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New Marcel Gumbs Cabinet takes office

page3b180~ Governor issues challenge to unify people ~

PHILIPSBURG--"The greatest little country in the world" as St. Maarten has been described by its new Prime Minister Marcel Gumbs, finally has a new Council of Ministers. Gumbs, a veteran politician, and the five other ministers were sworn in on Friday afternoon by Governor Eugene Holiday at his office.

The swearing-in ceremony was followed by the first meeting of the Council of Ministers with the governor in A.C. Wathey Legislative Hall.

The new ministers were challenged by Governor Holiday "to find a way" to answer his call "to unite our people in a common cause anchored in trust and rooted in an obligation to serve in the general interest of our people."

Gumbs told guests in the hall, "We hold no illusions of the task before us. St. Maarten is at a critical stage in its development and growth as a nation. Our mission is clear: To ensure that St. Maarten thrives and grows, to stress and maintain financial discipline, integrity and transparency in government and to build a nation of character where people live quality lives."

It is the new cabinet's "turn to shoulder this heavy responsibility. We do so knowing that our approach must be to right the wrongs and insist on accountability. We move forward in a very tight fiscal space with clear financial realities in which we must govern."

The Gumbs Cabinet will "aim to be a calm, measured, steady and purposeful government that says what it means and does what it says. We hope to be judged by what we have done rather than by what we have said we would do."

"We must and will do our utmost to regain the trust of the people of St. Maarten and we will strive to set the ship right so that we can continue moving forward to becoming the great nation we all know St. Maarten can be. This country needs tranquility, stability, civility, and prosperity. Let's get to work," said Gumbs.

Holiday said the new cabinet faces several challenges, of which a number are "critical." He listed among those challenges the management of relations locally and in the Kingdom, balancing the budget, and overseeing government-owned companies. "To address these matters and to ensure our further progress, all our resources, all of our people will have to be involved."

The swearing-in of the ministers heralded the "beginning of a new chapter" in the country's history; one that has come after "complex and tense domestic circumstances" as well as the Kingdom relationship, said Holiday.

With the cabinet short two ministers for the maximum constitution of seven, Gumbs will serve as ad interim Minister of Public Housing, Spatial Planning, Environment and Infrastructure VROMI.

Justice Minister Dennis Richardson will also serve as ad interim Minister of Public Health, Social Development and Labour. Richardson and Finance Minister Martin Hassink are two ministers who served in the previous Wescot-Williams III Cabinet.

School Manager Rita A. Bourne-Gumbs is Minister of Education, Culture, Youth and Sports.

St. Maarten Chamber of Commerce and Industry Executive Director Claret M. Connor is Minister of Tourism, Economic Affairs, Transport and Telecommunication.

Deputy Minister Plenipotentiary Josianne Artsen will be Minister Plenipotentiary in The Hague.

Samenwerkende Fondsen gives mini-grants to 4 organisations

PHILIPSBURG--Four non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have received small grants, up to NAf. 5,000, for special, social projects from Samenwerkende Fondsen.

Receiving the funds are Council of Cultural and Artistic Expressions (COCAAE) Drums, No Kidding with our Kids Foundation, St. Maarten Alliance for Equality (SAFE) and the Turning Point Foundation.

Urmay Dormoy of COCAAE said the funds give his drum group the "outlet" to do the job with his kids.

Merlyn Schaminee of No Kidding with Our Kids Foundation said the money will be used to replace the foundation's stove and fridge. This equipment is needed to provide warm lunches for some 90 children in the afternoon-school programme in Sucker Garden.

Nadjeska Gumbs of SAFE said the organisation that focuses on the lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender (LGBT) community will now be able to carry out an initial assessment to determine where St. Maarten stands related to LGBT issues and how further programmes need to be developed.

Executive Director of Turning Point Foundation Vernon Illidge said the funds will be used for two new computers and educational software. These will be used for educational programmes for clients, who often have dropped out of school.

Samenwerkende Fondsen presented funds to 14 social organisations this year.

InselAir celebrates first Guyana flight

SIMPSON BAY--Thursday, December 18, marked the date of InselAir's first flight from Curaçao to Guyana. The flights are available twice a week between Curaçao and Georgetown. The flight schedule is matched to InselAir flights from St. Maarten to Curaçao, so passengers have a smooth transit.

Members of various media houses joined InselAir Station Manager Alonzo Hassel and Minister of Transport Ted Richardson on the first flight to Guyana, via Curaçao.

The flight to Curaçao was slightly delayed, however, a small ceremony before the flight, which included cake, snacks and champagne for all passengers, more than made up for the inconvenience. During the ceremony at the departure gate, Hassel gave a short speech. He thanked all those present on behalf of CEO Albert Kluyver and the rest of the management staff for being part of a historical day for the Guyanese community residing in St. Maarten and the neighbouring islands.

Hassel said that, besides the many challenges InselAir met in its eight years of serving St. Maarten with direct flights from Santo Domingo, Haiti and Curaçao, the airline had had many positive results from St. Maarten, and this was why the management had decided to start the twice-weekly service from Curaçao, with a connection to and from St. Maarten. This was a service many people had requested.

"Even though we have started flying this route via the Aruba hub since a couple of months, I only feel that this route will become one of our very successful routes within our network," said Hassel.

Minister of Transport Ted Richardson stepped up and thanked InselAir for its expansion in adding new routes. Richardson commented that it lies within the ministry road map to ensure St. Maarten tourism continues to grow, and to ensure it continues also during the low season. "InselAir picked up on that. On behalf of St. Maarten, I congratulate InselAir," said the minister.

Hassel then asked the minister to step forward to cut a blue celebration cake with an InselAir plane on top, designed by Malbea Euson. A young passenger, 14-year-old Orpah Lawrie from St. Maarten was asked to assist. She did such a good job that Minister Richardson asked her to do the honours, so she was the one to cut the cake and eat the first slice. Young Orpah said the cake was delicious.

Passengers were then treated to a glass of champagne and a buffet of snacks, whilst the boarding process started. A very full MD-80 aircraft made its way to Curaçao, where the passengers flying onward to Guyana were directed to the gate for the flight.

This flight, which was also slightly delayed since it had waited for the flight from St. Maarten to arrive, was in a Fokker 70, decorated with special inaugural flight memorial headrest covers, which passengers could keep. Each passenger was given a small bag with promotional items.

The flight, alongside ordinary passengers, carried dignitaries and invited guests including members of the press. It received a warm welcome in Guyana with a traditional water canon salute by two brightly-lit fire trucks. A group of dignitaries, airport staff and Guyanese media also welcomed the aircraft, and with a ribbon-cutting ceremony, Guyanese minister of Transport, Communication and Hydraulics, Robson Benn, opened Guyana to the passengers of the InselAir flight.

After formalities on the tarmac were completed, all guests were welcomed at a small party organised by InselAir's local partner and handling agent Roraima Airways, whose CEO Gerry Gouveia expressed his joy in welcoming InselAir to Guyana. Roraima Airways, which also organises tours in Guyana, will be responsible for customer contact on behalf of InselAir.

A speech was given by InselAir CEO Albert Kluyver, who stressed that by this new route, Guyana would be connected to 22 destinations. He said that for 200 years, Guyana had been part of the Dutch Caribbean, and it was nice to see the country once again connected with the current Dutch Caribbean. He further stated that InselAir aimed to increase the number of flights to and from Guyana.

Ted Richardson, in his speech, said it was important to understand what InselAir's role was in connecting the Caribbean to South America. He spoke of the great potential St. Maarten has to attract people from these regions, and the importance of connecting with each other.

Lt. Colonel Oscar Garvey of the Curaçao Civil Aviation Authority (CCAA) praised InselAir for its efforts, and said the airline made life interesting for the CCAA. He focused on the international commercial opportunities with countries in the area of Guyana, including Brazil. He congratulated the Guyanese Minister of Transport and InselAir on the new route.

Minister Robson Benn spoke of his excitement about the new route. "We see this as a vote of confidence," he said, before focusing on the opportunities of networking and learning from each other. "We will work hard with all partners to make this opportunity into a success," he said, before all present enjoyed drinks and snacks.

Local Interpol participated in seizing 27.5 tonnes of drugs

PHILIPSBURG--Interpol St. Maarten participated in a regional operation subbed "Operation Lionfish2" which resulted in the seizure of more than 27.5 tonnes of drugs.

A press release from Police spokesperson Inspector Ricardo Henson said more than 27.5 tonnes of drugs have been seized in Operation Lionfish 2, an Interpol-led initiative targeting the illicit trafficking of drugs and firearms by organised crime groups across Central America and the Caribbean. The seized drugs included cocaine, cannabis, XTC and heroin, with the cocaine haul valued at almost US $1.3 billion.

Drawing on extensive coordination, groundwork and resources provided by 39 countries and territories across the Americas, the Caribbean and Europe, the two week operation, from December 1 to 14 further resulted in the arrest of 422 suspects. Some 7.6 tonnes of chemical precursors, 100 weapons and US $2.2 million in cash were also seized, the release said.

With Interpol Units providing coordination on the ground, Interpol's Regional Bureau in El Salvador and the Octris office in Martinique provided real time support for information exchange and facilitated cross-checking of data against Interpol's global database.

Operation Lionfish 2 included Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Aruba, Bahamas, Belgium, Bermuda, Bolivia, British Virgin Islands, Canada, Cayman Islands, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Curaçao, Dominica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, France, Grenada, Guatemala, Honduras, Italy, Jamaica, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, St. Maarten, Spain, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago, Turks and Caicos, United Kingdom, United States and Venezuela.

The unit of Interpol St. Maarten participated in the operation by coordinating the cooperation between the Information Unit of the Police Force, Customs, Coastguard, Immigration and Border Protection Service and the RST, Henson said in the release.

"The cooperation between these St. Maarten law enforcement agencies was experienced as positive and proved that cooperation between the local agencies can be quick and effective.

The participation of Interpol St. Maarten resulted in the seizure of fire arms, a package with an undisclosed amount of XTC pills and the arrest of illegal foreigners trying to enter St. Maarten with false passports," he added. "Considered more important in the participation was the sharing of valuable information in support of the actions by the other member states."

FBO facility at SXM Airport goes on bid

AIRPORT--Five contractors have been invited to submit bids for the construction of the new fixed base operation (FBO) facility at SXM Princess Juliana International Airport, a company press release informed recently.

An information meeting was held with the contractors December 19, 2014, and they have to submit their bids by January 13, 2015. This tender process is in line with SXM Airport's procurement policy, which, in this case, is by invited bidding. Four of the five invited contractors are local, while the fifth is from Curaçao.

The location for the new FBO facility is where the government Fire Department once stood (it has since been demolished to make way for the construction of the new FBO), and the area currently occupied by the Civil Aviation Authority and Meteorological Services of St. Maarten.

SXM Airport has remodelled and renovated the former Turtle Pier restaurant so that the new two-story, 400-square meter facility could house both the Civil Aviation Authority and the Met Office until government can build a permanent facility for both departments in the vicinity of the Air Traffic Control Tower.

Currently, both of these departments are set to conduct a final inspection of the new location within the coming week, with the relocation of said departments expected after the holiday season.

SXM Airport has invested in the construction of a new building for the Meteorological Services in the vicinity of the Air Traffic Control Tower, the press release noted. Office space has also been built for the technical operations of the Met Office in the area of the new building.

SXM Airport recently signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Arrindell by Signature to operate in the new facility. The non-exclusive agreement calls for Signature to offer passenger, ground-handling and plane fuel services for general aviation from the new FBO terminal. At least one other operator is expected in the new facility.

The new FBO terminal building itself will occupy an area of 1,000 square meters with a space of 5,000 square meters for general aviation parking. It will feature three retail outlets, and customs, immigration and security services.

The FBO operators at the new facility are expected to build their own lounges with additional services and amenities. The estimated construction period for the new facility is between 14 and 16 months.

Private aircraft are currently being handled at the present FBO facility. However, due to increased growth in this sector, and to maintain SXM's competitive advantage, it became necessary to expand and upgrade the current facilities.

SXM Airport relayed that private jet aircraft movements for 2013 were up 13 per cent over 2012. To date, and for the season, the island has been exceeding the number of bookings and private jets compared to previous years.

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