Monday, Mar 30th

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St. Maarten approves PwC recommendations on CBCS

PHILIPSBURG--The Council of Ministers has "decided" to "follow up" on the fifteen recommendations of the PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) research report regarding the functioning of the Central Bank of Curaçao and St. Maarten (CBCS).

Finance Minister Martin Hassink told The Daily Herald early Tuesday that the Council had decided in its Tuesday, March 24, meeting to follow up on the recommendations. He said that "follow-up had started in the meantime already." The specifics of the follow-up to which the minister referred could not be ascertained.

Curaçao media had reported earlier that the governments of Curaçao and St. Maarten had agreed to take a unanimous decision to carry out the 15 recommendations. This agreement, it was reported, will be determined in a cooperation protocol between Curaçao and St. Maarten, according to Curaçao Minister of Finance Dr. José Jardim in a letter to the Parliament of Curaçao.

Jardim said in his letter that the Council of Ministers of Curaçao had decided on March 18 to take over all the recommendations of the PwC report and to carry them out, and expected the Council of Ministers of St. Maarten to make the same decision soon.

After signing the cooperation protocol, the parties will start with the realisation of the implementation of the recommendations from the investigation.

The PwC report showed that not only the Board of Directors, but also the Ministers of Finance of both Curaçao and St. Maarten as representatives of the equity shareholders of the Bank, and the Supervisory Board had failed in their functioning.

Integrity tests at the CBCS are part of the PwC recommendations.

French, Dutch delegations on island for Quadri-partite talks

MARIGOT--High level delegations from France and The Netherlands have joined delegations from St. Martin and St. Maarten for the 2nd Quadri-partite Franco-Netherlands meeting held in the Préfecture on Monday.

This is the first time the meeting has been held in St. Martin. The first meeting took place in The Hague in January 21, 2014, and is held once a year.

A welcome reception and opening ceremony for the respective delegates and technicians were held Sunday evening in the Préfecture hosted by Préfet Philippe Chopin.

The heads of the four delegations are President of the Collectivité Aline Hanson, Prime Minister of St. Maarten Marcel Gumbs, Préfet Philippe Chopin and Director of the Western Hemisphere Department from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the Netherlands, Maryem van den Heuvel. Each gave a short address ahead of the meeting.

Other notable dignitaries at the reception included French Ambassador for Regional Cooperation in the Antilles-Guiana Region Fred Constant, French Consul General in Amsterdam Christina Vasak and Justice Minister for St. Maarten Dennis Richardson.

Director of Regional Cooperation and European Affairs Alex Richards, a member of the St. Martin delegation, disclosed topics to be discussed at the meeting which were largely the same as those discussed last January.

"At State level police and customs cooperation will be discussed, while at regional level the topics will be education, health, social matters and any other form of cooperation," Richards explained. "One of the things we are planning to do in the meeting is to challenge the State of France to establish a group on the island that will be solely responsible for all matters of cooperation."

Maryem van den Heuvel told The Daily Herald that part of the agenda at the first meeting was to get to know each other better.

"Things are organised in different ways, whether on French side or Dutch side and division of competences are really different," she said. "It was important to get to know the institutional order on both sides. We talked about all kinds of issues and we are very happy to continue the talks and I'm confident we will have a good atmosphere."

Asked what specific decisions came out of the first meeting a year ago, she replied: "Decisions were made to exchange information, exchange point of contacts and find more information about EU programmes that both sides of the island could benefit from. So, that was a concrete follow up to the different issues.

"When you encounter a specific problem, you want to know who is responsible on the other side and who to talk to. We determined a list of working groups and points of contacts."

On the police cooperation treaty she noted that this still has to be ratified in the French Senate before it can enter into force, but could not say exactly when that would be. It has already been ratified in the Dutch Parliament and in the lower house of the French Parliament (National Assembly).

Prime Minister Marcel Gumbs in his address emphasised that in order to have effective cooperation one must first have stability and continuity. Alluding to the changeover of Préfets, usually every three years, he said he hoped Préfet Chopin would stay on, at least as long as he is in Government, which drew a round of laughter.

"I am thinking we should ask Foreign Affairs in The Hague to encourage Paris not to change Préfets too often," he said. "We need continuity and stability, because there are too many issues that have to be dealt with at State level between French Republic and Country St. Maarten. If every three years we have a new Préfet, he has to get accustomed to how it all works. That's two steps forward and four steps back.

"We also have to maintain stability on the Dutch side. We've had three governments in four years. That's not good for the Dutch side and not good for cooperation."

Préfet Chopin closed the opening ceremony by presenting the Préfecture medal to the leaders of the delegations.

Plans for 24/7 Coast Guard patrols cannot happen without more funds

PHILIPSBURG--The Coast Guard would like to become a 24/7 organisation, similar to the police. However, this cannot be achieved until additional personnel are employed and additional money has to be made available for this by the individual islands, including St. Maarten.

In an invited comment, Dutch Caribbean Coast Guard Acting Director Hans Schreuder responded to remarks made by Curaçao Minister of Justice Navarro, who said recently that a proposal had been made for the Coast Guard to be operational 24/7.

Navarro said the proposal had been made during the recent Judiciary Tripartite meeting between Minister of Justice Dennis Richardson and his colleagues of Curaçao and Aruba. Curaçao newspaper Amigoe reported this based on remarks made by Navarro during the weekly government press conference in Curaçao.

Navarro stated that the islands had agreed that this would be a better way to function, but the proposal has to be processed before it will become clear how this will be arranged in practice.

The Coast Guard is under jurisdiction of the Kingdom, so the proposal first has to be approved by Dutch Minister of Defence Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, who is due in Curaçao on a working visit. Navarro stated he would discuss the matter with her on that occasion.

Schreuder specified that the Coast Guard was a Kingdom Cooperation between St. Maarten, Curaçao, Aruba and the Netherlands. At this moment, the organisation does not have a 24/7 presence on territorial waters, but is available for emergencies 24/7, as there is always an on-call team that can be summoned. It takes an hour for this team to be mobilised.

"The Coast Guard has indicated for a number of years that it would like to be a 24/7 organisation, similar to the police, for instance," said Schreuder. "If the Coast Guard would be a 24/7 organisation, there would always be a team available on the water or at the headquarters. In case of emergencies, they could be mobilised immediately and wouldn't need time to be called out, as is the case with the current system.

"A 24/7 Coast Guard for Aruba, Curaçao and St. Maarten requires an increase of at least 30 staff members, a minimum of 10 per island. The Coast Guard does not have the budget for this. The countries St. Maarten, Aruba and Curaçao, but also the Netherlands, which already pays 85 per cent of the total Coast Guard budget, have indicated that they are not able or willing to contribute more funds towards the Coast Guard."

He explained that the Coast Guard Director could execute his plans to extend the Coast Guard to a 24/7 organisation only if additional funds were made available. The Director, who is responsible for organising the Coast Guard, must stay within budget, but he has designed the organisation in such a way that, should additional funds be made available for a 24/7 availability, the Coast Guard does not need to be reorganised, but additional teams just can be added to the different island headquarters.

Richardson told The Daily Herald on Monday that St. Maarten did not have the budget to contribute. "We are dealing with difficult financial circumstances at the moment," he said. He stated that initiatives were ongoing to free up money for the Justice system.

"At this time, it is even difficult to afford people within the Justice system being promoted in rank, although we are still doing that," Richardson said.

"The Netherlands was determined to take on responsibility for the Coast Guard. They pushed this through. Now they should take responsibility to ensure the Coast Guard can function to the best of its ability.

"The Netherlands has said that the islands are not doing enough to combat serious crime, such as human trafficking and drugs trafficking. The Coast Guard has the capability to play a bigger role in tackling this type of crime, if only it is given the chance. The Netherlands should take that responsibility, or give it back."

No quorum for meeting on Integrity Chamber Law

page4d263PHILIPSBURG--Although eleven Members of Parliament (MPs) were present in the General Assembly Hall of Parliament House on Monday, only seven were signed in and ready for the Central Committee meeting dealing with the draft law to establish an Integrity Chamber for the country. Seven MPs were one short of the needed quorum for the meeting to proceed.

Prime Minister Marcel Gumbs and Justice Minister Dennis Richardson were set to table the draft law as the struggle with the Dutch Kingdom Government continues over St. Maarten's perceived integrity issues. The meeting now will have to be recalled at a later date.

Parliament President Dr. Lloyd Richardson (United People's (UP) party) called the meeting off at 2:30pm, after waiting in vain the prescribed 30 minutes after the scheduled start time to see whether the meeting would have the needed quorum of MPs.

Dr. Richardson told the press after the aborted meeting that he had approached National Alliance (NA) MPs William Marlin, Christophe Emmanuel and George Pantophlet for their support for the meeting, due to three coalition members being off-island. He said they had "promised [to – Ed.] support us," but that did not happen.

"It is not a political issue. It is one of national importance," Dr. Richardson said.

Asked how he felt about the stalled meeting and how the law makes St. Maarten look in the eyes of the Kingdom Government, Dr. Richardson said: "It does not make us look serious. It is definitely damaging to the country."

NA MPs Marlin, Emmanuel and Silveria Jacobs along with Democratic Party (DP) MP Sarah Wescot-Williams were in their seats in the General Assembly Hall, but they did not sign the attendance list.

The only signatures on the attendance list were those of coalition MPs Dr. Richardson, Theo Heyliger, Silvio Matser, Tamara Leonard and Johan Leonard of UP, Frans Richardson (United St. Maarten party) and Cornelius de Weever (independent).

Absent with notice were MPs Franklin Meyers and Maurice Lake of UP, and Leona Marlin-Romeo (independent).

Africa Resource Center opens its doors at library

PHILIPSBURG--Africa Caribbean Heritage Alliance (ACHA), in cooperation with national volunteer initiative SXM Doet, the National Commission of United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) and Philipsburg Jubilee Library launched the Africa Resource Center at the Library.

ACHA was founded in April 2014 by Okama Ekpe Brook, who has worked for the United Nations in different parts of the world and is now in St. Maarten, and is geared towards reconnecting Africa and the Caribbean through the areas of heritage, culture, economics, education, travel and transport. Brook, originally Nigerian, fell in love with St. Maarten and the Caribbean.

The launching of the Africa Resource Center is part of ACHA’s efforts to continue on its mission of assessing the feasibility of positively reconnecting the continents.

Governor Eugene Holiday cut the ribbon to officially open Africa Resource Center. He commended SXM Doet organisers with the inclusion of this project in its island-wide volunteers programme and applauded the partnership between ACHA, the National UNESCO Commission and the Library to make this “relevant” heritage project possible.

He expressed the hope that through centralised collection and availability of information the centre would contribute to a greater knowledge, understanding and appreciation of the Africa-St. Maarten Heritage.

Brook noted that Africa is the second largest continent in the world after Asia with a population of almost one billion spread across 54 countries. She said that that Africans and the Caribbean people share much ancestral history and cultural heritage that provide a fertile ground for partnerships.

“Africans and people of African descent are strategically spread across the entire globe. The resource centre is a unifying point of convergence; a place and space where people can go to relax, to conduct research, to access certain resources or to watch a movie, listen to music or just to read a book that creates more awareness about the potential of Africa as it relates to the opportunities with the Caribbean.”

Other persons addressing the gathering included Library Director Monique Alberts and Secretary General of the National Commission for UNESCO Marcellia Henry. Alberts spoke on the rich history of Africa and highlighted the array of literature available at the library to contribute to the development of the Africa Resource Center.

Henry, for instance, mentioned the United Nations Decade for People of African Descent, noting that this declaration provides the opportunity for the UN, UNESCO, member states, civil society and other organisations to implement programmes and organise activities that focus and promote African ancestry’s recognition, justice and development.

“In proclaiming this decade, United Nations and the international community recognise that people of African origin represent a group of people whose human rights must be promoted and protected,” Henry said.

In her closing remarks, Brook thanked SXM Doet, Be The Change Foundation, Oranje Fund and Prince Bernhard Foundation for making this event possible.

The programme further included poetry, speeches, and a book presentation.

On the occasion of its first anniversary, ACHA is organising an art and essay competition for high schools titled: “The Role of Africans in St. Martin: Reconnecting the Caribbean with Africa.” The winning entries of high school students are scheduled to be announced on April 9. The deadline for the contest has been extended until Thursday, April 2.

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