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De Jongh-Elhage calls Schotte a liar

WILLEMSTAD--MFK leader and Curaçao Prime Minister Gerrit Schotte lied when he announced in Parliament that then-Prime Minister of the Netherlands Antilles Emily de Jongh-Elhage (PAR) had concluded an agreement with University of Texas without an authorisation decision.
De Jongh-Elhage stated this during a press conference of her party, in which she presented the authorisation document in question, signed by (then-Antillean) Governor Frits Goedgedrag and herself.
She lashed out at Schotte, who earlier this week in a public Parliament meeting had accused De Jongh-Elhage and her predecessor Etienne Ys (also PAR) of illegal actions and of having misinformed the Antillean legislature.
Just as Ys had done earlier, De Jongh-Elhage rejected all allegations and in turn accused Schotte of having brought the office of Prime Minister of Curaçao into discredit by launching false claims during a Parliament meeting.
De Jongh-Elhage emphasised once again that she had not signed any contract for oil drilling, nor had she acted without an authorisation decree. "The only existing contracts have been with Parliament for some time now. It regards the perusal of contracts for seismological data."
"When I was prime minister, I mentioned this several times in Parliament, and these contracts were given to the legislature as well. Never in my life have I withheld information from Parliament.
"Still the opposition at the time, which now supports the government, accused me of having signed contracts for oil drilling, but there are no contracts. This also became clear during the show by Prime Minister Schotte in Parliament."
According to the former prime minister, Schotte is lying when he says she signed without authorisation. She presented the authorisation decision of February 27, 2008, to the press and stated that Schotte was aware of this, but that he had chosen not to publish this information.
The document shows that the decision had been at Parliament since March 7. "Schotte has consciously misled the people and Parliament. It's a crime in every democratic system when a minister, and certainly a prime minister, tells a lie."
The PAR leader explained once again that no authorisation decisions had been drawn up for the contracts concluded with Repsol and Murphy's, because those regarded perusal of data well over 30 years old. These contracts could not bind the country to anything financially or legally.
The contract with University of Texas was a different matter, because it regarded research involving expenses. For this purpose, an authorisation decision was required and was signed too, according to De Jongh-Elhage.

Labega, Dest back at work at Tourist Office today

page1a169~ Minister withdraws suspension ~

PHILIPSBURG--Minister of Tourism Franklin Meyers has withdrawn the suspension of St. Maarten Tourist Office Director Regina Labega and Head of Marketing Edward Dest, reportedly on the basis of insufficient grounds/lack of evidence.
The Minister, through government's legal representative, informed Labega's and Dest's attorney Jairo Bloem of his decision on Thursday. Meyers also mandated that Labega and Dest could report to work immediately. Both said they would be back at the Tourist Office on Friday morning.
Meyers' decision to withdraw the suspension came just hours before Labega and Dest were scheduled to start their court case against government in an effort to have the suspension decision reversed. Both were suspended on November 3 on the basis of what Meyers dubbed "discrepancies." Government has not yet responded to Bloem's request to supply the grounds on which it decided to suspend his clients.
According to Bloem, the government's lawyer also indicated via a letter that the Prosecutor's Office had confirmed that a related criminal complaint had been filed on November 25, almost three weeks after the suspensions, and that it was in the process of possibly starting a criminal investigation. In other words, no criminal investigation has been initiated yet, only a civil procedure.
Bloem explained that Labega and Dest were not suspects in that case at this point in time. The Daily Herald understands that this criminal complaint reportedly was filed by Head of the Finance Department Bas Roorda after financial discrepancies were found with funds allotted to the Tourist Bureau.
Bloem explained that he believed government's strategy had been to have the letter from the Prosecutor's Office admitted to the court case on Thursday afternoon. However, the suspension case and a possible criminal case are two different matters altogether.
Moreover, Labega and Dest were not suspended because of a possible criminal investigation and, to date, have never been given an explanation about why they were suspended. Also, the criminal complaint was filed weeks after their suspensions.
"That letter was produced to the Justice in the hope that it would be part of the hearing today," Bloem said. "We responded to the Prosecutor's Office in writing and asked them to allow us to see documents and have access to the file. We asked them to clarify when the complaint was filed and if the Prosecutor's Office considered our clients suspects.
"The vagueness of the letter could cause uncertainty that might have a possible negative effect on the civil case of our clients. So it was prudent that clarity be given on those two questions."
After Bloem wrote the Prosecutor's Office, the attorney for government sent another letter with the Minister's decision to withdraw the suspensions. According to Bloem, the Minister indicated that that government's ongoing investigation would continue and he (Meyers) reserved the right to impose disciplinary measures should they become necessary.
Bloem also explained that that the Prosecutor's Office had sent a letter stating that access to the criminal case procedures would not be allowed, "because at this point in time there is no criminal investigation." If or when a criminal case is initiated, Bloem will be duly informed.
"The attorney of government asked if my clients would be willing to withdraw their court procedure. My clients indicated that they wanted a certain standard sum to be reimbursed, which the courts would normally allow if they would win the case. The Minister expressed his willingness to compensate them. So we have withdrawn the injunction procedure," Bloem said.
"I'm personally somewhat amazed that you first suspend someone, then wait almost three weeks to file a criminal complaint, then almost a week after you have done so, you undo the suspension. But better late than never. Still, my clients are completely in the dark about the facts and reasons that caused this episode in their lives. My clients will still be requesting government to outline the facts that caused it to take the disputed decision to suspend.
"My clients have an interest in knowing. That interest stems from the very fact that now that they will resume work, they involuntarily might do something that they are not doing correctly, because up to now they don't know the facts and circumstances."
Government probably will be given until Wednesday, December 8, to produce its grounds for suspension.
Bloem added that he and his clients had received no information about government appointing an interim head at the Tourist Office and he fully expected his clients to resume work unobstructed.
Despite the prospect of a possible criminal case, Labega and Dest both said they were happy to be going back to work today to continue working for St. Maarten.
"Like I've been doing for the last 19 years, I will go to work and meet with the staff and resume as normal," a clearly emotional Labega said, adding that the international marketing representatives also would be contacted to let them know that she was back at work.
She said the support shown in the stressful weeks since the suspension had been overwhelming. "I want to thank all those who have been calling and giving their support and all the friends who have been praying for us. We are very grateful and thankful to them. We are eager to get back to work," she said.
Minister Meyers could not be reached for additional comment.

Hiro: 2011 budget is balanced, details to be announced today

PHILIPSBURG--The draft 2011 budget is balanced, has been approved by the Council of Ministers, and now has to be reviewed by the Advisory Council, Finance Minister Hiro Shigemoto told The Daily Herald on Thursday.
Government was facing a deficit of NAf. 95-100 million. This deficit has been erased by a number of cost-cutting and revenue-generating measures, not limited to some tax increases, as the minister had announced last month during his trip to the Netherlands.
Shigemoto did not give any more information about what was included in the "entire package" of measures government had decided to take to balance the budget. He plans to announce these today, Thursday, in a press conference he will host jointly with Deputy Prime Minister Theo Heyliger.
"We want to tell the people directly about the measures we plan to take and not give information in bits and pieces. We think that is the responsible thing to do," Shigemoto said.
He added that the budget was ready for the Advisory Council to review. The council, headed by Governor Eugene Holiday, will meet next week for the first time. The council is new to St. Maarten's budget process, as this level of scrutiny didn't exist when St. Maarten was an island territory.
The draft budget also has to be reviewed by the Committee for Financial Supervision CFT and should be submitted by December 15. The committee will check to see if the deficit indeed has been erased and whether the measures government intends to take will yield the results the government expects.
Commenting on the budget on Wednesday, Prime Minister Sarah Wescot-Williams said St. Maarten had chosen to be a country and with this decision came "certain responsibilities" that government and the island had to bear and deal with.
Government will continue to make its case to the Dutch government regarding its finances by pointing out that some financial projections for tasks and services date back to 2000, the Prime Minister said.
There are matters that no one could have foreseen that now have financial consequences for government, Wescot-Williams said, using the takeover of the Post Office operations as an example. The takeover should have been simple and without financial consequences, but this is now proving to be otherwise.
She said St. Maarten was "stuck with the laws that govern the whole financial operations," but government was "not letting up" in constantly pointing out the unforeseen issues and cost now surfacing.
St. Maarten is not allowed to have a budget deficit, based on the financial-management and constitutional-change agreements made with the Netherlands as a precursor to the attainment of country status. She said that when those agreements had been made, "no one was aware" of the issues that are now coming up that have financial implications.

Childfest raises US $150,000, gives out $56,000 in donations

page3a169~ Sets aside US $100,000 for Olympic-size pool ~

COLE BAY--Childfest Foundation has collected US $150,000 from this year's fundraiser to go towards youth-related projects.
An additional amount of about US $20,000 is still outstanding from persons who made pledges during the Childfest gala dinner, so it was announced at a press conference on Thursday.
The foundation has set aside US $100,000 for the construction of an Olympic-size pool to benefit a wide range of youths in St. Maarten. It also gave out a total of US $56,000 in donations to foundations that work with children, during an emotional ceremony at Princess Country Club (PCC) at Princess Port de Plaisance Resort and Casino.
President Angela Richards-Huggins told reporters that one of the goals of the Foundation this year was to embark on a long-term project that would benefit a wider segment of the community. The foundation still has this goal in mind, but it also wants to support other foundations at the same time.
During the press conference, board members donated US $20,000 to Help Our Children Foundation, US $20,000 to Special Olympics Foundation, US $4,000 to Love of Kids Foundation, US $4,000 to I Can Foundation and US $4,000 to Ujima Foundation, which runs a treatment facility for at-risk youths. Childfest had earlier given out US $4,000 to Crystal Children's Home, which was in "financial trouble."
The event turned especially moving when Heather Mercuur of Love of Kids Foundation was overcome with emotion. She said the funds would go a long way in helping the foundation to execute its work. Judith Bell was also overcome with emotion and thanked the foundation for its support.
Richards-Huggins said Childfest had grown into a "household name" since it started, and it had blossomed into a package of events that the public looks forward to. She said this year's event had been a huge success.
page3b169Similar sentiments were echoed by Vice President Katsiaryna Özkan and Treasurer Hakan Unal.
Özkan said this year's Childfest had been "a great success," adding that "it can only get bigger and better." She thanked the team of persons that had been on board to help make the event the success that it was.
Regarding the outstanding monies, the former First Lady said this amount would be pursued. However, she noted that the foundation was a charitable organisation that was cognisant of the economic situation, and it wouldn't drive its donors "into the ground" to honour pledges, but measures would be introduced to minimise this problem at future events.
Towards the end of the ceremony, the Childfest board honoured a number of its donors with tokens of appreciation. The foundation's board said it was thankful for the support Childfest continued to receive from the community of St. Maarten.
There were more than 70 financial donors who contributed to Childfest 2010.

Dutch Parliament seeks intervention for islands

page8a169THE HAGUE--The Dutch Parliament's Second Chamber is highly critical of the quality of governance of the new countries Curaçao and St. Maarten. Some parties want The Hague to invoke the intervention article of the Charter, while others want the Dutch government to state its position on the guarantee function.
Two things worry Parliament: the process of screening the Curaçao Council of Ministers and the financial management of St. Maarten's government. Member of Parliament (MP) Hero Brinkman of the Party for Freedom PVV said during the handling of the 2011 budget for Kingdom Relations Thursday that Curaçao was now "officially a banana republic."
Brinkman called it "incredible that such a government existed in the Kingdom" and criticised the process of screening the Curaçao Government.
MP Ronald van Raak of the Socialist Party (SP) agreed that a government that hadn't been screened shouldn't be allowed to govern.
MP Martijn van Dam of the Labour Party PvdA referred to reports in the media on the screening process as an "embarrassing soap," wherein the issue wasn't about creating jobs, realising better care and safety and a solid economy, but about politicians and officials "rolling around on the street."
Van Dam said the arguing in Curaçao stood in stark contrast to the quietness in St. Maarten, which made him wonder whether the members of the UP/DP government had been screened. "Does it mean that there were no problems there, or that they weren't screened at all out of negligence? Considering the media reports about the buying of votes during the elections, such an investigation would be fitting."
The Christian Democratic Party CDA and the Socialist Party (SP) want Minister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Piet Hein Donner (CDA) to include a thorough analysis of the guarantee function of the Charter, Article 43, in the Kingdom position paper the Dutch government is preparing.
MP Bas Jan van Bochove (CDA) said the "worrisome" reports out of St. Maarten on the government's finances and the screening in Curaçao were enough reason to ask the Minister to go into details about the guarantee function in the position paper, which should be completed early 2011.
MP Ineke van Gent of the green left party GroenLinks said she didn't want to wait for a position paper to take a decision on invoking Article 43. "We need to prevent money from slipping through the cracks and the people being left empty-handed."
Van Gent and Brinkman (both PVV) wondered whether the Committee for Financial Supervision CFT truly would be able to carry out its task in controlling the finances of countries Curaçao and St. Maarten. Van Gent suggested strengthening CFT and including the integrity aspect in the Council's tasks.
Van Bochove said the remarks about stricter financial supervision and integrity were "tough talk," and pointed out that under the Charter, countries Curaçao and St. Maarten were responsible for their own internal affairs.
Brinkman said strict measures were needed, because the islands "obviously didn't worry with CFT." Calling the Charter a "beast that was born out of guilt," he said that he too didn't take the Charter very seriously.
Brinkman demanded a guarantee from the Minister that the islands would never again be allowed to build up a debt. "I know the tactics of these leeches," he said. He referred to St. Maarten as an "administrative chaos and governmental disaster," aiming at the issue of the budget deficit.
Van Raak interrupted his colleague Cynthia Ortega-Martijn of the Christian Union (CU) and asked if she knew why politicians in Curaçao and St. Maarten "never kept to agreements." Ortega-Martijn, who was born in Curaçao, answered that Van Raak should pose his question to the politicians overseas.
MP André Bosman of the governing liberal democratic VVD party also referred to St. Maarten's financial situation and the potential budget deficit. He said the VVD didn't support a request by St. Maarten for the Netherlands to grant the island three years in the plan of approach to get matters in order financially. "Besides the fact that the ink of the plan of approach has barely dried, a debt could be created in three years for which there would be no solution," he said.
According to Bosman, one of St. Maarten's main problems is integrity of government. "The WODC (Dutch Scientific Research Documentation Centre, ed.) report of 2007 indicated a clear criminal presence in a weak government," he said.
He requested that the Minister give an update on efforts to combat crime and strengthen the judicial apparatus on the island. He enquired whether the Minister was willing to have WODC look into the crime situation in St. Maarten again during the evaluation of the plan of approach for the judicial apparatus.
It became clear during Thursday's deliberations that a majority of the members supported a coordinating role for the Ministry of Home Relations and Kingdom Affairs BZK where it came to handling the interests of the Dutch special municipalities Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba. MP Van Bochove suggested that BZK serve as a "mother department," just like it did years ago when the Flevopolder was a special municipality before acquiring the status of province.

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