Friday, Jun 05th

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Robbery victim stripped naked

COLE BAY--A man had a knife held to his throat and was ordered by robbers to strip naked. The incident occurred on Welfare Road near St. Maarten Cars on Friday, December 3, at approximately 2:15am.
J.R.P., a Romanian who resides on the island, told detectives he had been walking home when two men on a scooter approached him. The passenger held a knife to J.R.P.'s throat and threatened to harm him if he did not cooperate.
J.R.P. said that, fearing for his life, he had cooperated with the robbers. His wallet containing US $140 and his Nokia cellular telephone were stolen from him. He also was stripped of all his clothing and left naked on the street. After committing this act the robbers took off on the scooter.
The Detective Department is investigating this case.

St. Maarten good for JetBlue, more Boston flights likely

page1a170~ San Juan route a real possibility ~

By Michael R. Granger

AIRPORT--JetBlue Airways President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Dave Barger has described the airline's St. Maarten route as profitable with the expectation for service growth. Barger was on the island Friday for his first work-intensive trip since JetBlue's inaugural flight in 2008.
He met with a delegation led by Minister of Tourism Franklin Meyers and Director of Tourism Regina Labega. He also had separate meetings with hoteliers of both sides of the island, St. Maarten Hospitality and Trade Association (SHTA), and the French-side hotel association AHSM.
"It's profitable and we're pleased," Barger said of St. Maarten/St. Martin. "In year one, we looked at the numbers and thought, 'Well, this is going to be tough.' Then in year two, the turnaround was positive, and year three that continued. We tend to look for a market to mature in about three years before you even start to see a profitable performance. So we're really pleased with the maturation of this market."
He declined to delve into figures, citing competitive reasons, but attributed the success of the service to the product (St. Maarten/St. Martin). "We're not just here on the weekends. We're here seven days a week and it's a reliable schedule. JetBlue services St. Maarten with one New York flight daily from Monday to Friday and one Boston flight on Saturdays."
While the year-round number of flights will remain the same for now, JetBlue St. Maarten General Manager Marc Boasman said the Boston flight, which is mostly charter-driven, would be increased by one flight on Sundays and an additional flight Tuesdays for the peak season.

San Juan service
Barger said all parties he had met on Friday, as well as his team in New York, had reinforced their call for a possible St. Maarten-San Juan flight, a possibility he described as "real." Barger said officials in Puerto Rico reported that JetBlue soon would be the largest airline servicing Puerto Rico in terms of flights and connections. Therefore, adding a St. Maarten-San Juan flight, perhaps via Santo Domingo, is a real possibility.
For that to happen, Barger stressed, tangible cooperation would have to be in place.
"What we would really like to see is the support of both destinations (St. Maarten and Puerto Rico) in a combined effort. We're not looking for a subsidy, but help us promote and guarantee that we can start this service with some type of a backstop," he said.
"It could be from the local businesses, co-op marketing and advertising, but something that says to us that adding St. Maarten-San Juan is better for return on investment than adding another Boston-Chicago. We wouldn't do it unless we could do it profitably."
He said competition from other airlines on the popular route was not a deterrent. "There will always be competition. To that I would say, not in an arrogant way, 'I'll take our product and our cost structure any day.' We can find and provide the right fares without gouging, and be profitable." Discussions on the possible San Juan route will continue.

PJIA service
Regarding service at Princess Juliana International Airport (PJIA), Barger said his company was very satisfied overall. Though not perfect, Barger said he was impressed with the runway extension safety areas (RESAs) project, the availability of additional gates, and the plans to overlay the old tarmac of the runway, which dates back to 1996.
"We have visited a lot of cities in the region [and] I can honestly say this airport really is performing very well. It's not perfect, but from a corporate perspective, we are very pleased," Barger said.
Added Boasman: "When the terminal was opened in 2006 there were some kinks to overcome, but I've seen improvement. I would like to see a little more structure in the gates/ramp area. With the addition of the new gates and better coordination with the airport, I definitely see improvement."

page8a170Local groups
As JetBlue is celebrating 10 years of operation in 2010, the company thought it prudent to go to the destinations it services to strengthen relationships. Barger said he was pleased to have had the opportunity to hold discussions with the minister and hotels to determine how the airline and the destination could continue to improve and stimulate growth of the service.
Issues such as all-inclusive travel and balancing from the standpoint of timeshare were discussed with SHTA in particular.
"We told them what we're doing to increase occupancy on our airplanes and, by extension, occupancy in the hotels. We understand that seats that are filled are also beds that are filled. But we need to discuss further what we can do to market St. Maarten, in particular, during the off season. It's easy to do in the peak season. So discussions were on how to drive and stimulate traffic," Barger said.
"I think the discussions with the hotels went very well. They were surprised that we came here to ask what we could do for them."
With regard to local perception of JetBlue's increasing fares after an interline agreement with American Airlines, Barger explained that anything JetBlue did with American or any other airline had no linkage to what it did with its fares.
"In fact, we asked SHTA this morning how it feels about our fares and [SHTA] said they are quite reasonable, compared to what was in this market in the past," he said. "Our average fare is US $142 (without taxes) across the airline (short, medium, and long-haul, domestic or international).
"Are there peak travel days when fares are higher? You bet. We're in business to make a profit as well. Historically, when we go into a market, what happens with the fares is not only is there a significant reduction in fares, but we have staying power because our cost structure allows us to maintain those fares," said Barger.

Five per cent Turnover Tax coming

~ Hiro: 'Emergency' budget 'full of sacrifices' ~

PHILIPSBURG--St. Maarten residents will be faced with an additional two per cent in Turnover Tax (ToT) as of January, as part of government's measures to balance the 2011 budget. Some NAf. 46 million is expected to be generated by the increase in the tax, which will move from three to five per cent.
This income-generating measure is "not across the board," Finance Minister Hiro Shigemoto said in press release on Friday.
Basic commodities such as bread, milk, rice, eggs, sugar, flour, chicken, baby products, grain, beans, flour, fruits, and greens will be exempted from ToT. If the exempted items were subject to ToT, government would generate an additional NAf. 10 million for the year.
The minister told The Daily Herald it was important to keep items already exempt from ToT the same way, because these constituted basic necessities for families to have a proper meal.
There is no firm decision on the permanency of the two per cent increase in the ToT. Shigemoto said the increase would be "reviewed" during the year, along with other determining factors, before any solid decision was made.
The ToT increase was approved by the Council of Ministers on Thursday, along with the total package of the draft balanced budget that totals NAf. 444,942,925. This total was arrived at after cost-cutting measures totalling NAf. 35.9 million, and the NAf. 46 million in income via the ToT increase.
The actual deficit prior to the expenditure cuts, cost corrections and ToT increase had stood at NAf. 81,900,000. This deficit now has been erased and the budget and tax increase are now before the Advisory Council, headed by Governor Eugene Holiday, for review.
With the increase will come "more control" on pricing and a "broadening of the tax base," the minister told the newspaper. "We have to make sure that everyone who must pay taxes is paying their due amount.
"We have studied the financial situation of the nation very diligently, taking into consideration global economic growth, our own economy at this point in time, and the benefits of taking action, and most importantly, measures that won't seriously impact our own fragile economic recovery.
"We do not want to burden the nation with a whole set of new income-generating measures, but we only have a small window of opportunity to pass our Deficit-Reduction and Recovery Programme by the December 15 CFT [Committee for Financial Supervision] deadline, and the Council of Ministers is very confident that we will be able to meet the aforementioned date," Shigemoto said.
"It is clearly a time to bond together and show solidarity to our new country St Maarten. For many decades, St. Maarten has been home to many from all over the world, and St. Maarten has provided countless economic opportunities for all of its inhabitants. Now St. Maarten as an emerging country in challenging times needs its inhabitants to be resolute, resilient, steadfast, and contribute back to its development into a brand new nation," he added.
"... It is also challenged in its new development into a country. St. Maarten must build a nation at a time when the economy is down, with sparks of improvement. It must build from scratch its capital, human and other resources.
"It must have a balanced budget while not being able to borrow to do so. The light at the end of the tunnel is signified by the resilience of our people. Clear and credible measures are needed to deal with the fiscal deficit. Failing to tackle the deficit quickly will lead to serious problems and the possible intervention of the Kingdom government with higher supervision, which no one desires and certainly not the government," he said.

Cost cutting
Shigemoto said, "First and foremost, it has been the effort of government to reduce expenditures prior to the consideration of any income-generating measures. Cost-cutting measures will impact all ministries of government at this early stage of country status, to the tune of close to NAf. 36 million."
Certain investments and the recruiting of additional personnel will be put on hold for at least a year. "None of the civil servants will lose their jobs or see a reduction in salaries. Government will also focus on creating a safety net and improving services for the public."
The measures total NAf. 35.9 million, which represents cuts to education allocations, a partial indexation of personnel salaries instead of full indexation, and additional measures.
"This was by no means an easy task, yet it was absolutely necessary to be able to balance the budget. These cuts were the absolute amount that could be made in order to trim what little fat there was in the draft budget 2011. It is important to also mention that there aren't any new policies included in this draft budget," Shigemoto said.
The Governing Programme 2010-2014 is not included in the draft budget, designed as an "emergency budget which is full of sacrifices we have to make as an emerging country which started with a deficit in all forms of capital, including human, and other deficits in services."

CFT had reported in September that, in its estimation, St. Maarten had a deficit of some NAf. 130 million. This amount was queried by St. Maarten and, after a meeting in late November, CFT tagged the deficit at some NAf. 95 million based on new information received from government.
Explaining "corrections" made by government to CFT's estimates, Shigemoto said, "The NAf. 130 million deficit minus a correction of NAf. 9 million as revenue from moving the monies from the Capital Investment Chapter for Social Economic Initiative (SEI) [means] then one also has to move the income over to the General Fund, thereby creating a correction of NAf. 9 million."
In its advice, CFT had counted the Plan of Approach for Justice twice, creating the need for a second correction of NAf. 15 million.
The third correction to the budget dealt with the loans for study financing, some NAf. 4 million, being removed from the Capital Investment Chapter.
The final correction to the CFT estimate on the expenditure side "dealt with a typo of NAf. 3.6 million. Hereby the CFT meant to type NAf. 400,000, but typed NAf. 4 million. The total amount of corrections on the expenditure side brought down the deficit to NAf. 98,400,000."
There were also corrections on the income side of the budget, which, in St. Maarten's opinion, were "too conservatively estimated" by CFT.
Shigemoto said, "CFT estimated the collectible amount for wage tax at NAf. 11.5 million too low. Our collected revenues for wage tax thus far indicate that the amount of wage tax St. Maarten collected in 2010 is in line with what was collected in 2009. The estimation of St. Maarten for all major taxes, including wage tax in 2011, was based on the revenues collected for 2009." This correction was made by increasing the wage tax back to the 2009 levels (plus NAf. 11.5 million).
CFT had also estimated the revenues for ToT "very conservatively," the minister said. "This again was corrected back to the 2009 level by adjusting the revenues for ToT by NAf. 5 million upwards. These corrections made by St. Maarten bring the deficit down to NAf. 81.9 million."

Generation ability
St. Maarten had generated as an island territory within the Netherlands Antilles "at most NAf. 265,649,559 in income. The additional revenue for the attainment of country status on October 10 stands at NAf. 116,266,666," Shigemoto said. These two amounts total NAf. 381,916,225.
The total cost of the Island Territory of St. Maarten in 2010 stood at NAf. 282 million. The cost associated with the extra tasks that St. Maarten took over as a country was NAf. 105,862,832. In addition to that amount, NAf. 22.5 million in personnel cost was added to the budget as a result of the indexation of the civil servants' salaries in 2011 and the back service for pension premiums that would be owed if the indexation of 5.3 per cent were added to the salaries.

No bailout
St. Maarten has to present a balanced budget by December 15, 2010. As an Island Territory, previous governments had "missed many deadlines, and we do not want to follow that trend as a country," Shigemoto said.
"Since October 12, government started a review of the national budget and this has been an ongoing process. Government must demonstrate that we can handle our own affairs and that we are willing to pay for the services that are required to provide a certain level of quality of life for our people.
"These are difficult times; difficult times are all around. If you have been watching the news of late, you will see that various countries, especially in Europe, have had to implement austerity measures in order to cope with the impact of the global economic-financial crisis.
"Even in our region – Barbados, St. Kitts and the British Virgin Islands – nations have had to increase taxes. Barbados increased its VAT [value added tax] from 15 per cent to 17.5 per cent – even introduced new taxes. We are in the same boat, but our situation is much more difficult. We as country are not able to borrow money to cover our budget deficit (general fund). Therefore we have to cut expenditures and increase revenues to balance our budget."
Shigemoto said, "We do not have anybody to bail us out or give us a loan. Becoming a country has its responsibilities and obligations, and we now have to be able to make it work, and we can do that as a nation with everybody on board in this national effort. There is light at the end of the tunnel and things will get better.
"After inheriting a multimillion-guilder deficit from the previous National Alliance-led government, we have the responsibility to solve the problem rather than throw up our hands in despair. We have a duty to you, the people, to fix the wrongs and restore balance to the country's finances."
Shigemoto said an effort was made with Kingdom government representatives and others, during his and Deputy Prime Minister Theo Heyliger's working visit to the Netherlands in November, for leeway in having a budget deficit for a certain period that would allow the country to implement cost-cutting measures and collect outstanding monies from the former Netherlands Antilles government.
"The Dutch government representatives were adamant that St. Maarten would have to balance its budget. To understand the situation at hand, one needs to know what the budgetary situation is. Also one needs to understand where we were prior to becoming a country and what the projected situation looks like now that we are a country," he said.

St. Maarten shaken by 3.4-magnitude quake

PHILIPSBURG--St. Maarten experienced "a light earthquake" on Friday afternoon. The tremor had a magnitude of 3.4 on the Richter scale, according to the weather forecast issued for the St. Maarten by the Meteorological Service of Curaçao.
The forecast stated that the earthquake had taken place below the bottom of the Caribbean Sea, about 20 miles northwest of Marigot, at 2:01pm.
The tremor took place at a depth of about 15 miles below the bottom of the sea. Its epicentre was located near 18.3 degrees north and 63.3 degrees west.
The local meteorological office stationed at Princess Juliana International Airport received numerous calls from residents who felt the tremor and wanted to confirm the event.

Pelican tenants association has to re-submit petition

~ Auction still on schedule ~

PHILIPSBURG--The board of the Tenant Association of Pelican Resort Club (TAPRC) has to resubmit its petition to have the auction of the resort on December 16 blocked.
The court ruled Friday that the petition had been filed by the wrong entity (TAPRC) and should have been filed on behalf of two other companies owned by the TAPRC.
The TAPRC immediately sent out a mailer to Pelican timeshare owners stating: "A petition doing so will be filed and our counsel expects the judge to hear the case again before any foreclosure sale can occur.
"Because the decision was based on procedural issues [TAPRC's ability to act in a representative capacity for the companies it owns-Ed.], we do not believe that it reflects negatively on the substantive issues in the case. We do expect Royal to spread misinformation concerning this interim outcome, but this is just the nature of our adversary and of the unfortunate process we find ourselves in. Do not be overly concerned about this interim result and we will keep you advised on the ongoing proceedings," the board said in its mailer.
In response, Richard Corso of Royal Resorts, the firm that manages Pelican on behalf of TAPRC, said, "The most important issues here are the continuity of the resort, protection of the timeshare owners, employees and their families, and all the stakeholders, including the tenants and vendors of Pelican. The honourable judge's 10-page verdict of December 3, 2010, states far more than the reference to the improper court filing. It is a public document and the record speaks for itself."
The entire Pelican Resort, buildings and marina, is scheduled to be auctioned on Thursday, December 16. The TAPRC will meet with its attorney today in the hope of re-submitting the petition on Monday.

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