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Settlement Committee rep has difficulty with info from govt

PHILIPSBURG--St. Maarten representative on the Settlement Committee for the assets and liabilities of the former Netherlands Antilles Jean James told Parliament it is "difficult to get information" from government about "everything." James said he is left empty-handed many times when fighting St. Maarten's cases in Curaçao.

James was at the meeting of the Central Committee of Parliament Monday, on the request of the United People's (UP) party to brief Members of Parliament (MPs) on the Settlement Committee's progress.

Responding to MPs' enquiry about bottlenecks faced by the Settlement Committee, James was very direct, saying this lay with persuading government and companies that form part of the assets to cooperate.

MP Jules James (UP) said Parliament needed to ensure that Finance Minister Martin Hassink gives the Settlement Committee representative "all support" necessary to bring about "a quick settlement" for St. Maarten.

Jean James is to provide Parliament with an inventory of the companies and other entities forming part of the division of assets and liabilities, as well as the relevant laws covering the division and the work of the Settlement Committee. The inventory was requested by several MPs.

Parliament is expected to forward questions to Finance Minister Martin Hassink about government's support for the Settlement Committee and related matters.

Jean James pointed out that politicians in St. Maarten "refuse to accept" the reality of the division of the assets and liabilities agreed on politically. For instance, St. Maarten has to assume the responsibility of paying out former Netherlands Antilles workers who are stationed in St. Maarten. Workers, in turn, have to produce their appointment decrees and supporting documents, should they not [be in – Ed.] agreement with their payouts.

He stressed the necessity of paperwork to validate claims and to challenge divisions. If the division is not suitable, Jean James said government needed to give numbers to back up its claim. "If you have facts you can put up a fight."

As for help from Parliament, he said none was required. What is needed, however, is for people to submit their claims against the estate of the former Netherlands Antilles.

Democratic Party (DP) MP Leroy de Weever queried whether St. Maarten was expected to receive a cheque or debt at the end of the assets and liabilities settlement. Jean James said his expectation was that the country would receive a cheque.

Curaçao has two votes on the Settlement Committee, as it has the chairmanship and a second member. Some MPs said the situation was unfair, where St. Maarten has only one vote via James. The Settlement Committee member reminded MPs that the composition of the committee was based on a "political decision" among the Netherlands, St. Maarten and Curaçao.

St. Maarten has inherited 19 buildings here from the former Netherlands Antilles, including the police stations and prison. Curaçao has inherited all former Central Government buildings on that island. The Settlement Committee is working on putting a price tag on all buildings to ensure both countries receive what they are rightfully entitled to from the division. If Curaçao has inherited more in immovable assets, St. Maarten will be compensated.

Money from Bureau Telecommunication and Post (BTP) Netherlands Antilles that was set aside for the "one laptop per child" project in the Antilles will be forwarded to the bureaus of the two countries. Independent MP Patrick Illidge was concerned about this project. He said the money was just sitting in an account when it could be benefiting the community.

James said he was not in a position to disclose how much was owed to St. Maarten from "the will of the Netherlands Antilles." The Settlement Committee is working all of this out. The basis for the division as agreed on [with – Ed.] all parties was that all immovable properties in St. Maarten belong to St. Maarten and the same for Curaçao; all civil rights and bills of third parties for services in St. Maarten are the responsibility of St. Maarten and the same for Curaçao.

The three major assets of the former Netherlands Antilles are the Central Bank of Curaçao and St. Maarten, the General Pension Fund APNA and the Social and Health Insurance Fund SVB. All three have been settled.

The rest comprises some 28 limited liability companies and other entities formed by law. The limited liability companies include Windward Islands Airways International Winair and United Telecommunication Services (UTS). The entities formed by law include Landsloterij (the National Lottery) and BTP.

Audited reports from most of the 28 companies are still to be sent to the Settlement Committee.

James explained that St. Maarten has its shares in the Central Bank, SVB has been dismantled and the process with APNA should be completed this month. An advance from APNA has enabled the formation of the General Pension Fund St. Maarten APS.

There are some "technical discrepancies" between five and 10 per cent related to APNA investment that experts "have been brooding over." These should be sorted out soon.

A number of creditors of the former Netherlands Antilles were paid off from a windfall received from the Dutch Government. That windfall was in a form of a refund to the Antilles by the Dutch Government from the profit tax paid by companies operating in the Antilles, but filing taxes in the Netherlands.

Government Accountant Bureau SOAB has monitored the validity of the claims and the payouts made. A second opinion on the process has been sought from auditing firm KPMG.

Debt totalling NAf. 3 billion was written off by the Dutch Government. This has lessened the debt coming to St. Maarten and Curaçao.

The Settlement Committee ensures that the assets and debts "go to the right people," Jean James said, as "everyone left the Netherlands Antilles in a hurry." The committee has an advisory role and communicates with the governments of the three countries. The lifespan of the committee will come to an end soon. A recommendation will be made to the government to extend its lifespan for another year so the division can be completed properly.

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