Friday, Sep 30th

You are here: Home

CFT sets deadline to settle SZV, APS debts

THE HAGUE/WILLEMSTAD--The Government of St. Maarten has until the end of May 2015 to settle its arrears with the St. Maarten General Pension Fund APS and the Social and Health Insurance SZV.

Only when that deadline has been met, will the Committee for Financial Supervision CFT advise the Kingdom Council of Ministers in The Hague to defer this year's target to compensate for deficits of previous years until 2018.

CFT Chairman Age Bakker stated this in a letter dated March 16, published on the committee's website this week. The CFT will again scrutinise St. Maarten's 2015 budget, which has already been ratified by the St. Maarten Parliament, at the end of May.

The CFT demands that the St. Maarten Government reach a final agreement before May 31 on the monies that are owed to SZV and APS. Government owes SZV NAf. 87 million and the APS NAf. 70 million, while there is also a dispute between government and the two aforementioned entities of about NAf. 75 million.

Bakker showed comprehension for government's argument that much depended on the cooperation of the SZV and APS, but he added that government was ultimately responsible for these two organisations.

During consultations in February this year, government promised the CFT that it would find a speedy solution for the payment arrears. Bakker stated that this commitment creates "sufficient confidence" to wait until the end of May before it advised the Kingdom Council of Ministers to "take further measures."

The CFT also wanted further substantiation by March 23, 2015, of the additional NAf. 15 million that government planned to collect in 2015 in order to realise NAf. 445 million on the budget's revenue side.

The NAf. 15 million should come from, among other posts, dividend payments of the Central Bank of Curaçao and St. Maarten (NAf. 2 million), the telephone company TelEm (NAf. 1.9 million), a concession fee of the St. Maarten Airport (NAf. 1.5 million), from the water company (NAf. 3 million) and the Bureau Telecommunications and Post (NAf. 2.1 million). A reorganisation at the Tax Department was expected to yield NAf. 3.7 million.

These two requirements, a speedy settlement of the payment arrears and a substantiation of anticipated additional revenues, must be met in order for the CFT to positively advise the Kingdom Government to allow a prolongation until 2018 of the compensation term for deficits of previous years.

St. Maarten has to compensate NAf. 52 million in deficits that have accumulated since it attained Country status on October 10, 2010. Initially, the Kingdom Council of Ministers had ordered St. Maarten to compensate these shortages in 2015. St. Maarten has asked to spread this exercise over several years until 2018 since its compensation in one year, in 2015, would have "far-reaching consequences and be unrealistic."

Approval of the Kingdom Council of Ministers was necessary to deviate from the agreement to compensate in 2015, stated Bakker. The CFT saw the "rationale" of advising a prolongation of the term, but only when it has sufficient confidence in the measures to realise a budget with a NAf. 445 million revenue side and in St. Maarten's efforts to solve the payment arrears.

According to the CFT, the substantiation of the anticipated additional revenues and a concrete solution for the payment arrears were needed to determine the realistic level of the 2015 budget.

New fire station, control tower in Grand Case Airport plans

MARIGOT--A new fire station building and an extension to the control tower are among projects due to start this year at Grand Case Airport, falling within an approximate 4.5-million-euro budget for improvements that include renovation of the terminal building, the airport's Managing Director Mongi Djouba disclosed Thursday.

The fire station construction is expected to start at the end of April in the same location as the old premises. The control tower will be extended upwards close to 10 metres in height from the present four metres, giving controllers a higher and better view of aircraft movements.

Renovation work to the terminal building will start in phases some time in July for completion in June 2016.

"We will start with the management and administration offices, as that will not disrupt the passenger flow and processes of immigration, check-ins and security," Djouba explained. "Then in the low season around September we can start gradually with the renovation in those other areas: check-in, immigration, security etc. In all there will be three to four phases."

Very noticeable is the closure of the airport's only café by the Préfecture at the end of 2014 for non-conformity with hygiene and sanitary regulations. Whether the concession-holder now has made the changes to pass a new inspection was not exactly clear, but Djouba said the café fell under the renovation plan for the terminal building.

Invitations to tender for a more upmarket restaurant with hot and cold food and beverages will be sent out, and for new shops, for which there are five spaces. A new restaurant, which may not be in the same location, would not open before the terminal building is finished in 2016.

"It does require a restaurant that is attractive and lively and operates between 7:00am and 7:00pm," he said.

In the meantime, vending machines have been installed for passengers' convenience.

Extension of the runway from 4,000 feet to 5,000 feet in phase two will attract more traffic and more business, but this is still under negotiation between the Collectivité and the landowner over purchase of the required parcel of land. Djouba admits his hands are tied on this point and he can only wait despite regularly enquiring on progress.

An extended runway also will permit nighttime landings with the assistance of a GNSS guidance system for pilots.

A 6,000-sqare-metre new parking apron at the airport already was laid in January 2014 at a cost of two million euros, as well as an apron for Corail Helicopters.

Currently the airport has parking for 90 cars and there are 10 car rental companies. More parking would have to be created if and when the runway is extended. There are four airline counters and eight check-in desks, a lot for a small airport. This is because Air Antilles and Air Caraïbes often require four desks each during peak periods.

The current baggage carousel will be renewed and moved into the centre of the arrival hall instead of where it is presently, half in and half out of the building.

Mongi Djouba took over the management of the airport in July 2012 under the umbrella of the airport operator, Canadian group SNC Lavalin which has a team of some 27 personnel at the airport. In French this type of operating contract is called a Delegation Service Publique (DSP).

Djouba is an engineer and airport designer by trade, having worked previously in Jeddah and Oman.

Despite less-than-stellar figures for arrivals and departures – 192,000 in 2014, three per cent less than figures for 2013 and a far cry from 211,000 in 2011 when SNC Lavalin took over the contract – Djouba believes the investments made now will revive the airport's fortunes in the future.

"We believe 100 per cent in the future and potential of the airport and the investment we are making in it," he said. "For me it's a personal mission to bring these projects to fruition."

He attributes the decrease in traffic to a number of contributing factors.

"Voyager has a new high speed ferry to St. Barths and obviously it's cheaper to pay 40 euros than 140 euros on St. Barths Commuter. Another reason is the loss of the transfer of Corsair passengers to Grand Case from Guadeloupe. This was done previously by Air Antilles, but apparently they lost the code-sharing agreement to Air Caraïbes.

"But Air Caraïbes keeps some 40 to 100 seats for Corsair passengers on the airbus flight to Princess Juliana [International Airport SXM – Ed.] without the need for the transfer from Guadeloupe," he said.

Djouba said taxes also had clearly impacted traffic negatively. The infamous 10 euro departure tax imposed on airlines by former Collectivité President Alain Richardson in 2012 on top of the 11 euro airport tax nearly saw the departure of Air Caraïbes and Air Antilles to Princess Juliana. The ensuing outcry led to the tax being reduced to six euros for six months and then it went up again to 10 euros.

"It was a nightmare, I had just arrived and I was in the middle of these negotiations between the airlines and the Collectivité," he recalled. "It wasn't acceptable at that time to the airlines and they played this cat-and-mouse game with the Collectivité, but in the end they had no choice. I admit I was scared that if we lost both airlines we would be dead."

SNC Lavalin's 25-year contract with Grand Case Airport extends to 2036. Djouba hopes the airport will reach the objective of 350,000 passengers annually before that.

The current project is being financed by SNC Lavalin and partly by European funds (FEDER) and the State.

WIPM wins again in Saba

page1a253SABA--The streets of Saba turned orange and blue on Wednesday as the elections for 2015 finally took place. The Windward Island People's Movement (WIPM) defeated the Saba Labour Party (SLP) with a preliminary voting count of 545 votes against 407 votes for the SLP.

This was announced at the Administration Building in The Bottom by Island Governor Jonathan Johnson on Wednesday around 11:00pm.

Although WIPM claimed victory, SLP won an additional seat, which pleased its supporters immensely. The voter's turnout percentage was a staggering 91.3 per cent.

Johnson said, "Once again democracy has spoken, the people have spoken."

People could vote in The Bottom and in Windwardside. All the WIPM and SLP were seen walking and driving around trying to convince as many people as possible to vote in their favour.

As around 1,000 people are eligible to vote in Saba and there were a total of 18 candidates from whom to choose during this election, literally every vote counted and the candidates seemed know that very well.

One person standing in line at the voting office said to "vote for blue" because she did not have any faith in Saba's current progression. Another voter told The Daily Herald, "Only WIPM had the knowledge and experience to guide Saba through this difficult phase."

Like the last campaign meetings at Topo Gigio's, which had an even amount of attendees at each meeting, there was a noticeable even balance between the voters of orange and blue. Both parties had a successful campaign with professionally organised meetings. Previous meetings were held at Hell's Gate and in Windwardside, each with a large number of attendees.

Voting offices closed at 9:00pm and when the votes were counted the candidates with their supporters moved to the Administration Building to hear the preliminary results from Governor Johnson. With the current figures at hand, WIPM will lose one seat and will stay in government with three seats the next four years. SLP will gain one seat and will remain the opposition party with two seats for the coming four years.

For WIPM party, Bruce Zagers was the big winner of this election with 187 votes, Christopher Johnson was proud to receive 145 votes.

On the SLP side, Monique Wilson received 121 votes, Ishmael Levenston received 89 votes, 10 votes were invalid and 4 people voted blank.

The five members elected to the Island Council are Rolando Wilson, Christopher Johnson and Bruce Zagers for WIPM, and Ishmael Levenston and Monique Wilson for SLP.

Monique Wilson was the first to give a speech after the official announcements. She said, "I'm proud of my team and we take our two seats with pride. We want equality and we want fairness and that's what we'll achieve in the next four years."

Levenston was next to address to crowd, saying, "We only got two seats, but according to my politics we've won the election."

Rolando Wilson was next. He said, "We lost one seat, but we continue to fight for Saba."

Chris Johnson then spoke to the crowd. He said, "If two seats is a victory, then three seats is a landslide. There is no blue and orange in Saba, There is only one Saba and that's for all of us."

Zagers was the last to speak. He said, "We have four more years to improve Saba. This evaluation year we'll bring the necessary changes to move forward."

The official election results will be announced on Friday at 10:00am. A WIPM victory parade will be held Sunday at 3:00pm going from Fort Bay to Cove Bay.

700 sq. metres of new mangrove at causeway

COLE BAY--More than 700 square metres of "valuable" mangrove habitat supporting a number of bird and wetland species has been recorded in the area of Simpson Bay Causeway in a recent survey of Mangrove Reforestation Initiative Area conducted by Nature Foundation.

A total of 7,850 new mangrove trees, covering an area of 600 square metres, were recorded on January 13, 2014. An additional 100 square metres were recorded late in February this year.

This is good news as mangrove forests in St. Maarten are under severe pressure and are disappearing at an alarming rate. It is estimated that about 60 per cent of the total mangrove areas have disappeared. All four species of mangroves were recorded at the causeway – Rhizophora mangle (red mangrove), Avicennia germinans (black mangrove), Laguncularia racemosa (white mangrove) and Conocarpus erectus (buttonwood).

Mangrove seedlings have been collected from the initiative area for replanting in other areas in the lagoon.

The survey also recorded numerous wetland bird species and sea grasses. A reduction in algae bloom, which affected the area last summer, was observed in the survey period.

The foundation considers this "one of the most successful mangrove reforestation initiatives" in the country. The area has become "one of the most ecologically significant mangrove habitats" on the south-eastern section of the lagoon.

Invertebrates that were recorded included queen conch (Strombus gigas), cushion stars (Oreaster reticulata), sea cucumber (Holothuria mexicana) and the upside-down jellyfish (Cassiopeia frondosa).

Mangrove trees have the potential to become a thriving habitat for many other plants and animals, as well as an important nursery for many species of fish. Fish using the mangroves as a nursery include schoolmasters (Lutjanus apodus), grey snapper (Lutjanus griseus), great barracuda (Sphyraena barracuda) and the foureye butterflyfish (Chaetodon capistratus).

The foundation initially planted more than 500 square metres of mangroves following the causeway construction. Several follow-up surveys of the area, such as this latest one, were carried out by the foundation to determine the project's success.

In the initial stage of the project, juvenile mangrove plants were removed and replanted at other locations. Follow-up included reforestation techniques, monitoring, replanting initiatives and ecosystem management of the area.

Mangroves also act as a filter for water washed off the land by preventing harmful sediments from smothering coral reefs, including those of the Man of War Shoal Marine Protected Area.

PSS workers strike over threats by manager to shoot colleagues

PHILIPSBURG--The work at Postal Services (PSS) St. Maarten ground to a snail's pace on Wednesday when all permanent workers downed tools in an industrial action to protest the return from suspension of the Finance Manager, who had threatened to shoot fellow employees.

In a statement on the issue PSS management said it was working diligently to bring this matter to a satisfactory conclusion, but noted that at this stage, it could not be guided by demands to enforce any actions unless and until all facts were in.

The approximately 28 permanent workers took part in the industrial action, leaving only about three contract workers and management personnel to handle the workload for the day. "Front office" work such as posting mail and Money Gram services continued. However, all "back office" work ground to a halt during the exercise as workers in the Mail, Operation and Retail Departments were on strike. This meant that the sorting and delivery of mail could not take place.

St. Maarten Communications Union (SMCU) official Sherman Serastis told The Daily Herald on the scene of the strike that the workers felt threatened and dissatisfied that a worker who, in the presence of the company's Human Resource officer, had threatened to return with a gun and shoot everyone, had been given a slap on the wrist and was able to return to work yesterday. The workers said they felt threatened because they were unaware when the employee would carry out his threat.

Serastis said the incident dated back to March 5, when PSS Financial Director Alex Richardson had "an incident" with one of his colleagues. The nature of the incident could not be ascertained. Richardson subsequently told PSS Human Resource (HR) manager Daphne Benders that he would "walk with a gun and start shooting," this newspaper was told.

Serastis said the HR manager had filed a complaint at the police station and Richardson had been suspended with pay the following week. The union also was called in and informed management that such a situation could not be tolerated. Richardson is believed to be a licensed firearm holder, but this could not be ascertained.

The workers were baffled when they saw Richardson return to work yesterday, Wednesday, after just days on suspension and all decided to down tools, as they felt unsafe. The workers conveyed their concerns to management during a meeting early Wednesday. They believe that issuing threats to shoot someone warrants immediate dismissal. One worker said that if any other worker had issued such a threat, the person would have been dismissed immediately.

The workers told this newspaper that Richardson had an aggressive personality and had been engaged in problems on the job before. They believe he is in need of psychological assistance to help him with his anger. They said this incident could not be tolerated.

Management had a second meeting with workers and a representative of the union around 3:30pm on Wednesday. After the meeting the union said the workers had "decided that they will no longer work" with Richardson. The union said it would inform management of this in an official letter today, Thursday.

The union said too that Richardson had begun "sociological treatment" for one hour a day as of Wednesday. However, SMCU said workers still felt unsafe.

PSS said management had requested that the union give it three weeks to sort out the matter.

In a separate statement PSS said it currently was dealing with "a serious incident" that "allegedly took place on company premises involving a member of the management team and a member of the postal staff. ...

"Management assures all personnel of PSS N.V. that their safety and wellbeing in the workplace and in the execution of their postal duties is paramount at all times and without exception. We have appealed to personnel for their continued patience while steps are taken to resolve this matter as quickly as possible."

Page 164 of 1369