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Resistance in Parliament towards St. Maarten loan

THE HAGUE--The liberal democratic VVD party, the Socialist Party (SP) and the Party for Freedom PVV, together representing a significant part of the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament, are against the idea that Curaçao and St. Maarten can take capital loans now that their budgets have been approved by the Committee for Financial Supervision CFT.

Members of the Second Chamber André Bosman (VVD), Ronald van Raak (SP) and Sietse Fritsma (PVV) said during a debate in the Second Chamber with Dutch Minister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Ronald Plasterk on Thursday that there were still too many "grey areas" to have a complete overview of the government finances of Curaçao and St. Maarten.

According to the Members of Parliament (MPs), there is not sufficient financial information regarding the government-owned companies in Curaçao and St. Maarten for the CFT to take a balanced decision as to whether the two countries should be able to contract capital loans.

Especially the financial situation and reported debts of various Curaçao government- owned companies is a source of concern for the Second Chamber. The true debt of, for example, Aqualectra is "invisible," said Bosman.

Bosman said this lack of information constituted a "risk," because in the end the Netherlands would be duped in case of large debts at the government-owned companies, and countries not being able to repay their debts. "That cannot be true. The fact that government companies persist in withholding information is a sign," he said.

Van Raak questioned St. Maarten government-owned companies' willingness to provide financial information. "Having a complete picture of the government-owned companies is necessary to form an honest opinion on the financial situation of government. As the Second Chamber we have been asking for this information for several years," he said.

"Apparently the CFT can operate in a grey area. This is unclear and undesirable, also because the Netherlands is obliged to subscribe to loans of the countries," said Fritsma of the PVV. He said he had "little confidence" in the islands' solid financial future. He asked explicitly for a plan of approach to improve St. Maarten's liquidity position and suggested increasing the pensionable age on the island.

Ronald van Raak asked specifically whether there was information available on St. Maarten's harbour, a government-owned company with "a lot of money." He also said he was under the impression that these companies played a role in politicians financing.

Minister Plasterk did not go into details on the St. Maarten harbour, but said there was more information available on the government-owned companies than before. "There is progress," he said.

Bosman said he found it unacceptable that Curaçao recently received the go-ahead to issue a loan and that St. Maarten most likely would do the same. In his opinion, Curaçao and St. Maarten should be allowed to take capital loans only when they have complied with all requirements of the Financial Supervision Law and "not solely on the advice of the CFT."

The VVD MP referred to the CFT's most recent semi-annual report in which concerns were expressed about the financial position of Curaçao's government-owned companies and the fact that St. Maarten so far has not executed the announced measures to increase its revenues.

Bosman cited the "worsening of St. Maarten's liquidity position, poor financial management and financially far from being in order." He further mentioned that, according to the CFT, the annual accounts of Curaçao and St. Maarten had not been approved and the legal terms of the entire audit process had not been met. "And in this context we talk about the Netherlands subscribing to loans on the advice of the CFT?"

Bosman and his colleague of the VVD Mark Harbers have submitted written questions to Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem on this matter. The MPs asked the minister whether he had been informed about Curaçao's loan request of NAf. 60 million and the positive advice of the CFT.

Bosman and Harbers also wanted to know whether the minister had double-checked that Curaçao had complied with all requirements of the Financial Supervision Law. They further asked the minister whether he shared the VVD's opinion that a loan for Curaçao was not justified considering the risks involved as a result of "poor financial management."

NA no confidence motion against Minister Lake fails

~ Frans: DP was prepared to vote for motion ~

PHILIPSBURG--Only the four National Alliance (NA) Members of Parliament (MPs) William Marlin (party leader), Louie Laveist, George Pantophlet and Hyacinth Richardson voted in favour of their own motion of no confidence against Infrastructure VROMI Minister Maurice Lake United People's (UP) party on Thursday evening, while independent (former NA) MP Frans Richardson sat on the fence by not being present in the General Assembly Hall of Parliament House when it came time to vote.

Voting against the motion were UP MPs Theo Heyliger (party leader), Gracita Arrindell (President of Parliament), Jules James, Sylvia Meyers-Olivacce and Johan Leonard, Democratic Party (DP) MPs Roy Marlin and Leroy de Weever, independent (former NA) MPs Patrick Illidge and Dr. Lloyd Richardson and independent (former UP) MP Romain Laville.

Earlier in the debate, and prior to the motion coming to a vote, MP Frans Richardson said DP had "an agreement" with NA prior to the start of the meeting on the decision to purchase the combined estate in March "to remove" Minister Lake. That agreement was broken when the meeting was adjourned until yesterday. "They [DP] backed out, because they got what they wanted ... the date of elections August 29." He said: "I did not agree to support the motion of no confidence against the minister."

MP Laveist (NA) said Prime Minister Sarah Wescot-Williams (DP) gave UP leader Heyliger "a good whooping" so he agreed to what DP wanted so DP backed out of supporting the motion. If that did not happen, Laveist said the motion would have had "eight votes" in favour of sending home Lake. He said all the coalition members were given "chewpons" – the common name used for a baby's pacifier, by Wescot-Williams for them to be quiet and behave.

Reacting, Laveist saying that he received "a chewpon" via the expressed support from UP for his sewing centre project, MP Illidge said if it takes all MPs "to suck on chewpons" to get projects done then so be it if there are projects that will benefit the people of the country.

NA leader William Marlin said the motion was aimed at showing Lake did not have majority support in Parliament. The loss of that support stemmed from Lake "lying to Parliament" about a letter committing government to the purchase of Industry and Golden Rock Plantations (commonly called Emilio Wilson Estate) that was signed in 2012 by William Marlin, as then deputy prime minister, was not booked in properly.

Another "lie" the motion sought to point out was that Lake told Parliament in March, that at least three other court cases were filed against government due to the Court of First Instance ordering government to sign a sales and purchase agreement with the owners of the combined plantation.

Explaining the reasoning behind the motion, MP William Marlin said Lake obviously lied about additional court cases because he received a phone call from a representative of Millennium who said it that never took government to court. He maintained that Lake is a "pathological liar."

MP Dr. Lloyd Richardson in motivating his vote said MP William Marlin put him on the phone with the company representative who said no case was filed, but there was a letter from the company saying that if government did not make outstanding payments, the company would take government to court. He voted against the NA motion saying that structure of the answer the minister gave to NA members' questions about which companies took government to court as a result of what Lake termed William Marlin's "irresponsible" handling of the estate purchase commitment.

MP Roy Marlin (DP) said the situation Lake faced was a valuable lesson for the minister about making sure he did his research properly before speaking in Parliament. Lake had said the letter from William Marlin about the purchase was not properly booked in with the VROMI ministry; however, it turns out that the letter was booked with the Council of Ministers correspondence.

MP Pantophlet (NA) agreed that it was a good lesson not only for Lake, but all ministers.

The minister submitted to Parliament a memo from a civil servant in the Document and Information Management Department, who pointed out that she did not find the letter in the files when the minister asked because she may have handled the original filing "hastily" and this resulted in "no proof of the handling of the document."

MP Laville said he was accused of toppling the government twice when he was just one MP thus insufficient to break any past coalition. He was voting against the motion because he did not want "to get sucked in" or blamed for any collapse.

MP De Weever urged NA to withdraw the motion against the "young man" – Minister Lake, by agreeing to not have the votes be tallied. His suggestion was not taken up by NA.

MP Heyliger said NA was attempting "to get rid of a rising star in the community" with the failed motion of no confidence against Lake.

D’Shnay, Bria crowned new Teen, Senior Carnival Queens

page1a286PHILIPSBURG--D'Shnay York and Bria Sorton were crowned Teen and Senior Carnival Queens 2014 respectively on Wednesday night, with the former almost sweeping all contested prizes and the latter surging ahead when she had to secure the crown. Sorton also won a brand new car from Motorworld as part of her winnings.

York almost made history when she won nine of the twelve categories on her way to an astounding 274 point margin of victory. The only two categories she did not win were Ms. Amity and Best Evening Wear.

The St. Maarten Academy student who narrowly missed out on the crown two years ago, won Ms. Photogenic, Best Culture Wear, Best Speech, Best Costume, Best Performance in a costume, Best performance in evening wear, Best Interview and Best Talent. She was followed by first runner up Diofanny Diaz, second runner up Joanne Galva and third runner-up Gadisha Gumbs.

Confident, comfortable and clearly used to the stage, York went into the pageant with a 56 point lead over her nearest competitor Diofanny Diaz. The points were garnered at the speech and cultural wear competition held in March and added to the final scores on Wednesday night.

Govt to appeal EWE verdict, but committed to purchase

PHILIPSBURG--Prime Minister Sarah Wescot-Williams says government will appeal the verdict handed down by the Court of First Instance instructing government to purchase Industry and Golden Rock Plantations, commonly called Emilio Wilson Estate (EWE).

The appeal does not mean government will not or is not interested in purchasing the estate. The prime minister explained that government would be focused more on other details used by the court to come to the verdict that government must sign the sales and purchase agreement with the plantations' owners for US $17 million.

Wescot-Williams said at the Council of Ministers press briefing on Wednesday that government would study and negotiate for "partial development" of the combined plantations in the Cul de Sac basin. Government will be the one to purchase the estate when it comes to that point and will be the sole owner. The possibility of projects with St. Maarten Harbour Group of Companies also will be looked into.

Meanwhile, Wescot-Williams said she had received a letter from Infrastructure Minister Maurice Lake requesting her assistance with a dossier related to the EWE issue. Lake will be in Parliament today, Thursday, to answer questions from Members of Parliament about government's decision to purchase the combined plantations. Cooperation has been given to Lake, according to the prime minister.

MPs review change to MOT regulations

PHILIPSBURG--Several changes to the national ordinance regulating the Financial Intelligence Unit MOT, to bring it in line with pending membership of the Egmont Group, were discussed by Members of Parliament (MPs) in a public Central Committee meeting of Parliament on Wednesday. Justice Minister Dennis Richardson was present for the meeting as well as MOT Head Ligia Stella.

Some NAf. 48,000 has been earmarked in the Justice Ministry's budget for membership and fees for training via the Egmont Group.

The draft amendments of mostly technical changes will be tabled in a plenary session of Parliament on Friday morning for approval. The changes need to be made ahead a May-second deadline for all structures to be in place for the country's admittance into the Egmont Group.

Minister Richardson explained that one of the major changes to the existing regulation is that only individuals will be able to access their financial information related to MOT reporting, not any third parties. The further independence of the MOT is also regulated in the draft amendments. The role of the finance minister has been removed as part of the amendments to the ordinance, because the finance minister has no role in the working of the MOT, which is a justice responsibility.

The minister said the country's acceptance to the Egmont Group would greatly assist in the country to better combat financing of terrorism and money laundering as well as keep the country in line with international standards.

A significant step – the adoption of the revised Penal Code last year by Parliament, has already been made prior to the drafting of the pending amendments to keep the country from being blacklisted, said the minister.

Stella told MPs membership to the Egmont Group will allow MOT staff to get specialised training, networking and the elimination of information leakage (if such was a problem) from MOT. Membership to the group can be deemed as mandatory. Membership will also mean that MOT will have access to updated information in the field of financial intelligence and the possibility to share information, when necessary, via a secure website.

MPs posed a number of questions about the Egmont Group as well as the general operations of the MOT.

Independent (former National Alliance) MP Frans Richardson voiced concerns about "some banks" refusing to do business with casinos and number games. He believes that if government issues a business licence to a company a commercial bank should not refuse to do business with them. If not, the banks "should pack up and go back where they came from." He intends to call the management of the Central Bank of Curacao and St. Maarten (CBCS) to Parliament to explain the situation.

The MOT has a staff of nine at present; its organisational structure calls for 16 staff members. There are plans to hire some five staff members in the near future to boost the mandatory financial regulatory body. Finding staff for the MOT has been a challenge, according to the minister, because of the highly specialised tasks and educational background needed.

The MOT has not produced any annual reports since 2010.

Attending Wednesday's meeting, chaired by President of Parliament Gracita Arrindell (United People's Party) were MPs Roy Marlin and Leroy de Weever of the Democratic Party (DP), independent MPs Frans Richardson and Patrick Illidge, MPs George Pantophlet and Hyacinth Richardson (NA), MPs Jules James, Sylvia Meyers-Olivacce, Theo Heyliger and Johan Leonard (UP).

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