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MP Emmanuel: Government playing guessing game with rent payments

SINT MAARTEN (PHILIPSBURG) - The audit conducted by the General Audit Chamber on the effectiveness of government office housing policy should have presented a clear picture of significant financial savings for government. Instead, Independent Member of Parliament (MP) Christophe Emmanuel said, “there is no policy and government literally told the Audit Chamber that it has little to no information about what it pays in rent.”

He said the fact that the Audit Chamber did not receive most of the information it requested from the Ministry of General Affairs and the Ministry of Finance shows once again that government does not have the simplest of financial matters in order and the Minister of Finance has failed at his job. He said it is a legal requirement to provide information to the Audit Chamber when it asks. Government, the MP said, admitted to the Audit Chamber that the relevant information is not available.

“So we are renting buildings all over St. Maarten, and can’t produce information about rental costs. How then, is this even regulated and mentioned in the budget? By guessing?” The Audit Chamber even concluded that the lack of information from the Ministry of General Affairs and Ministry of Finance greatly influenced their audit,” the MP said.

“It makes you wonder how exactly does government financially plan if it cannot even produce a real picture of expenditures and wastage? Government has instituted what it called cost-saving measures, including cuts to civil servant benefits and income, but does not know if it could have saved thousands if not millions by taking certain actions within government itself. Rent of private owned properties is one such area,” the MP said.

He pointed out that the rent for the Vineyard Building alone is Naf 462,000 per month, or roughly Naf 5.5 million per year. Due to lack of information from government to the Audit Chamber, the total amount the government pays in rent is not known. “And nobody questions this? Or at least tried to re-negotiate these rental amounts? In the meantime, we have government owned buildings sitting damaged and empty with apparently no funds for repairs,” the MP said.

“If we utilize many of our government facilities better (such as the BTP Building) and expand on some, we would have the finances to tackle the building of the former police academy, the Soremar Building in Cole Bay, the library ect. But once again we don’t know what or if government is doing anything other than cutting benefits of personnel, while still hiring more,” MP Emmanuel said.

He said it is alarming that the Finance Minister at the end of the day, could not produce figures to the Audit Chamber. “This also means he could not produce information on who owns the buildings government rents. He could not say if the buildings are owned by civil servants and if this is allowed. He could not say if the rent of the Vineyard Building and the building that currently houses the Prosecutor’s Office, goes to the same individual. The Audit Chamber basically laid bare that the Finance Minister has no clue what he is doing since there is no policy from which he is working. It is no wonder the Dutch took us for a ride with conditions if this Finance Minister handled negotiations,” the MP said.

MP Emmanuel said that a lack of an office policy means that government cannot and does not control the cost and the efficiency of any accommodation it rents or wants to rent. Moreover, the audit makes it seems like the rental of properties is more of an ad hoc exercise than a planned and strategic necessity. There is also no evaluation on space usage in the new Government Building or any other building to determine where savings can be realized.

“Imagine, government could not even verify the correct rent for the Audit Chamber when asked. We have to get to a point where our decisions are made on sound information. But instead we have a Minister of Finance who produces a kindergarten like one-page summary of the country’s liquidity situation when asked by Parliament. For some reason this government believes in hiding figures from the public, from Parliament, from the Dutch and do not take needed action based on factual information,” the MP said.  

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Better rehabilitation/reintegration programs needed says MP Ottley

SINT MAARTEN (PHILIPSBURG) - The alarming rate of major crimes in St. Maarten has the attention of United People's UP Party Member of Parliament Omar Ottley, who says better rehabilitation/reintegration programs are urgently needed to reintegrate formerly convicted persons into society.

He also has some robbery prevention tips for businesses to apply in their daily operation immediately. "Staying alert and training your staff on how to react during a robbery attempt and putting proper surveillance and security measures in place are just a few ways to protect yourselves.

The Government's need to put more uniformed officers on patrol in built-up areas is presently hindered by the global economic crisis brought on by COVID-19. But, Ottley says planning and creative policing with support from the Ministry of Justice can go a long way to reducing crime.

Criminals who commit armed robberies look for tradeable goods such as gold, or actual cash Ottley says a good practice for pawnshops and cash for gold outlets is instituting strict trade policies for accepting items brought to them. MP Ottley highlighted the recent shooting death of a suspected armed robber by police following an armed robbery and said it is "very troubling to see former inmates return to a life of crime for their survival." According to MP Ottley, the only way to truly protect businesses and residents from becoming victims of these "senseless crimes" is by contributing to rehabilitation efforts. Instead of seeing repeat offenders as "hardened criminals", see them as someone's son daughter who desperately needs our help.

"Reintegration into society after you have prison is a challenge for anyone, especially when trying to become gainfully employed. If we want to stop the cycle, we have to institute rehabilitation programs that cater to reintegration," said MP Ottley.

In a press release issued Sunday, Ottley said St. Maarten must not only arrest and incarcerate individuals who commit crimes. "Doing this only makes the Pointe Blanche Prison a breeding ground for criminals." To imprison without effective rehabilitation measures is equal to a "do-nothing approach", hoping that the result will be the automatic character change from a life of violence and crime. "Many crimes committed by teenagers are often the result of adolescent misbehavior that has gone unchecked. If the Social Services Department needs more support or staff to assist parents who have children with behavioral issues, we must address it. To do nothing or ignore shortcomings in such an important department is allowing the growth of future criminals."

He said St. Maarten’s Prison population still has individuals who can contribute positively to society after serving their sentences. However, proper rehabilitation for inmates can only be achieved if we put real programs that monitor prisoners' behavior and prepare them for reintegration into society. "A structurally organized program would address our youths and young adults' critical social challenges and give them the assistance they need to return to society with external support to keep them from becoming repeat offenders," Ottley said.

"Changes in behavioral patterns can occur with proper social guidance that helps convicted persons to see where they went wrong, earn up to their mistakes and make life-changing decisions," said Ottley. Robberies and other serious crimes significantly impact the victims, their families, and society in general and should not be taken lightly. The suggestions for rehabilitation do not excuse the need to ensure stiff punishment for crimes. "As the saying goes, if you can't do the time, don't do the crime." Regarding sentences meted out for crimes committed, Ottley said the punishment must fit the crime committed. "Some laws may need revision to ensure the penalties are severe enough to act as deterrents as well," said MP Ottley.

Results and the offer of hope to persons who have known a life of crime or first offenders cannot be achieved solely by detention. The multi-faceted rehabilitation/reintegration program for the prison submitted to the Ministry of Justice in 2019 by The Etiquette Factory SXM is one way of getting us closer to our goal. That goal is to foster growth, transformation, and rehabilitation for the target groups, emphasizing discipline, integrity, manners, general life skills, and etiquette. This requires a public, private partnership in hiring rehabilitated individuals upon their release, given that they successfully graduated from the program and received their reintegration certificates.

MP Ottley emphasized that such a program will also change the public perception of incarcerated persons, making them more marketable to potential employers. "Our young people are the future of our society. They face many negative influences and insufficient uplifting role models. When they become delinquent, they need and deserve continued support, encouragement and guidance to get their lives back on track," said MP Ottley.

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LU's senior students shine again with 2.5 million in scholarships

SINT MAARTEN (CAY HILL) - Despite the COVID-19 pandemic and upheaval of their school year, Learning Unlimited Preparatory School (LU) and its 2021 senior students has once again excelled and impressed with international college and university acceptances. The school will send virtually 100%of its senior class off to prestigious institutions, re-enforcing LU's dedication to preparing its students for success at the highest levels. The school has secured almost US $2.5 million in combined scholarships, a new milestone for LU.

The students have been accepted to institutions across the U.S., Canada and around the world including McGill University in Montreal, Canada, Bowie State University, The University of Waterloo, Spelman College which is an HBCU (Historically Black College Or University), Florida State University, Emerson College, the University of Toronto, Rider University, George Mason University, Boston University, Loyola University, University if Miami, Fontys School of Business and Communication, Rotterdam University and more.

According to head of the schools College Counseling department Mark Beland, college advising start from grade 9 through 12. For example, the students engage in an "I'm going to college" project, where they are asked to investigate 8 colleges or universities they would like to attend. Beland said "alot of knowledge opens your mind", meaning the students gain significant understanding by investigating programs, faculty, dorm rooms everything about a particular college or university. "This way they get an idea and understand what is available out there for them to make more informed decisions," Beland said.

By the time LUPS students reach the 12th Grade and during the course of the application period, from September through February of the senior year, each student works with Beland on a myriad of issues such as the implications of early decision/action, crafting of the student’s extracurricular resume, mock interview sessions, teachers’ recommendations, and financial aid.

LU's students were also credited with having persevered through a complicated COVID affected year in which they had to adjust to online hybrid classes and in-person education. In general, the school directorate is very proud of the way the students excelled under challenging circumstances.

LU's students on an annual basis face SATs, ACTs, SAT II subject tests, AP exams and extensive online learning and testing. The LU College Counseling program supports each senior throughout the admissions process and helps students identify and gain acceptance to the college or colleges which suit their academic, lifestyle, extracurricular interests, and financial circumstances.

Learning Unlimited Preparatory School (LUPS) is an American accredited institution. The school is accredited by the Southern Association of Independent Schools (SAIS) and the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS). The school was founded on the principle of developing each student's potential to the fullest within a safe, positive and academically challenging environment.

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CIBC FIRSTCARIBBEAN’S WALK FOR THE CURE PROMOTING ACTIVE LIFESTYLES IN THE FIGHT AGAINST CANCER

SINT MAARTEN (PHILIPSBURG) – The Positive Foundation recently got much needed support for its healthy lifestyles initiative.

The foundation was presented with a donation of $7,000 which will support its community projects, aimed at promoting active lifestyles through the use of outdoor fitness equipment. The funds were the proceeds of the ninth annual CIBC FirstCaribbean’s Walk for the Cure held last year.

The region’s largest cancer fundraiser, CIBC FirstCaribbean’s Walk for the Cure, went virtual last October as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. The online walk and regional concert attracted participants from around the region and the world, allowing many to offer their support to the cause whilst raising awareness of cancer and supporting cancer care organisations across the other 15 territories in the Dutch and English Caribbean where the bank hosts similar events.

The bank was elated to again partner with the Positive Foundation for the event - further strengthening the support for yet more cancer education and awareness. Regular exercise in any form is known to help prevent cancers and help persons undergoing treatment for the disease. This has been one of the Positive Foundation’s main messages during their educational campaigns as they aim to activate the consciousness of the community to lead healthier lives.

The online event last October brought together some thirteen popular regional performers and two DJs for a full three hours of entertainment and exercise including energetic workout sessions from a number of top fitness coaches. St. Maarten’s very ownKing James was among the many performing artists which also included Reinir Lijfrock from Curacao, Mr. Vegas from Jamaica, Mr. Killa from Grenada, Teddyson John from St. Lucia, Ricardo Drue hailing from Antigua, and Julian Believe from the Bahamas.

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Government of Sint Maarten stands in solidarity with the people of Saint Vincent & the Grenadines

SINT MAARTEN (POND ISLAND) - The Government of Sint Maarten made contact with Prime Minister of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Ralph Gonsalves on April 8, 2021, regarding the possible approaching emergency; the eruption of La Soufriere Volcano in Northern Saint Vincent.

Reports at the time mentioned that the Volcano was expected to erupt within the hours or days. For this reason, the Government of St. Maarten has reached out to Prime Minister Gonsalves to show solidarity and offer support if the need arises. During the conversation, Prime Minister Gonsalves conveyed that he had indeed just ordered the evacuation of the red zone as more activity had been noted. Residents are being evacuated to shelters in safe zones and off island via boat to neighboring islands.

Deputy Prime Minister Egbert Doran stated, “It is important that within the region, we maintain relationships and help when one of our brothers and sisters are in need, especially when it’s a natural disaster, which is beyond our control, and unpredictable. This is what being a part of the Caribbean is all about. We hope to find ways to assist Prime Minister Gonsalves and the people of St. Vincent should the need arise.”

Prime Minister Gonsalves expressed gratitude for the contact made and expressed that he would let St. Maarten know of any needed support in the coming days.

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MP Ottley awaiting an update on protection for local contractors

SINT MAARTEN (PHILIPSBURG) - On Thursday April 1st, Member of Parliament for the United People's Party MP Omar Ottley sent a letter to Prime Minister Silveria Jacobs to urgently provide updates on a September 2020 motion that mandated her Government to establish a National Public Procurement Policy.

"We are talking about being able to redistribute the wealth locally, and Government being the largest purchaser of goods and services, can reshape the local market, " said MP Ottley in a press release issued Monday.

MP Ottley says the Executive Branch of Government can use its powers of purchasing to redistribute the wealth by ensuring local contractors have the first option on bids," said MP Ottley.

He suggested urgent attention be paid to the implementation of a procurement policy. Ottley also wants Government to revisit the funding agreement from The Netherlands through the World Bank for rebuilding after hurricane Irma in 2017.

"If we use Article 67 of the Constitution to reallocate the funds earmarked initially in 2017 for reconstruction, to boost our economy today since that money has not been used almost four years later."

Ottley submitted the Motion to Parliament on September 27, 2020. It resolved, amongst others, "to have the Government of St. Maarten establish a National Public Procurement Policy to guide the public bidding process for especially Government and Government-owned companies.

He said this is especially critical for construction-related projects funded by the National Recovery Project Bureau through the World Bank Trust fund and projects financed by foreign investors.

The Motion passed unopposed by the thirteen members of parliament present at the time of the Public Meeting. It mentioned COVID-19's impact on the global economy and stated, "the need to revitalize St. Maarten's economy after months at a standstill, will be dependent on construction."

However, one of the main points of the Motion is that St. Maarten did not have local legislation for public procurement, which prevents the "multiplier effect" [local dollars remaining in the local economy] from boosting economic activity.

"If we establish a points system, it will allow other relevant factors to be considered when awarding procurement contracts, and decisions will not solely depend on the bid price," said MP Ottley. The Motion asks for a detailed Contract Award Criteria with simplified local procurement preferences in a "best value evaluation and award" process. It also requires the Government to apply a streamlined bid price of between 6% and 10% threshold to allow local subcontractors to get the bids if the prices fall within that threshold. The MP also recommends using a joint venture policy that requires foreign contractors to subcontract local contractors if the supply of product or services is available locally. If the Motion is successfully implemented, local heavy equipment operators will finally be protected against foreign contractors bringing in locally available machinery.

"We have to protect we" because they protect themselves," said Ottley. He said, "The struggle our people face today will only end if we can protect our own. We have to ensure Government can spend that money on development so the locals can have money in their pockets," said MP Ottley.

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SMMC expands Radiology Services with MRI Suite

SINT MAARTEN (CAY HILL) - St. Maarten Medical Center (SMMC) is pleased to announce the expansion of their Radiology services with the opening of the new, state-of-the-art MRI Suite. This is the first time that SMMC is able to offer this long-anticipated service to their patients.

Construction of the MRI Suite began in November 2020 and with the recent arrival of the MRI magnet, operations are scheduled to begin in May.

An MRI machine is a device that generates scans (or images) of the body using a strong magnetic field and radio waves. All organs and tissues (with the exception of lung and bone tissue) can be seen in the scan. MRI exams are used to determine traumatic head injuries, tumors, abnormalities, infections and a number of other medical diagnoses which may ultimately save lives.

Unlike X-Rays, there is no risk of radiation exposure during an MRI exam, however there are other risks such as potential interference with medical equipment such as pacemakers, chemotherapy pumps, metal implants and cochlear implants. Prior to having an MRI exam, the referring Physician fills out an MRI Questionnaire form with the patient which assesses the risks and contra-indications for the exam.

This MRI Suite allows SMMC to provide MRI services to its patients ahead of the completion of the new St. Maarten General Hospital (SMGH) in 2023, which will have its own MRI Suite. This is in an effort to be able to continue to reduce the number of off-island referrals and provide patients with quality care, close to home.

SMMC congratulates the Radiology Department, the Patient Care Department and the Maintenance and Facilities Department on a job well done and thanks all staff, General Practitioners, Insurance Companies and other Healthcare Stakeholders for their continued cooperation and support.

SMMC Photo 1 MRI Magnet being loaded into MRI Suite

The MRI Magnet being loaded into the MRI Suite.

 

 

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Sint Maarten and the Netherlands meet over liquidity support. Knops awaits letter from Brison

SINT MAARTEN (POND ISLAND) - On Monday, March 29, 2021, Prime Minister Silveria Jacobs and her support staff were invited to a meeting arranged by the Dutch representative’s office with State Secretary Knops. The meeting was amicable, however, State Secretary Knops still needed more reassurance from the Parliament of Sint Maarten concerning support for the trajectory of the Kingdom Consensus Law COHO and the country package agreements finalized in December 2020.                                 

Prime Minister Jacobs stated, “During the meeting, State Secretary Knops agreed that the Government of Sint Maarten has lived up to the agreements. As such, Sint Maarten is very disappointed that we aren’t able to move forward as per the agreements made based upon the feelings of the Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations (BZK) with support from the Kingdom Council of Ministers (RMR).”

“In government’s opinion, the goal post continues to be moved, as the condition for the fifth tranche of liquidity support was the finalization of the Implementation Plan which is ahead of schedule. In light of this, the signing of the Implementation Plan did not proceed as State Secretary Knops expected even as Sint Maarten remains committed to the process. This is a clear example of how the democratic deficit negatively affects us in the Dutch Caribbean,” Prime Minister Jacobs continued.

During the meeting, Prime Minister Jacobs made it clear to State Secretary Knops that while Sint Maarten has shown understanding for the sentiments of the Netherlands when negative utterances are made against them politically, they seem to not understand that this insistence on things being done their way every time there is a dispute in exchange for needed liquidity support during this time of crisis also adds more fuel to the thoughts and feelings by the Dutch Caribbean islands that we are not treated equitably in the Kingdom. As such, Prime Minister Jacobs encouraged State Secretary Knops to keep that in mind as well as both parties seek to improve relations based on mutual understanding and trust.

In an informal follow-up meeting held today, between State Secretary Knops and the Chair of Parliament Rolando Brison, the Chair of Parliament joined the conversation and was able to convey the intentions of the petition submitted to the United Nations rapporteur. State Secretary Knops is expecting to receive such in writing and once this letter is deemed satisfactory to State Secretary Knops and his colleagues who have been mandated by the RMR to decide such, Sint Maarten may then be allowed to proceed with the trajectory of the COHO Law, the established country package agreements and further liquidity support.

Prime Minister Jacobs stated, “I look forward to hearing the reaction of those mandated to decide on behalf of the RMR, however, I earnestly believe the more the Government of the Netherlands insists on this statement from the Parliament of Sint Maarten, the more they give further indication that the democratic deficit is being used against us as smaller countries within the Kingdom. State Secretary Knops has expressed the need to proceed and continue repairing the relationship between the Netherlands and Sint Maarten. However, we will await the verdict based upon Parliament’s explanation which is outside of their purview as their expressions do not weigh in the trajectory of the COHO Law at this time.”

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Prime Minister Jacobs travels abroad due to family reasons

SINT MAARTEN (POND ISLAND) - Prime Minister Silveria Jacobs is travelling for unavoidable family related matters today, Tuesday, March 30, 2021. Deputy Prime Minister Egbert Doran will assume responsibility along with the Council of Ministers during her absence.

Prime Minister Jacobs stated, “Though I find it difficult to leave at this time, as we are facing some challenges, there will be continuity of government and I trust in the Deputy Prime Minister and the Council of Ministers to be able to handle all necessary ongoing matters.”

Prime Minister Jacobs will remain available virtually and she will keep in close contact with the Council of Ministers, the Parliament of St. Maarten as well as other stakeholders in the ongoing discussions for the realization of further liquidity support and the continuation of the negotiations to lead to an improved entity that will monitor the reforms and programs.

“I ask the people of St. Maarten to remain positive, steadfast and strong as we stand together for a stronger St. Maarten,” concluded Prime Minister Jacobs.

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IBP ISSUES STERN WARNING TO PERSONS SUBMITTING FRAUDULENT DOCUMENTS

SINT MAARTEN (PHILIPSBURG) - The Immigration and Border Protection Services (IBP) is hereby informing the public that we are working closely with the Prosecutors office to curb the act of submitting fraudulent documents with the intent to obtain residency permits.

Recently, an incident occurred whereby the spouse of an applicant requesting a residence permit submitted forged documents on behalf of her employer.

Article 24 of the National Ordinance of Admittance and Expulsions (LTU) states that, anyone who deliberately provides incorrect (false/falsified) information for himself or for another person to obtain certain conditions attached thereto or to prevent the withdrawal of the authorization for admission will be punished with imprisonment not exceeding one year or a fine of no more than one thousand guilders.

Based on this act the residence permit request was denied, as the applicant did not meet the legal requirements for him to obtain his residence permit. Consequently, the residence permit of the applicant’s spouse was revoked.

Article 14 sub f of the LTU states that the permit for a residence (temporary) permit can be withdrawn by or on behalf of the Minister by reasonable decision if the person concerned does not meet one of more of the conditions attached to his/her residence permit.

IBP wishes to inform the public of their zero tolerance for the submission of fraudulent documents, which is a violation and a criminal act based on Article 2: 184 of Criminal Law. Anyone who falsely prepares or falsifies a document intended to be evidenced of any fact, with a view to using it as genuine and unadulterated or for having it used by others, is guilty of forgery, punishable by imprisonment not exceeding six years or a fine of the fifth category.

It is with this notice that all applicants are hereby forewarned and should ensure that all documents are genuine, valid and in accordance with the legal requirements.

Pursuant to Article 9 section 1 sub (a) of the LTU, the Immigration Department has to maintain public order and ensure that the safety and security of all residents is legally maintained.

The IBP Department would also like to inform the public that all migration regulations are being strictly enforced according to the law.

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