

"The organisation caters to quite a number of dropouts from the school system. Many of these dropouts are candidates for Compulsory Social Formation. Some of the enrolled students are over the age of 30. While to some extent this is good, the actual purpose of SMITH is lost.

"Consideration should be given to the organisation's future in the structure of Secondary Vocational Education (SVE)," the department stated. Such a programme is being worked on by the current administration with the future construction of an SBO school.

"SMITH was originally started to cater to the needs of students who were leaving secondary school and were ill-prepared for the world of work. Furthermore, some of these students were too young to be considered for study financing. It was deemed necessary to provide education to these students locally and prepare them for the world of work. The programme therefore made use of its Work Experience Programme as preparation for the world of work for its students.

"Towards the end of the last semester, classes being held at Sundial School were visited unexpectedly by two members of the Steering Committee. The number of students that were in attendance was shockingly and unjustifiably low for the institute to be allowed to continue operating in its present form.

"Over the years, the student population that SMITH enrolled differed significantly from the target group, which should have been students leaving VSBO PKL and PBL. Instead, SMITH was contending with a number of dropouts from the school system and students who were once enrolled in Compulsory Social Formation Education, as well as mature adults. This thereby changes the purpose for which SMITH was designed in the first place (persons over 24 and few VSBO students).

"The organisation submitted a request to have bus transportation be provided to the students who attend the institution. This the Steering Committee would not approve, as it meant financial increase to an organisation that seem to be regressing. The Education coordinator also submitted a request to have the office relocated to another building that would provide sufficient space to use as classrooms."

SMITH had used classrooms at Sundial School for which rent is paid. In the past classrooms were also being used at St. Maarten Vocational Training School. However, these were deemed inadequate and too far from where students live or can have easy access to transportation to get home after classes.

SMITH had offered courses in business administration assistant, information technology service assistant, Horeca, Cook and General security. It had planned to offer courses in Secretarial Assistant, Computer Repair and Cook in 2009.

"The enrolment in the various courses was a bare minimum number of students and concerns were being raised by the Steering Committee as to the worthiness of the investment. In the courses that were offered in the past, the numbers initially showed promise and eventually dwindled to the extent that the investment was becoming questionable.

"When one compares the number of part-time staff, including two fulltime employees of SMITH, against the student population, it creates a need for concern with reference to the investment," the report stated.

Only 793 Haitians request immunity

~ One day left to register ~

PHILIPSBURG--The Central Government had hoped for two weeks that at least 2,000 undocumented Haitians in St. Maarten would register for temporary legal immunity from repatriation. Only 793 had applied up to mid-Tuesday.

Today, Wednesday, March 31, is their last chance to register for protection from immigration controls in the coming weeks.

The Central Government is disappointed with Haitian registrations within the last 12 days, saying Haitians inexplicably had stopped signing up. But, "We cannot stop motivating them to come to sign," Coordinator Tiara Haselhoef said Tuesday.

Antillean Justice Minister Magali Jacoba urged Haitians two Fridays ago to register before the time was up.

Haselhoef said most applicants – 506 men, women and children – could stay only until August 31. Another 235 can stay until December 31.

Haselhoef said most registrants couldn't prove when they had arrived in St. Maarten, while many could have applied for Brooks Tower Accord (BTA) Category I or II, but didn't. "Most of them don't have an entry stamp," Haselhoef said, after reviewing hundreds of passports.

The Central Government decided to allow Haitians who were visiting or who live here illegally to stay for a few months while international agencies work to restore their earthquake-ravaged island. Minister Jacoba announced in February that these Haitians could stay in Dutch St. Maarten legally for a few more months as long as they were willing to register as undocumented.

More than 600 persons registered between March 15 through 17. However, fewer than 100 Haitians have applied for protection each day since. Many were given numbers to return with more documents. Haselhoef said most hadn't done so.

The Central Government threatened undocumented immigrants with immediate repatriation if they had lied or used a forged passport to apply for protection. Haselhoef said many had tried and had been turned down. "We saw a lot of false documents," Haselhoef said, suggesting that lack of complete papers was the problem.

Haitians who live in Dutch St. Maarten illegally have from 8:00am to 4:00pm today to register for immunity. "At 4:00pm, we will close the doors," Haselhoef said.

Dolphin Casino assets auctioned

page3a266~ Government could revoke license ~

SIMPSONBAY--Time ran out for Dolphin Casino. Although given a month extension to settle tax debts with the Island Government March 5, casino management was unsuccessful.

As a consequence the Island Receiver descended on the premises Tuesday morning to carry out a public auction of physical assets. By press time Tuesday personnel of the receiver office were still busy on location. A report of the auction will be ready sometime after the Easter holidays.

The next question is what the Executive Council will decide to do with the licence considering that the business is now inactive. Government has revoked a number of casino licences in the past that were not being utilised. Dolphin Casino clearly has financial problems which could hasten government's decision to revoke.

Dolphin Casino has been suffering through major decline in its business which has resulted in a significant decline in revenue. The situation got so bad, electricity service to the building was shut off due to outstanding bills.

The casino operator then opted to run his business solely on generator power for at least 6 months.

Government will not make deadline for new tariffs, concession for GEBE

PHILIPSBURG--The new tariff structure and concession for utility company GEBE will not be in place by March 31, which could lead to GEBE being in default of its loan with Pacific Life and incurring hefty penalty fees.

The committee consisting of representatives of the Island Government and GEBE continues to work on the tariff structure and concession fee, but it will not meet the deadline.

Commissioner in charge of Energy Theo Heyliger said he had called Pacific Life to inform it of the progress, and had asked GEBE management to do the same. He also believed there would be a penalty, but the loan would not be called in.

By agreement with its lender Pacific Life, GEBE, and by extension the Island Government, had to ensure that a new concession for the company was in place by January 31, one year prior to the expiration of the current concession.

Realising that this was not going to be achievable, a delegation led by Commissioner Heyliger travelled to California, on December 22, 2009, to meet with Pacific Life to request an extension of the January 31 deadline. Heyliger was joined by GEBE Chairman of the Board Julius Lambert, then-interim Managing Director Paul Marshall and a legal representative.

The delegation was successful in securing an extension, but only until March 31. As such, the onus now lies with the Executive Council to grant GEBE its concession before March 31. The new tariffs would have to be included in this concession, and both would have to go to the Central Committee, and ultimately be ratified by the Island Council.

Pacific Life will not maintain an agreement with GEBE without risk protection, and, in all likelihood, will start issuing penalty fees if March 31 passes without a concession in place.

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