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Stricter economic controls imminent

PHILIPSBURG--With the announced intention to increase the Turnover Tax (ToT) to five per cent, officials from the Departments of Economic Policy and Research (DEPR) and Control and Inspection are finalising plans and approaches to ensure that supermarkets abide by the maximum prices of the 12 government-controlled items and every brand within those items.
Department Head of DEPR Lucy Gibbes explained that the department, from a policy end, will be re-activating the maximum price control system which wasn't operating efficiently for a number of reasons.
Additionally, Control and Inspection Head Shervin Frederick confirmed that as a result of the planned increase in ToT, stricter economic controls are imminent in the interest of the consumers along with ensuring adherence to the various rules and regulations.
He said activities will include:
1. More frequent price comparisons between the shelf and cashier prices of products in the supermarkets.
2. More frequent controls of the maximum prices for government controlled items such as milk, sugar, butter, flower, rice, etc.
3. Continued comparison publications of the product prices per supermarket.
Choosing not to divulge specifics as the max price system still has to get approved, Gibbes said an assessment of the current system was carried out to identify the bottlenecks and drawbacks of the system.
Once that was done, she added, "we came up with a plan of action on how to resolve those issues and we have a proposal pending for approval. We want to make sure the max price system is working. So in other words if you purchase a bag of rice one place, it should be the same price or lower at another place," she said.
Additionally, she said, the Control and Inspection Department will have a two-fold approach; to control the max prices and to carry out their regular controls. "By early next year they will be out very often. But controls are carried out on a regularly basis anyway," she said.
Regarding sanctioning or fining wholesalers who do not abide by the max price system, Gibbes said the plan is to seek authority for the Ministry of Economic Affairs to sanction and fine wholesalers with the invoices as required. Gibbes explained that legislation made it difficult to compel wholesalers to provide the invoices. "Then the consequences were very limited and miniscule," she said.
When asked about public concerns that supermarkets might start hiking prices after the announcement that the Turnover Tax will be increased to 5 per cent, Gibbes said she believes the controllers will be out checking as normal during the holiday season.

Advisory Council meeting

page3b172Governor Eugene Holiday presided over the first meeting of the Advisory Council of St. Maarten on Monday afternoon. The council already has its first major undertaking: the 2011 draft budget that was sent by Finance Minister Hiro Shigemoto to be reviewed. The meeting took place in the former Eastern Caribbean Cellular (ECC) building on E.C. Richardson Street. This building is expected to house the secretariat of the council. (John Halley photo)

St. Maarten gives thanks and ushers in Christmas season

page11a171~ Rhoda: Spiritual hurricane threatens island ~

CLEM LABEGA SQUARE--Residents of St. Maarten gathered on Sunday afternoon and gave thanks to God for sparing the island from any major hurricane hit. They also ushered in the Christmas season with the symbolic lighting of the Government Administration Building.
New to this year's thanksgiving service was a re-enactment of the Nativity scene by the Cole Bay Theatre Company. Making the event more interesting and demonstrating the island's uniqueness and being home to people of different faiths was the Jewish Chanukah celebration on Cyrus Wathey Square also on Sunday afternoon (see related story).
Welcoming the gathering Economic Affairs and Tourism Minister Franklin Meyers said God had been good to St. Maarten – "a blessed place" and the "sugar apple of the Caribbean."
He said the island had not been spared any major hurricane damage because of something the community had done, but because God was involved. "We are strong today and a country today because of God's will."
Meyers said that as St. Maarten gave thanks, residents must keep in their minds and prayers those islands such as St. Lucia, Dominica, Curaçao, Haiti and others that had not been spared during the just-ended hurricane season.
Meyers represented Prime Minister Sarah Wescot-Williams who is off-island.
President of the Collectivité of St. Martin Frantz Gumbs was unable to attend the ceremony as planned due to unforeseen circumstances. Other government officials of both sides of the island were present.
Reverend Charles Seaton spoke in his sermon about tolerance and appreciation for God's miracles and for kindness shown by others. He told the story of Jesus healing lepers to illustrate the need to give thanks for blessings received.
He equated leprosy with HIV/AIDS saying that what leprosy was in biblical times could be described similar to the ravages of HIV/AIDS. He dealt with intolerance for people with leprosy and laws that had victimised, disgraced and excluded sufferers even from places of worship.
Seaton urged those gathered to put aside time for God and prayer.
In the Prayer of Reconcilation, Pastor Royston Philbert told the gathering the leaders of government had been "trying to justify who they are" and called on those leaders to "now put aside their differences."
As he prayed, he asked God to bind the island together "with cords of love that cannot be broken."
Education and Culture Minister Rhoda Arrindell, giving the Vote of Thanks, said St. Maarten was threatened by "a spiritual hurricane" comprising "crime, greed, intolerance, self-hate and crass materialism that is equivalent to idolatry." She later officially switched on the lights of the Government Administration Building to symbolically usher in the Christmas season.
Sunday's service was put together by the Christian Council of Churches, the St. Maarten Ministerial Foundation and the Seventh Day Adventist Church in collaboration with the Department of Culture. The opening prayer was conducted by Pastor Louis Constant, Scripture Reading by Minister Vincent Gumbs, a mime by Brother Darius Marie, and the Benediction by Father Robert "Bob" Johnson.
The service was completed with the re-enactment of the Nativity scene that captured the interest of especially the children in the audience.page11a171

Sarah reportedly interviewed by FBI agents about Rangel

page4c171PHILIPSBURG--Prime Minister Sarah Wescot-Williams reportedly was interviewed by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) concerning disgraced US congressman Charles Rangel's 2008 visit here to attend the 2008 Caribbean Multi-National Business Conference.
The reports about the FBI's interviews could not be confirmed up to late Sunday, but The Daily Herald understands the US agents were probing in-kind donations made by the Island Government in connection with the 2008 conference – donations that apparently were accepted in breach of the US Congress' ethics rules.
Rangel's 2008 visit to St. Maarten was organised in part by Carl and Faye Rodney, the owners of Caribnews, a newspaper published in New York.
Section 52 of the Report and Findings of the Office of Congressional Ethics Review #09-2222 on the matter reads: "The government of St. Maarten provided in-kind donations to support the conference and also had a substantial role in planning the conference. As a result, it was effectively a sponsor of the 2008 conference."
According to Section 53 of the report, Rodney provided then-leader of government of St. Maarten and then-commissioner Sarah Wescot-Williams with a list of basic needs for the then-island territory to host the event. The requirements included 25 all-inclusive rooms for the VIPs and members of Congress attending, and transportation for all concerned, in cars or specialised vans, not buses.
Also required were a "Host Country Evening" of food refreshment, cultural presentation and entertainment; assistance in promotion and publicity; securing competitive hotel rates; equipping and staffing the conference; secretaries; and arrangement of tours and activities of interest to VIPs and/or their spouses.
According to the House Ethics Manual, the general prohibition against accepting officially-connected travel from a private source that retains or employs lobbyists, or from agents of a foreign principal is for trips involving attendance at or participation in one-day events (exclusive of travel time and an overnight stay).
Under the rule, it is permissible for a Member of the House or staff person to accept meals related to a single night's lodging and meals related to the trip, if offered by the trip sponsor, but Members and staff must limit their involvement in connection with the event to a single calendar day, exclusive of travel time and an overnight stay.
In effect, the generosity of the St. Maarten Government at the time and the demands of the visitors appear to have led to breaches of the rules by Rangel and others, and those breaches formed a small part of the allegations against Rangel, who has now appeared before Congress to receive the second-highest disciplinary action: censure. He is the 23rd member of Congress in the USA's history to receive this punishment.

Carty: Chamber will accept hike in ToT only as a ‘temporary measure’

page7b171~ Says 'Target businesses operating under radar' ~

PHILIPSBURG--St. Maarten Chamber of Commerce and Industry will accept government's proposed turnover tax (ToT) increase "only" as a temporary measure for one year, says Chamber President Glen Carty.
He told The Daily Herald on Sunday that the one-year temporary measure would give the sitting coalition government "time" to "get the budget sorted out" and to "work on loose areas."
He said it was important that government work on other measures, such as pursuing businesses that were operating "under the radar."
Carty had said last year that an estimated 4,000 active businesses on its register had no tax identification or CRIB numbers at the Inspectorate of Taxes and therefore probably were not paying taxes. At that time he called the discovery "shocking" and called on businesses without CRIB numbers to obtain them and start living up to their obligation to pay taxes.
He said yesterday that the Chamber "won't sit by for lip service to solve these issues. ... While we understand that they have to increase the ToT, we will only accept it as a temporary increase. ... It has to be solved in a year, and if it is not solved, I can guarantee to government that the Chamber will take actions [because it, ed.] will not be accepting a [prolonged, ed.] increase," Carty said in a telephone interview from Curaçao.
The Chamber will be seeking an urgent meeting with government to discuss this matter. Carty said the Chamber was willing to work with government to find solutions within the year. He added that the Chamber understood the urgency of the situation with the impending December 15 deadline. "It is a critical position and we understand what they want to accomplish with the five per cent."
He said the Chamber would like to see "a concrete plan" on how government would tackle the situation of businesses not paying taxes. "Citizens will carry the burden of this and we want clear indication of the cost-cutting measures of government apparatus."
Carty said the still-incomplete new government administration building under construction on Pond Island, for example, was supposed to have been a "solution" to save government from paying to rent buildings for its various departments around St. Maarten by housing them in the new building.
He said, though, that St. Maarten was "still renting buildings and still paying a mortgage.
"When a business cannot meet its budget, we have to look to see how we can cut cost. There are other measures that government can take to cut its own operational cost. We have 15 parliamentarians. That is already almost one per square mile, plus all their support staff."
Carty said businesses should not itemise the additional ToT charge as a separate item on bills, but rather incorporate the cost in the price of items, and that clarity was needed on how this would be done.
He said the huge budget deficit had come as a "total shock" for the Chamber, as "the public" had been "under the impression" that once the two per cent ToT no longer went to the Central Government, it would come to St. Maarten.
"Today [Sunday] is December 5 and we are with our backs against the wall to have a balanced budget. ... We are not letting government off the hook. We need a concrete plan on how government wants to do this. We need a clear-cut indication on cost-cutting measures. Government has a year to get its house in order."
He called on businesses to do business with companies that were registered at the Chamber and that had CRIB numbers. "We have that responsibility," he said. Of approximately 17,000 businesses in the Chamber's register, 7,500 are active and 9,500 inactive.
Government wants to increase ToT by two per cent, from three to five per cent, as of January 2011 as part of its measures to balance the 2011 budget.
The former National Alliance-led government's move to increase the ToT by one per cent as a temporary measure for six months to balance the 2010 budget – to the "satisfaction" of the Committee for Financial Supervision CFT earlier this year – was met by firm opposition from sections of the community. The then-opposition Democratic Party (DP) members were also vehemently against the move to increase the taxes and eventually it was abandoned.

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