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Sandy Ground bridge is out of service temporarily

page1a006~ Due to lift-arm fault ~

MARIGOT--The Sandy Ground bridge has been out of service since Monday after bolts came loose from a retaining plate and weakened the bridge's lift-arm mechanism.

The problem is expected to be repaired next week by Engineering Marine Service Center (EMSC) of Cole Bay. Meanwhile, boats can enter or exit Simpson Bay Lagoon only via the Simpson Bay bridge.

EMSC said three bolts that hold a retaining plate to the pivot pin for the bearing on the lift arm had come loose, compromising the lifting mechanism.

"It's not a catastrophe, and nothing was actually broken," an EMSC spokesman told The Daily Herald. "We'll get a bearing into place, make a new retaining plate and fix the bolts in with locking wire."

Dockmaster Régine Hée, who operates the bridge openings, said Friday that she was awaiting authorisation from the Collectivité for the repair to go ahead. She said that although the bridge still could open even in a weakened state, the risk was too great that the drawbridge actually might collapse as a yacht was passing through, causing injury, loss of life, or damage to the whole bridge structure.

The company Samagest that operates Marina Fort Louis and Marina Royale is responsible for the bridge maintenance and assures the drawbridge functioning is checked and serviced every year.

The bridge last broke down in December 2014, needing repairs costing 30,000 euros.

Stakeholders give input in draft economic framework document

PHILIPSBURG--The drafting and updating of new economic legislation to promote economic growth in St. Maarten and the increasing of efforts by Government to ensure fiscal and business compliance are among the many proposed measures included in the draft National Economic Framework document.

The 53-page document was presented to private and public sector officials at the National Economic Summit held at Sonesta Great Bay Beach Hotel on Friday. The document was discussed and stakeholders present gave their input.

According to the working-document, a country's legal system and its approach to economic growth are most important factors that determine a country's economic success or failure.

"A legal system that fosters economic innovation and growth while simultaneously protecting the rights of the citizens is essential to any form of economic growth. A quick scan of St. Maarten's current economic legislations shows room for improvement. St. Maarten's present legal system does not align with the country's current economic environment," the draft reads.

"Many laws are antiquated, decades old, leaving legislative and policy gaps. To remedy this, the legal system in relation to the national economy must be fully analysed. Mismatches in legislation and economic vision must be identified and remedied with the writing and implementing of the relevant legislation."

Other proposed policy statements included in the draft document were that Government will dedicate resources towards tourism diversification and investment promotion, and will promote inter-ministerial cooperation to ensure an holistic development of the country's economy.

In remarks at the opening ceremony of the forum, Minister of Tourism, Economic Affairs, Transport and Telecommunication (TEATT) Claret Connor told attendees the summit was to start the process of crafting St. Maarten's national economic vision. He said the intention was for stakeholders to share their thoughts, views and experiences to help the country design its national future.

The country's National Development Plan, he noted, is built upon four pillars of sustainable development: culture, environment and infrastructure, social and human development, and economy. "While no pillar is more vital than another, the economy as a pillar is essential to realising the greater mission of the National Development Plan and St. Maarten's progression as a country," he said.

The Department of Economy, Transportation and Telecommunication, in consultation with the Department of the Interior and Kingdom Relations, has been leading the discussion on economic planning.

"Economic planning is not a quickly executed task. The process of shaping a national economic vision is not an easy one. It requires foresight, inclusivity and a keen understanding of the needs of all partners. Rather than shy away from this task, EVT [Department of Economy, Transportation and Telecommunication – Ed.] has taken the first steps by drafting a National Economic Framework," Connor explained.

The minister said the framework had been a year in the making. "In that year, EVT assessed the realities of our economy, its constraints and its gains. The Department has asked questions, consulted with stakeholders and compiled the beginnings of the working document you have today."

Friday's session was to "widen the discussion" and build upon the draft with the intention of creating an holistic vision that incorporates all stakeholders' desires.

The areas of economic constraints, competition and foreign trade, and investment promotion, amongst other issues, were discussed at the Summit.

Connor said St. Maarten's comparative advantages were central to developing its future. "We must identify these advantages and find ways to build upon them while adding to our existing products. Niche tourism, marine activities, agriculture, financial services and logistics are all areas identified in the National Economic Framework as viable options for St. Maarten," he noted.

TEATT Secretary-General Miguel de Weever said he was happy to see parties gather to discuss and consult towards the development of the national economic vision for the country. He said the success and realisation of policies required the approval of decision-makers and the approval of decision-makers required and was best achieved when stakeholders supported the policy.

"The support of the vision enables the Government and the organisation to focus and prioritise towards the realisation of the vision. It is for this reason we are here to obtain feedback and input from you, the stakeholders, towards the development of the Economic Vision, and obtain support and preferably consensus to increase the probability of support in the decision-making process," De Weever said.

"Let us not underestimate the importance and relevance of having one shared comprehensive vision. It is catalyst to investments and investors, as it will be clearly the vision and direction of the government. This will be the basis on which incentives can be designed, jobs can be created and Government can increase their revenue."

He urged attendees to participate in the consultation process at the Summit as an opportunity to influence, shape and mould the economic vision of the country. "It is a time for us to look at what we have done, what needs improvement and how to go about things in the future (same or different) as it relates to our policy perspective going forward."

He urged participants not to dwell on problems identified during the discourse, but rather to look for and identify solutions. "For it is the solutions and our willingness that are going to determine the success of our future," De Weever said.

Ground broken for MLK’s playground

DUTCH QUARTER--A fully fledged playground for Martin Luther King (MLK) School pupils is that much closer to being realised; a symbolic ground-breaking ceremony was held at the heart of the school Friday morning to mark the occasion, amongst school management, staff and pupils, Division for Public Education (DPE) representatives and Minister of Education, Culture, Youth and Sports Affairs Rita Bourne-Gumbs.

The playground is meant for the school's Cycle 1 pupils and was largely made possible through the Parent Teacher Fellowship (PTF) and through fundraising at last year's pre-Father's day Bingo in particular, amongst some other initiatives.

School Manager Stuart Johnson proudly shared that the initiative was supported by staff, pupils and the community at large and that the playground will be the largest in the district and the first of its kind amongst the public schools.

The next project in line will be a multi-functional basketball court meant for the Cycle 2 pupils. This more extensive project will entail more funding and initiatives, Johnson shared.

Cycle 2 pupils formed the audience of the ceremony, as the Cycle 1s were participating in a sports-day event off school premises at the time.

PTF President Malaine Dublin, DPE Head Glenderlin Davis-Holiday and Minister Bourne-Gumbs emphasised the importance of play to physical and emotional well-being in brief congratulatory speeches, which includes learning to work in teams, increasing creativity and resiliency and promoting exploration and cognitive development.

Speeches were preceded by an opening prayer by School Counsellor Jessica Richardson and a rendition of the St. Maarten song by an MLK pupil. Adjunct Manager Lucia Kroon offered the vote of thanks.

Head Inspector Priscilla Bell, Leonard Connor School Adjunct Manager Alia Mathew Young and DPE staff member Juliette Greene were also present at the ceremony.

Lake: ‘High time’ for two missing ministers

PHILIPSBURG--United People's (UP) party Member of Parliament (MP) Maurice Lake has issued a call to his coalition partners that it is "high time" the two missing ministers be appointed to the Marcel Gumbs Cabinet "to get this country moving."

The Gumbs Cabinet, sworn in in December 2014, has had two ministers carrying double portfolios. While this is not unacceptable under the Constitution, which does not state that each ministry must be led by a separate and different minister, Lake said the additional two ministers were needed.

"It has been eight months [since the parliamentary elections – Ed.] and we need to set our priorities in order. We need to get back on track to move this country forward together as representatives of the people. Are we listening to the cries of our people?" Lake questioned in a press statement on Thursday.

The first-term MP said he knew some of his colleagues would not like his statement, "but I got to take a stand for the people who call me and are asking what is going on."

The UP-led coalition needs to "appoint the remaining ministers" and the Council of Ministers needs to start "executing our priorities," because "currently nothing is happening other than talking integrity and questioning each other in Parliament," Lake said.

The coalition MPs have to set the priorities for the appointed ministers. "Sometimes, we make the ministers feel that we are working for them," said Lake.

He wants to see the Council of Ministers adopt some of his main priorities: upgrading the hospital, creating work and providing incentives for businesses, building a solid waste facility and other projects in the draft Governing Programme.

No unmanned aircraft for Coast Guard as yet

THE HAGUE--The Coast Guard confiscated 1,024 kilos of cocaine, 7.5 kilos heroin and 68.5 kilos of marijuana and five firearms in the Dutch Caribbean in 2014. Five illegals were arrested and the Coast Guard was deployed 200 times in Search and Rescue (SAR) operations, during which 49 persons were brought to safety, Minister of Defence Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert wrote in a letter to the Dutch Parliament's Second Chamber on Friday.

Minister Hennis presented the 2014 annual report of the Coast Guard's operations in the Caribbean part of the Dutch Kingdom, also on behalf of Minister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Ronald Plasterk. The Coast Guard operated under a budget of 35.6 million euros last year.

As to the deployment of unmanned aircraft in the Caribbean, Minister Hennis said that tests with the lightweight aerial vehicle Raven proved it unfit for future air reconnaissance operations. The Minister announced "broader investigations" into other types of unmanned aircraft for the Coast Guard later this year.

Based on the annual plan and the Judiciary Policy Plan 2014-2017 the Coast Guard operations focused last year on the combatting of international drug transports, detection of firearms and illegal immigration and human smuggling and trafficking. Contacts with local stakeholders were improved, said Minister Hennis.

International cooperation is also deemed of the utmost importance. Therefore, the Coast Guard, in cooperation with the Ministries of Home Affairs and Defence, closed Memorandums of Understanding with Colombia and Jamaica in the area of maritime law enforcement. The Coast Guard also took part in the large regional "Tradewinds" exercise near the Dominican Republic.

In connection with SAR-operations, which are held in St. Maarten in cooperation with Sea Rescue Foundation, it was stated that the cooperation with the French Coast Guard in joint patrols and patrols in the Dutch and French territorial waters have been temporarily suspended awaiting ratification of an operational cooperation agreement by the authorities in Paris.

Technical problems, caused by lightning, led to reduced availability of the coastal radar system in Aruba and Curaçao. "No progress has been observed in connection with the plans of France for a coastal radar system in St. Maarten. The plans are currently still in the preparatory phase. The progress will also be monitored in 2015. There is currently no financial room in the Coast Guard's budget to contribute to such a system," it was stated in the annual report.

The Coast Guard also holds (safety) inspections of vessels. In the report it was stated that inspections in St. Maarten remained 24 per cent below the norm of 800 vessels. Instead, only 607 vessels were inspected. According to the Coast Guard, this was due to the fact that during the 2014 high season there were fewer vessels to inspect than foreseen.

As to the AW-139 helicopter, it was stated that the aircraft was seconded to St. Maarten for two periods of two weeks, during which it was in the air for 100 hours. In total, the AW-139 was airborne for 991 hours.

The Cougar helicopter could not be deployed in St. Maarten because Princess Juliana International Airport SXM does not meet military safety requirements.

The Coast Guard station ships were deployed in the Windward Islands for 60 per cent of their available time.

In connection with St. Eustatius and Saba, the annual report stated that the Coast Guard was present on the islands for 146 days in 2014, which is 26 days above the 120-day norm.

Integrity issues were also mentioned in the report, in reference to a Coast Guard official in Curaçao, who was suspended under suspicion of drug possession and an officer in St. Maarten who had caused a traffic accident while driving without a licence.

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