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Seeking Competitive Edge, Caribbean Firms Turn to Internet Technology Cloud computing in focus at CaribNOG 13

SINT MAARTEN/CARIBBEAN - As clouds of uncertainty loom over the global economy, it hasn't exactly been smooth sailing for Caribbean companies. But these days, a different kind of cloud is creating fresh opportunities for regional businesses.

For techies, the term 'cloud' is just a metaphor for the Internet. And the advent of Cloud Computing is creating new possibilities for businesses in the Caribbean and across the world.

Where in the past, businesses would run applications from a physical computer or server in their building, cloud computing provides a simple way to access servers, storage, databases, analytics and a broad set of application services over the Internet. Some of most recognizable names in the tech industry are among the major providers of cloud computing, including Adobe, Amazon, Google, IBM, Microsoft and Oracle.

“As more Caribbean companies confront the reality of rising costs for technology services, cloud computing is emerging as an attractive option for those seeking to reduce routine expenditure without compromising on competitiveness or service delivery capability,” said Bevil Wooding, an Internet Strategist with US-based non-profit organisation Packet Clearing House.

Wooding is the founder of the Caribbean Network Operators Group, or CaribNOG, the region’s first volunteer-based community of network engineers, computer security experts and tech aficionados. For the last few years, CaribNOG has been increasing region-wide awareness of cloud computing and other important issues related to technological innovation and regional development.

The CaribNOG community is preparing for its thirteenth regional gathering, to be held at the Radisson Aquatica Resort, Carlisle Bay, Bridgetown, Barbados. Stephen Lee, CaribNOG Programme Director, said the meeting will have a strong focus on cloud computing.

“A slate of international experts will be on hand to deliver high-level presentations and conduct hands-on sessions covering technical, social and policy aspects of cloud computing,” he said.

It’s not the first time the event is taking place in Barbados, he added.

“CaribNOG 5 was held in Barbados in April 2013, and we’re very pleased to be able to return for CaribNOG 13, with the support of the Government of Barbados.”

Since 2010, the event has become a nexus for industry professionals from across the region and around the world seeking a forum to build relationship, exchange information and share experiences.

For the uber-geeks who build, maintain, repair and upgrade the Caribbean’s computer networks, these twice-yearly meetings are among the most highly anticipated events on the regional calendar.

CaribNOG13 is being supported by regional partners such as the Caribbean Telecommunications Union, and international partners, including ArkiTechs, the American Registry for Internet Numbers (ARIN), The BrightPath Foundation, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the Internet Society and Packet Clearing House.

Registration is free but spaces are limited. More information is available on the official CaribNOG website, caribnog.org. By GERARD BEST

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Dijsselbloem stands by controversial ‘drink and women’ comments

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Caretaker finance minister and Eurogroup chief Jeroen Dijsselbloem has refused to apologise for his ‘drink and women’ comments that prompted angry calls for his resignation.

Southern European countries criticised Dijsselbloem over comments in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on the need for budgetary discipline among the member states in the Eurozone. ‘I cannot spend all my money on drink and women and then ask for help,’ he said.

Portugal’s prime minister accused Dijsselbloem of being ‘racist, xenophobic and sexist’ while Gianni Pittella, head of the social democratic group in the European parliament, said the comments were ‘shameful and shocking’.

But in an interview with the Volkskrant on Monday, the departing Labour (PvdA) minister denied suggesting that southern countries were ‘big spenders’. ‘Nonsense!’ he said. ‘I’m not the sort of person to lie down straight away and say, I’m so sorry, I take it all back. What am I supposed to take back? Something I didn’t say? Something I didn’t mean?’

Dijsselbloem admitted that ‘tiredeness’ may have influenced his choice of language in the interview, which took place three days after the Dutch election in which the PvdA’s representation plunged from 38 seats to nine. But he added: ‘I stand 100 per cent behind the thrust of my message, which is that you can’t have unlimited and unconditional solidarity.

 ‘Everyone knows that I didn’t say that southern Europeans spend their money on drink and women. That’s not what was in the interview and it wasn’t my message. The anger about the interview is anger about eight years of policies to deal with the crisis. ‘A section of the euro countries think that that policy is too tailored towards a strict northern model, with terms and regulations that are too restrictive and destroy the economy.

That they’ve made the eurozone into a stringent framework rather than a fraternal club in which money is transferred from rich to less rich countries.’ Dijsselbloem came under fire again last week for not turning up to a meeting about the Greek crisis because it clashed with a meeting of newly elected Labour MPs.

But he told the Volkskrant he intended to see out his term as chair of the Eurogroup, the committee of finance ministers in the Eurozone. ‘If there is a new Dutch government in the short term, the Eurogroup will quickly look for a new chair,’ he said.

‘If not, then the chances of me completing my term [in 2018] increase. It doesn’t matter so much, it’ll just stop. ‘In my discussions with my colleagues this weekend I haven’t heard anyone demanding a full-time chairman. That’s interesting, because it wasn’t always the case.’ (DutchNews)

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Sint Maarten sees stay-over tourism growth over four consecutive year period

SINT MAARTEN/COMMENTARY - According to statistics from the country’s Department of Statistics (STAT), for four consecutive years, 2011-2015, the country’s stay-over numbers have grown each year.  For 2016, there are only figures available up to the third quarter, so a total number of stay-over visitors have not yet been posted on the website of STAT.

From 2011 up to the end of 2015, the country has seen stay-over tourism numbers grow by 81,000+.  In 2011 we received 424,340 stay-over visitors; 2012 stay-over were 456,720; 2013 stay-over 466,955; 2014 stay-over 499,921; 2015 stay-over 505,374; and up to the third quarter of 2016 stay-over visitors were 377,369.

Stay-over visitors are an essential part of our one-pillar tourism economy.  The economic outreach to various businesses on the island is tremendous, and therefore, the appointment of a Minister of Tourism and Economic Affairs last week is very much welcome news to the tourism and business community.

The tourism and business sector are looking forward to substantial steps being taken in the coming weeks and months by tourism authorities to continue to build destination promotion and grow the numbers for the foreseeable future.

Arrival data from the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) reported by 28 destinations during 2016, said growth was recorded in 22 destinations, while declines were recorded in six.  For the January to December 2016 period, 14 reporting CTO destinations out of 17 had growth ranging between 0.0 per cent in the Cayman Islands and 17.5 per cent in the Turks & Caicos Islands.  Declines were recorded in Aruba (-10 per cent), Trinidad & Tobago (-7), and Curacao (-5.8).

Caribbean tourism in 2016 surpassed the 29 million mark in arrivals for the first time ever, growing faster than the global average.  Tourist arrivals to the Region increased by 4.2 per cent, according to the CTO, to reach 29.3 million or one million more visitors last year compared to 2015.  Visitor spending also reach an all new high to reach US$35.5 billion.

Demand for international tourism remained robust in 2016 despite challenges. International tourist arrivals grew by 3.9 per cent to reach a total of 1,235 million, according to the latest United Nation World Tourism Organization (WTO) World Tourism Barometer. Some 46 million more tourists (overnight visitors) travelled internationally last year compared to 2015.

2016 was the seventh consecutive year of sustained growth following the 2009 global economic and financial crisis. A comparable sequence of uninterrupted solid growth has not been recorded since the 1960s. As a result, 300 million more international tourists travelled the world in 2016 as compared to the pre-crisis record in 2008.

From the figures above, there has been considerable growth within the Caribbean Basin and internationally.  Destination Sint Maarten needs to move from being a 20th century tourism destination to a 21st century destination.  Our country has to advance and shape our destination based on a tourism model for the 21st century that is based on innovation, technology, sustainability and accessibility.   This concept is known as ‘smart tourism.’

Smart tourism is an international topic of discussion to create ‘Smart Destinations.’ Smart tourism’ is not a trend, but the future of tourism development.  Destinations have to assume the new global framework: a complex context in which tourists’ behaviour and new technologies are changing economic structures and related policies which has presented a new scenario of continuous evolution. 

Destination Sint Maarten has to be on the side of evolution or become a dinosaur in the north eastern Caribbean.  International efforts have started to bring together government representatives, private sector entities, researchers and academics, as well as technology centres to discuss such topics digital applications that make it possible to offer increasingly customized services and to differentiate tourist destinations that provide added value while preserving the natural, social and cultural environment.

Changing travel behaviours and increasing personalized customer experiences, new business models and the role of entrepreneurs, improved participatory processes supported by smart solutions, the relation between travellers and local communities, and the sharing of existing applications, have already been discussed at the international forum of the World Tourism Organization as part of tourism innovation.

‘Smart destinations’ are key to sustainable development and contribute not only to advances in the tourism sector but also in societies at large. The use of technological solutions contributes effectively to evidence-based decision making, prioritization of measures and anticipation of future scenarios, which is essential for responsible management of tourism and its impacts.

Topics such as smart destination systems for regular and timely measurement, intelligent promotion of tourist sites (eco-tourism, local cultures) and digital accessibility are all tied to 21st century tourism that contributes to the economic and social development and well-being of the people of the country.

Sint Maarten needs a 21st century tourism business model that would move the destination towards becoming a ‘Smart Destination’ within the shortest possible time.

By: Roddy Heyliger

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Schiphol needs to be safer before it can grow, says Dutch Safety Board

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Schiphol Airport cannot grow without taking drastic safety measures, reports ANP. A new report by the Dutch Safety Board, published on Thursday, warns that the ‘limits of safe air traffic control are in sight’ and that if the airport wants to grow, handling procedures must be far less complex.

The investigation was the result of several incidents at the Netherlands’ major airport, including near-collisions between planes, but the board found ‘no evidence that the airport is currently unsafe.’

One vulnerability is that take-off and landing runways cross, while 18 times a day the airport needs to use different combinations of runways to limit noise for nearby residents.

The OVV recommends this switching is reduced because the systems are so complex that they are ‘producing structural problems’. London’s Heathrow handles 500,000 flights a year with two runways but Schiphol needs five – although the London airport is planning a controversial third one.

Earlier on Friday, the Financieele Dagblad reported, a study by research bureau SEO for airport operators lobby group ACI Europe found airfares at Schiphol are likely to increase due to congestion.

It warned that if Amsterdam’s airport cannot grow, airlines will have to pare down their route networks. Rob Jetten, an MP for the D66 liberal democratic party said that ‘safety must absolutely come first’, calling for infrastructure minister Sharon Dijksma to table a debate on the safety board’s report. (DutchNews)

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Trial of police officers for death of Mitch Henriquez postponed

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS - A court case on the death of Mitch Henriquez, who died after being arrested at a music festival in The Hague, has been postponed until mid-November, reports ANP.

The trial of two police officers has been postponed because another expert needs to analyse the cause of death, a pre-trial hearing found on Thursday. Initially a pathologist from the Dutch forensic institute, the NFI, had said the man died as a result of police violence, after officers used a choke hold.

But late last month a forensic doctor for the defence said Henriquez died from heart failure. Now the court, which met at a secure location at Schiphol airport, has asked for a third forensic analysis, postponing the case until later this year. (DutchNews)

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Minister Arrindell-Doncher: Young men working on Backstreet upgrade project equally important

PHILIPSBURG - Minister of Tourism and Economic Affairs (Ministry TEATT) Mellissa Arrindell Doncher on Wednesday said she was not only happy that the work on Backstreet, financed by the TEATT Ministry, would commence soon but also with the fact that some local young men would be employed during the execution of the project.

The upgrading of Back Street and the further beautification of Philipsburg is part of the Ministry’s continued efforts to further upgrade the tourism product in Philipsburg and to provide the people of St. Maarten with an experience in their capitol that they can be proud of and enjoy.

The upgrading will also benefit businesses along Backstreet that some people were avoiding simply because of the state of the road. The work will also be a welcome by bus drivers who have been calling for the state of the road to be addressed for quite some time.

“The benefits of upgrading Backstreet are obvious,” Minister Arrindell-Doncher said. “But what is often overlooked is the importance of including local young men in these projects for St. Maarten. Not only does it provide employment, but it instils a sense of pride when you give your people opportunities to work on great projects for their communities.  I look forward to seeing this during the execution of the project,” she said.

With the active involvement of the Minister of VROMI Christopher Emmanuel and his Ministry, Minister Rafael Boasman added that the project is also a great example of cross-Ministry work in the benefit of the people of St. Maarten. The project is slated to get underway in about a month’s time.

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Minister Jacobs visit Leonald Conner students at the CLB School

COLE BAY – On Tuesday, April 4th, the Minister of Education, Culture, Youth and Sport, Ms. Silveria Jacobs was invited by to the cycle one year one class at the Leonald Conner School.

Teacher Charles-constant Rollan invited Minister Jacobs to visit the cycle one, year one students. The students have been focusing and learning about the local government for the last two weeks. Both teacher Rollan and teacher Fina have been teaching the 23 students about the various Ministries and the tasks and functions of each Ministry.

Teacher Rollan took the opportunity to invite the Minister of Education to the classroom where the students officially welcomed, interacted and had a fellowship with Minister Jacobs.

The students along with Minister Jacobs took part in a class activity whereby each student colored a portrait of the Minister.

Minister Jacobs spoke to the children and prompted various questions to the students. She encouraged the students to work hard, remain focus, and respect their parents and teachers.

The visit ended with a thank you medley dedicated to the Minister for being an inspiration to the teachers and the students. Teacher Rollan thanked the Minister for starting her day coloring her portrait with the students.

The students remained excited throughout the entire visit and were elated to display their work to Minister Jacobs. Minister Jacobs received a token of appreciation which was presented by teacher Rollan and Teacher Fina.

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Crown Weather: Could We See a May or Early June Tropical Storm This Year? It's Definitely Possible

SINT MAARTEN/CARIBBEAN – “Over the past month or so I have noticed that areas of disturbed weather have been left behind in the area between the Bahamas and Bermuda. So far, these areas of disturbed weather have not had enough time to develop into anything more than a low pressure system – although, we came very close to sub-tropical storm formation near Bermuda last week,” Crown Weather reported on Tuesday.

“This is an interesting trend that I think will continue for at least the next 2 to 3 months. This means that I think that there is a chance that we will see the formation of a tropical storm in the western Atlantic either during the month or during early June, which would give a very early kick-off to the 2017 Atlantic Hurricane Season.

“It is interesting to note that all of the model guidance, including the GFS and European model guidance, is forecasting that a piece of energy will be left behind by a frontal boundary lifting north-eastward. This next area of disturbed weather is forecast to develop just north of Puerto Rico and Hispaniola early next week but is quickly pulled northward to near Bermuda by the middle part of next week. At this point, I think that any low pressure system that develops from this area of disturbed weather should remain non-tropical in nature, but a month or so from now could be a very different story.

“For those of you in the north-eastern Caribbean, including Hispaniola, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and the northern Lesser Antilles – Please be aware that this area of disturbed weather may bring locally heavy rainfall and localized flooding from Monday to Thursday of next week.

“Looking much further ahead towards May and early June – It would not surprise me and I almost expect to see frontal boundaries to push as far south as the northern Gulf of Mexico and the area around the Bahamas during May and even into early June. As these fronts start to lift out or become stationary, I think that we could see areas of disturbed weather try to form at the tail end of these fronts leading to the potential for some sort of tropical development.

“There are three areas of particular interest for this type of tropical mischief to try to occur.  The first area is across the Bahamas where leftover energy and moisture may be left behind here from frontal boundaries lifting out to the northeast. The very long range European EPS ensemble model is hinting at this possibility during the middle and end of May with the model forecasting above average rainfall and the possibility of a upper-level pattern that consists of a upper level high pressure system near the north-eastern United States and lowering barometric pressure near the Bahamas. This type of pattern of high pressure to the north of a developing area of disturbed weather can sometimes lead to tropical cyclone development and this is something that may need to be monitored by about the middle and end of May near the Bahamas.

“The second area of possible interest over the next month or two could be from the westernmost Caribbean north-westward into the Bay of Campeche and western Gulf of Mexico. The ocean water temperatures across the western Gulf of Mexico are above average and any decaying front that tries to push south into the western Gulf of Mexico could potentially produce some sort of tropical mischief at the tail end of the front.

“The European EPS ensemble model is forecasting slightly lower than average barometric pressures and above average rainfall across the western Gulf of Mexico, Bay of Campeche and the westernmost Caribbean during the early part of May. So, the combination of above average ocean water temperatures, slightly lower than average surface barometric pressures and above average rainfall is something that has my interest and I will be monitoring for any signs of tropical mischief across the western Gulf of Mexico, Bay of Campeche and western Caribbean during early and mid-May.

“The third area of possible interest once we get into June could be across the eastern and northern Gulf of Mexico. The CFSv2 model is forecasting the possibility of lower than average surface barometric pressures and above average rainfall in an area from Jamaica and the Cayman Islands northward through the eastern and northern Gulf of Mexico.

“In addition, a few of the analog years that I am going with for this year’s hurricane season forecast had a late May or early June tropical storm or hurricane in either the western Caribbean or the eastern and northern Gulf of Mexico and this lends some support to the CFSv2 model's forecast of a weather pattern that could produce tropical mischief in the eastern and northern Gulf of Mexico,” Crown Weather concludes.

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Lipstick on a pig

SINT MAARTEN/COMMENTARY - The facts often make people uncomfortable, but the good thing is that facts don’t lie. No matter how much lipstick you put on a pig’s lips, the fact is that it’s still a pig. Last Friday’s parliamentary meeting was a laughable example of some MPs (Ed Members of Parliament) shamelessly putting lipstick on a pig and then telling us it’s a beauty queen who just won first prize at a pageant.

The only thing missing was some MPs getting out of their chair to offer a back rub and foot massage to current minister of health Emil Lee, along with a cup of tea for good measure. Never before has a minister who bungled something so badly been so kindly treated by a majority in parliament. But that’s politics, I guess.

Yet here are the uncomfortable facts: During the last election the current minister of health, Emil Lee, campaigned on bringing integrity and transparency to matters of government.

With the wave of the integrity wand he would wash the dirt off the planned hospital project and make it clean and transparent, at least so we were led to believe. Remarkably, it was a project almost no other politician took seriously at first, including the current minister, until they realized how far it could launch their political careers if they could get their hands on it. But I digress.

One of the three companies in the bidding, a successful Austrian medical services company called VAMED, took SZV to court, a public entity over which Minister Lee has significant influence. VAMED said the selection process was unfair.

A court of law agreed with VAMED, and said SZV did not judge the bids the way it was supposed to. The minister, after having received the political equivalent of a hard slap in the face for being naughty, darkly suggested that politics was being played. He vowed to fight on and appealed.

After realizing he couldn’t win the appeal, the minister and SZV then decided to settle out of court and pay off VAMED, hoping the whole thing would quietly go away without revealing how much public money was spent. 

Several things stand out in this whole affair, all of which people should consider seriously. The first thing is that integrity went out the window the minute the ridiculously low bid was awarded to INSO.

A judge agreed. It flew further out the window when the minister said that politics and personal interest were involved. That’s absurd and reckless. A Sint Maarten minister should know better than to make such insinuations against the judicial branch of the Dutch Kingdom. The executive must respect the judiciary and the rule of law.

Another thing that stands out like an ugly sore is the minister’s endless talk of transparency since he took office, yet the minute things go sour for him he hides behind a convenient non-disclosure agreement so darkly tinted that no one can know for sure how much public money was used to cover up his mistake.

If this health minister rode into office on a high horse called Integrity and Transparency, then he certainly retreated on a donkey called Hypocrisy. But we will have our hospital, just not with the integrity and transparency that was promised in an election.

Adrian Lista

COMMENTARY: The comments are the sole responsibility of the author.

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VAMED, THE BULLY?

SINT MAARTEN/COMMENTARY - VAMED (possibly a derivative of the word that describes the result of nausea?) got their pound of flesh and now we, a tiny 16 square mile half-of-an-island country can move on and build a new hospital.

Kudos to all involved who made this (hopefully last) hurdle go away. While I still can’t grasp the concept of a company who bids higher on a specific project taking the principle of that project to court for awarding it to another company whose bid was LOWER (duhhh!), even more baffling is the fact that the presiding judge ruled IN FAVOR of the former!!

But be that as it may, instead of dealing with delays in getting the hospital built (which prolongs our rather expensive needs to seek health care abroad) I think that by paying a sum of “ransom money” to get rid of the big bad wolf from out-of-town is a GOOD thing.  

And by the way, MP Rudolph Samuel’s suggestion that VAMED should consider giving back this blood money to our community is ALSO a GOOD thing. Why? Because a little community like St. Maarten being bullied by a multinational company that does business all over the world is a BAD thing!

Michael J. Ferrier

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