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Country committed to tackling the underperformance of boys

PHILIPSBURG--St. Maarten "remains committed" to examining gender-development to address "gaps in raising successful and engaged boys and men." This was the message delivered by Minister Plenipotentiary Josianne Artsen on behalf of Education and Youth Minister Rita Bourne-Gumbs at a recent briefing with the fellow Dutch Kingdom delegation members and non-governmental organizations in New York.

The message, outlining the position of women on St. Maarten, was related to the 59th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW 59) in New York, on March 10. The theme of the session was "Beijing +20."

"There is a need for men and boys to participate in gender and women's development, because in the end we still want both groups to live, work and develop side by side, so that we can have a better St. Maarten for all," said Artsen.

Education trends show girls outperform boys throughout the school system. "While we must complement our educational system for the success of our girl children, we must also examine the causes for male underperformance, dropouts and failures. It is not our aim that girls and women run ahead of males, but that we create a society where there is balance and equality."

In tackling gender and women's development, "more dialogue and sharing of best practices" are called for among kingdom partners and countries in the Caribbean. St. Maarten "supports" further networking to determine best practices and ways forward.

Chin Cactus no longer in a deplorable state

page5c249SUCKER GARDEN--Residents of Chin Cactus Road and Chin Cactus Drive can now enjoy long-awaited and much-needed improvements made to the roads, which had been in a continuous deplorable state that became increasingly frustrating.

One resident recently contacted The Daily Herald in order to show gratitude on behalf of the community to former Minister of Public Housing, Spatial Planning, Environment and Infrastructure VROMI Maurice Lake who he said pushed for the repairs to be done, as well as VROMI Maintenance Department Head Claudius Buncamper and Public Works Project Leader Alfredo Pantophlet who were both said to have kept good lines of communication with them and were always ready to assist when needed.

Buncamper explained to this newspaper that VROMI is now getting ready to take over the project as completed by the contractor, after some minor works are finalised. These are repairs to grills on the drainage collection pit and some cleaning up of debris from the worksite.

Besides that, he said that the drain lines, all road hard-surfacing, driveways to all homes, back-filling and levelling required for the project had been completed. An additional drain through one resident's property to alleviate water coming in from Chin Cactus drive has also been built.

Lake was said to be instrumental in getting the advice approved, and thereby making the project's execution possible.

He told this newspaper that when he came into office, he had a list of projects that he wanted to execute, that this had been part of the Capital Investment Budget for 2014, and that another group of roads had also been prioritised. This was in reference to the street-paving agreement for some 16 streets in various districts, which had been signed in August.

Lake said he commended the developer and contractor for the work, and the residents for their patience. "It's good to see them happy," he added, saying that he made a point of listening to residents in general in his "back to basics" approach.

Now a Member of Parliament, he said he would like to see the work continue throughout the districts, which also creates work for local contractors and young professionals.

Urgency, delays

In late October, residents in the area expressed frustration to this newspaper over the roads' continued deplorable state and called on Lake to honour a promise of "next day" action they said he made during a public meeting in Sucker Garden. They urged immediate attention.

A letter signed by some 22 residents, as well as a copy of a 2012 letter issued by VROMI, told of official complaints filed as far back as 2008 and VROMI's continued stated intentions to address the issue.

They described "...large holes and rocks protruding out, causing constant damage to our vehicles. The road in front of our homes has deteriorated to the extent that we cannot drive on it." They say that they constantly get flat tires and incur other vehicle repair costs."

The letter issued by VROMI in 2012 stated that the Department was not privy to the 2008 and 2009 letters sent to former Infrastructure Commissioner Theo Heyliger.

In an apologetic tone, it acknowledged the problem and stated that the intention was to finalise design plans around October 2012 and keep a public tender to carry out the complete road and drainage works. An estimated time of "no earlier than 2013" was based on the then-present budget situation.

Lake swiftly issued a response to the outcry, saying that he did indeed intend to keep the promise, although there had been delays experienced. He said additional procedures need to be followed, which included presenting the project to the Council of Ministers.

"A promise made is a promise kept," he said, adding that by that time the contractor had already been selected and was busy acquiring the materials needed to execute the over NAf. 484,000 project.

Permit will be denied if employers fail to hire suggested counterpart

PHILIPSBURG--Employment permit requests will be denied from employers who refuse to hire "suitable counterparts" recommended by the Labour Department.

This is one of the stipulations in the controversial counterpart policy, which was discussed in a meeting of Parliament's Permanent Committee of Health Care, Social Development and Labour on Friday.

Some Members of Parliament (MPs) echoed sentiments expressed by some sections of the community noting that they had serious concerns about the policy and its potential effects on the economy. National Alliance (NA) MP Christophe Emmanuel said while he wants to believe that the policy can work, he believes it will encounter "some serious problems," while Democratic Party (DP) MP Sarah Wescott-Williams believes that the proposal will be "detrimental to the economy."

In giving the details of the policy Labour Department Head Rafael Boasman said the idea is that a suitable counterpart will be suggested when issuing certain employment permits. Permits will, however, be denied if the employer refuses to accept the suggested counterpart. Permits will also be denied if "it appears" that the employer, without permission, terminates the counterpart or if the Labour Department believes that the employer did not sufficiently pursue the training of the counterpart.

The policy states that the counterpart should be trained for up to three years at the cost of the employer. Employers will be required to give counterparts employment agreements with stipulations such as their remuneration, which should be commensurate with the position and experience.

The policy is expected to go into effect in a pilot phase this year. According to the Labour Department Head the counterpart will shadow an immigrant labourer to acquire the relevant knowledge of skills. Boasman called it "a perfect solution to the problem of returning students."

He said the policy is an important instrument to ensure the placement of local labour when providing employment permits for foreign nationals. "The foreign national must transfer his or her knowledge or experience to the counterpart," he said.

He said employment permits are primarily issued because local labour is not readily available for a position and as such someone with the expertise is brought in. By law, employment permits should be issued for a maximum of three years and is not intended to be permanent. The goal is for the counterpart to take over the position held by the immigrant labourer, when the foreigner returns to his or her country. Once the counterpart is trained and their work is satisfactory, employers will have to grant the counterpart permanent employment for an indefinite period with full time working hours. He said there might be cases where the counterpart "just can't cut it," in which case the working relationship can cease.

The counterpart, according to Boasman, must meet a certain minimum criteria of experience and work ability. He said it won't be a case where a carpenter will be trained to become a pilot.

Skilled jobs

The counterpart policy will not be applied to low-skilled jobs and does not cover workers with low educational levels. It will only be applied to positions that require a minimum of an Associate Degree (MBO level) as this is the level where the Department of Labour encounters challenges in placing students who return from studying with little experience.

The policy can also be applied to cases where workers can shadow an immigrant in a company for upward mobility. "In many cases local workers would reach to middle management and not promoted further and requests are constantly submitted for managerial positions and practise and theory have always indicated and shown that productivity of a company benefits when internal mobility is offered.... It doesn't have to be someone unemployed."

The Labour Affairs Labour Market Section would monitor and evaluate the performance of the counterpart in collaboration with the employer. In some cases the Labour Market Section can take "corrective measures" such as job coaching, retraining or additional training for the counterpart.

Boasman said it "seems obvious" that the counterpart would be for "knowledge intensive sectors." Boasman said is expected that the policy would give employers "more incentives to instantly employ local labour or shorten the time to train a counterpart."

Labour Affairs is busy with the implementation framework for the policy, which would need approval of the Labour Minister and the Council of Ministers. This will be followed by information sessions with social partners and other stakeholders. The pilot will be monitored and evaluated and based on this the minister will decide on the general introduction of the policy.

Negative advice

The Social Economic Council SER had issued a negative advice on the counterpart policy in October 2013. SER had called for the revision of article 10 and had instructed government not to execute the counterpart law. Boasman said SER found that the ordinance on foreign labour, if enforced properly, already gives sufficient protection for local labour. Government was advised to conduct in depth research to get a good idea of the situation.

SER also contended that article 10 (counterpart article) as currently formulated was "bad" for the economy as the labour supply was strongly dependent on migrant workers.

The counterpart policy is existing legislation, which has been in place since 2008. In May 2013, the Department of Labour Affairs submitted an advice to the Council of Ministers to start implementing the counterpart article in the law. The request to the Council of Ministers was to implement the counterpart article and to tie it to employment permit requests. It was during this process that the SER advice was sought and a negative advice on implementation was given.

Boasman also spoke about a case in which an employer had taken the then Labour Minister to court because a counterpart was attached to that company's employment permit request for a Food and Beverage Manager. The request was granted, but the company had to hire a counterpart. The business appealed the decision and this was denied. The matter was taken to court and the court ruled in favour of the company. According to Boasman the court indicated that the counterpart conditions should not be applied as there was no policy outlining guidelines to execute the article.

Based on this, the then Minister requested the Labour Policy Department to formulate a counterpart policy taking SER's advice and the court ruling into consideration and in consultation with the Tripartite Committee.

Based on this request, a counterpart policy advice was submitted to the then minister for approval on June 4, 2014. The Council of Ministers approved the policy on August 12, 2014.

MPs see need to make hillside policy into law

PHILIPSBURG--The hillside policy has remained too long as just policy and needs to become a strong low. This was the message Nature Foundation Manager Tadzio Bervoets delivered to Members of Parliament (MPs) at a meeting of Parliament's Permanent Committee for Public Housing, Spatial Development, Environment and Infrastructure VROMI on Friday morning in Parliament House.

MPs were in agreement with Bervoets especially after learning that the preparatory resolution to which the hillside policy is hinged has expired since February, leaving the door open for building and development on top of hills.

The Ministry of VROMI is busy reviewing the way forward with making the hillside policy into an ordinance.

Bervoets was before the committee to talk about the need to protect the country's large and historically significant trees.

He described the large older trees as "the other parliament." This description was derived from the tradition of people gathering under these trees to chat and exchange ideas. While this tradition is on the decline due to the prevalence of social media, Bervoets said the trees are still of much value and needs protection for damage or unauthorized cutting.

Bervoets also called on Parliament to consider establishing a terrestrial (land) park for the country to twin the already existing Man of War Shoal Marine Park.

The foundation representative fielded a number of questions spanning for the protection of tree to the nuisance of the invasive monkey populations from MPs.

He informed MPs of a research to be conducted starting in May by a student from the University of Amsterdam who will work on determining is the Lesser Antillean Iguana (Iguana delicatissima) still exist on St. Maarten. This iguana is an endangered species and is found on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List.

More int’l media to cover Carnival

PHILIPSBURG--Representatives of several renowned international news and entertainment outlets will be on St. Maarten in April to cover Carnival 2015. The St. Maarten Carnival Development Foundation (SCDF) and St. Maarten Tourism Bureau (STB) coordinate this foreign media presence annually, but this year STB has expanded its media list.

SCDF announced that in addition to the various Caribbean media outlets that come to cover Carnival, some of the international media that will be present include The Huffington Post, Ebony Magazine, Vibe Magazine, Uptown Magazines, Black Enterprise Magazine, Reuters News Service, The Travel Channel, Yahoo.com and AOL.com. A photographer from Getty Images will also be present.

When they are not covering Carnival events, STB in cooperation with Divi Little Bay Resort, will also be taking them around the island to showcase what it has to offer. "So in essence it's not just Carnival getting exposure but the destination in general," SCDF said.

"We continue to see visitor growth for Carnival primarily because of the efforts of STB in ensuring that Carnival gets the attention it deserves. We have several Caribbean news outlets coming; we are promoting in the InselAir in-flight magazine, in our national carrier Winair and several other news and entertainment publications.

"But the foreign journalists help to spread our wings and the reach of Carnival. By expanding its media list, STB is helping Carnival penetrate markets that it has never been in. This benefits the festival in terms of attendance and the destination in terms of its economy.

"We are determined to show the world that St. Maarten's Carnival is firmly established as the largest in the North Eastern Caribbean."

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