Soualiga Newsday Focus

Soualiga Newsday Focus (1474)

Audit Chamber says Pension Fund takes Recommendations to Heart

SINT MAARTEN (GREAT BAY) - The General Audit Chamber submitted its report entitled Compliance audit: 2017 Financial Statements of the General Pension Fund Sint Maarten (AlgemeenPensioenfondsSint Maarten- APS) to Parliament on April 8, 2019. The report addresses findings and conclusions resulting from the review of the pension fund's financial statement of 2017.

Although APS’ coverage ratio is 103.1% at the end of 2017 (2016: 99.6%), the fund’s financial health is not optimal. Its financial capital is still insufficient to cover general and investment risks. 

The report explains that the increase of the coverage ratio from 99.6% in 2016 to 103.1% at the end of 2017, is partially based on a 2% investment result. 

In previous reports, the General Audit Chamber expressed concerns about APS’ suboptimal coverage ratio, and repeatedly recommended preparation and implementation of a recovery plan. 

In 2017, APS’ actuary recommended that the Fund draft a recovery plan as well. APS reports that a recovery plan has since been drafted.

Though the General Audit Chamber was not able to familiarize itself with the recovery plan during the audit, they are hopeful that it will lead to the achievement of the 105% coverage ratio. However, measures to achieve a 105% coverage ratio, should not primarily fall to government, participants or the general population.  

It is the General Audit Chamber’s opinion that APS’ 2017 Financial Statements provide a true and fair representation of the Fund’s financial position as of December 31, 2017, as well as its 2017 financial result, with the exception of qualifications related to outstanding claims.

The General Audit Chamber established that APS, with the exception of a single provision, is legally compliant. The one item concerns establishment by the board of the investment policy, which did not happen during fiscal year 2017. APS indicates that this was an omission. 

APS’ Board reacted to the draft report on March 27th, 2019. In the reaction, the Board indicates placing great importance for completing and/or implementing the various recommendations previously issued by the General Audit Chamber. As part of the reaction, APS’ Board, provided an addendum, listing the status of these recommendations.

The General Audit Chamber considers the fact that APS takes their recommendation to heart as a positive development and indicates they will continue to review APS’ progress during the audit of the 2018 Financial Statements.

The report is published in both English and Dutch and is available on the website of the General Audit Chamber ( 


Twelve arrested as police raid homes in Telegraaf attack investigation

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Dutch police have raided private homes and business premises in Amsterdam, Utrecht and The Hague and arrested 12 people in their search for the people behind last year’s attack on the Telegraaf newspaper offices, the paper said on Monday. 

The 12 men who have been arrested are aged 20 to 27 and also face charges of stealing and fencing fast cars used in several ‘serious crimes’, the paper said. No one was injured in the attack on the newspaper’s offices in Amsterdam last June, in which a van drove into the building at around 4am and then burst into flames. 

Police suspect the attack was the work of the Netherlands’ most wanted criminal, Ridouan Taghi, who is also thought to be behind several gangland killings. The public prosecution department has issued a reward of €100,000 for information leading to Taghi’s arrest.


Parents start legal battle to bring Syrian fighters home

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The parents of Dutch citizens who left to fight in the war in Syria have launched a foundation to try to force the government to help them return to the Netherlands. 

Around 20 parents have joined non-profit foundation De Achterblijvers, which is expected be registered with the chamber of commerce on April 17, the Volkskrant reports. 

The organisation is considering going to court to challenge the government’s policy of not offering active support to Dutch nationals in the region. ‘The Kurds and aid agencies are keen to co-operate, but we still have to convince our politicians,’ said a man named by the newspaper as Hussain. 

‘The Netherlands has ignored a report by the children’s ombudsman and is violating the rights of children.’ He said the families accepted that their relatives would face prison sentences if they returned to the Netherlands but argued that they were still entitled to support from the government. 

‘Obviously our children have to answer to a judge for what they have done and be prevented from doing anything dangerous. But we don’t want our grandchildren, like the children of NSB’ers [Dutch Nazi party members] to be punished for the actions of their parents,’ Hussain said. 

In January ombudsman Margriet Kalverboer urged justice minister Ferd Grapperhaus to bring back dozens of children stuck in refugee camps in Syria, arguing that the Netherlands has a duty of care towards them. 

Around 145 children with Dutch nationality or who are entitled to it are thought to be living in the conflict zone. If parents cannot protect their children, the government should step in,’ she said. 

The government’s policy is that anyone who wants to leave the area must take the initiative by presenting themselves to an embassy or consulate. However, the Netherlands has suspended diplomatic services in Damascus because of the deteriorating situation. 

Broadcaster NOS reported last week that the foreign ministry had shared information with Turkey and the Free Syrian Army in an attempt to repatriate four men who had taken part in the conflict in a ‘supervised return’, which would include prosecution. 

The prosecution department has asked courts to impose jail terms of at least six years on anyone who fought in the war.


Zero to Hero Class

SINT MAARTEN (SIMPSON BAY) - Kidz At Sea Foundation held a Graduation Ceremony for the 2ndZero to Hero Class, fittingly aboard Aquamania’s Lambada on March 27th, the foundation announced on Monday.  

Nine participants graduated the full three-month course and have now earned the title Captain.  Class honors went to Edrickson Joseph and Egbert Lewis.  

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Kidz at Sea representatives with Top: Egbert Lewis and Bottom: Edrickson Joseph


Nature Foundation Cleans Up Balloons Littering Sea over the Weekend

SINT MAARTEN (COLE BAY) - The Sint Maarten Nature Foundation over the weekend removed numerous balloons from littering the ocean. Both on Saturday and Sunday out on patrol the Foundation collected balloons drifting in the sea. 

Previously the Foundation had urged various organizations, including the SCDF who organized two balloon related activities over the weekend, to find sustainable alternatives to using balloons during the two events. The Foundation had also requested the in October SCDF to limit the amount of single-use plastics at the Festival Village this year but never received a response. 

During last year’s Carnival the Foundation recorded a significant increase in plastic litter and debris. “While we of course are not certain if these balloons originated during the two balloon-related events over the weekend we are still urging the SCDF to not only make the celebration for 50 years of carnival fun and exciting, but also sustainable and with minimal impact to our environment,” commented Nature Foundation Manager Tadzio Bervoets.

“Balloons may look nice, but they have a number of environmental concerns associated with them. What goes up must come down. Balloons are hazards when they enter the environment. All released balloons, whether they are released intentionally or not, return to Earth as ugly litter – including those marketed as “biodegradable latex”.

Balloons kill countless animals and are especially harmful to endangered sea turtle and bird species. Balloons return to the land and sea where they can be mistaken for food and eaten by animals. Sea turtles, dolphins, whales, fish and birds have been reported with balloons in their stomachs and ribbons and strings leading to entanglement and death.

There are two types of balloons in general use – latex and Mylar. Although latex balloons are considered bio-degradable, this will take anywhere from 6 months to 4 years to decompose and they can wreak a lot of havoc before they do. In one experiment researchers observed that balloons floating in seawater deteriorated much slower, and even after 12 months, still retained their elasticity. “It is very unfortunate that again we had to clean-up dangerous, plastic material after we pleaded for alternatives to be used. The same occurred after the Heineken Regatta after water-balloons were used during one of the events,” continued Bervoets.

“Many people, including the staff at the Nature Foundation, look forward to celebrating fifty years of carnival. But that celebration should not come at a cost to our natural environment and the various animals which will be killed by balloons and other single use plastics. Therefore, we are urging the SCDF to do the right thing and move away from single-use plastics. We are also urging Government and Parliament to fast-track the proposed ban on single-use plastic items,” concluded Bervoets.

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Dutch company suspected of $1.2bn money laundering scam

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Three former officials of a company from West-Betuwe have been arrested for suspected international money laundering involving $1.2bn. 

The Dutch public prosecution announced on Friday that that it believes they used the company to launder the money for an Indian company involved in constructing a gas pipeline. 

According to the press release, the Dutch company acted as the purchasing body to buy international materials and services. But it is suspected of doubling up on invoices to declare the costs twice and then skimming the profits through the Dutch company with fake insurance contracts. 

The men will appear before a court in Rotterdam today.  (DutchNews)


MPs debate tougher rules for foreign party finance

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Many Dutch MPs agreed that financing of political parties needs to be tightened up, in a debate on Thursday. 

Last year, a parliamentary commission called for a ban on any foreign donations and home affairs minister Kajsa Ollongren wants an even narrower limit, to only gifts from within the EU, reports the NRC. 

She said that free movement of money within the EU, however, will make it difficult to impose restrictions. The government also wants more transparency on donations, making it compulsory to register all foreign gifts rather than just ones over €4,500. 

Currently, money from charities or organisations also only has to be registered according to their name and location but in future, Ollongren wants the name of the chairman to be reported too. 


In the parliamentary debate, however, MPs disagreed on the best option. Selçuk Öztürk, of Denk, said he was pleased that Geert Wilders’ PVV would no longer be able to receive donations from the anti-Islamist American David Horowitz Freedom Center, which had given more than €100,000 to the party before 2017. 

‘[But in the EU] you also have the extreme right, such as Orban and Le Pen,’ said Öztürk. He said he fears that Thierry Baudet’s Forum voor Democracy, the main winner in recent elections for provincial councils and the Dutch senate, might receive money from ‘his boreal friends.’ 

Baudet had previously been criticised for a victory speech using the word ‘boreal’ which has also been employed by far-right politicians to mean Aryan or ‘white’. In the parliamentary debate, SGP MP Roelof Bisschop said that they might as well call for an entire ban on foreign donations rather than limit them to Europe. 

The PVV and Forum voor Democracy did not take part. Mark Rutte’s VVD party’s financial support mostly comes from six foundations, the NRC added, and it is unclear who is behind them.(DutchNews)


APS: Mary’s Fancy plantation is a piece of art & heritage of Sint Maarten

SINT MAARTEN (MARY’S FANCY) –The Mary’s Fancy Plantation was sold to the Algemeen Pensioenfonds Sint Maarten, APS, by the heirs of Ms. Elisabeth Reitz. With the ongoing restoration of the plantation, APS pays homage to its previous owners and the historical activities that took place – documenting the past for future generations. 

Several local experts share their insights and research of the cultural site, including Mr. Alfonso Blijden, an archive specialist within the Department of Records & Information Management/Archives Office within the Ministry of General & Internal Affairs and Dr. Jay Haviser, Director of SIMARC and the specialist for Monuments and Archaeology at the Ministry of VROMI.

The Mary’s Fancy Plantation was constructed in the 18th century, where grapes were initially grown. Once the sugar industry started on Sint Maarten, the plantation made large investments to build a sugar factory on the grounds. The plantation was once a hotel, which was known as the only plantation hotel on the island. 

According to information received from Mr. Alfonso Blijden, the plantation hotel was once the home of the famous Gianni’s Restaurant that catered to many international celebrities among its patrons. Mr. Blijden further indicated that over the years, the plantation had many owners, some of which were the van Romondt family, Mr. Ronald Webster, Mr. Tom Vincent and the late Elisabeth Reitz.  

As per recount of Mr. Blijden, here is brief history of some of the past owners of the plantation:

  • - Diederick Johannes van Romondt was the first member of the van Romondt family to set foot on Sint Maarten in 1800 from The Netherlands. Mr. Diederick Johannes served as governor of Sint Maarten from 1820 – 1822 and then again from 1823 – 1840. Mr. Diederick Johannes van Romondt died in 1849. 
  • - Diederick Christiaan van Romondt, one of the sons of the late Mr. Diederick Johannes van Romondt, served as acting governor between 1864 and 1900. From 1902 until 1932 Mr. Diederick Christiaan van Romondt took up residence at Tintamarre, which was owned by him. In 1931, Mr. Diederick Christiaan sold the island to Louis Fleming and moved back to Sint Maarten where he spent the rest of his life with his partner, Ms. Josie. Mr. van Romondt passed away in 1948 and then his partner passed in 1958. On their passing, the entire estate was willed to Mr. Ronald Webster, whom was the adopted son of Ms. Josie. 
  • - Ronald Webster travelled to Sint Maarten in 1936 searching for employment with two of his siblings. He came across the Mary’s Fancy Estate, where he became employed and remained for 30 years, during which he was practically the adopted son of Mr. van Romondt and Ms. Josie. In September 1960, hurricane Donna hit the islands of Sint Maarten and Anguilla. In the midst of the disaster from hurricane Donna, Mr. Webster sold the estate and return to his homeland, Anguilla in 1960 to help his people. 
  • - Elisabeth Reitz came to Sint Maarten from Germany in 1975 and purchased the property from Mr. Tom Vincent. The late Ms. Reitz was the person whom operated Gianni’s restaurant. 

Mr. Blijden stated, “It is important to preserve the monuments and heritage as it provides a sense of identity and continuity in this fast-changing world for future generations. The monuments of the Mary’s Fancy Plantation represent the history and culture of our nation. And together, they constitute the architectural heritage of the property.”

Dr. Jay Haviser, Sint Maarten Archaeological Center (SIMARC) director and the specialist for Monuments and Archaeology at the Ministry of VROMI of the Government of Sint Maarten was contracted by APS for his archaeological and historical expertise. By involving SIMARC, young people of SXM got the opportunity to be actively involved in this project by assisting with the execution of archaeological digs and surveys. 

During the execution of the archaeological works, there were several artefacts that were found, collected and catalogued. The artefacts found were made out of metal, ceramics, wood, glass and building materials, such as an old-time iron, candle holder, cups, plates, cornet, vases, tables, doors and signs, which will be well incorporated into the design of restoring and new construction to the Mary’s Fancy Plantation.

During the tree inventory, over 160 trees have been marked for preservation have been included in the designs for the future restoration and development of this project. 

”It is important to have community engagement in one of the island heritages,” as quoted by Dr. Jay Haviser. He further indicated that the Mary’s Fancy Plantation project is an example of how other monument restoration projects on Sint Maarten should be tackled just as APS is preserving a piece of our island’s heritage. 

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Ban unnecessary gender registration, says minister

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – More local councils should act to ban ‘unnecessary gender registration’, emancipation minister Ingrid van Engelshoven told parliament in a letter this week.  

‘A number of local councils, like Amsterdam and Utrecht, have already adapted their contact forms and where possible have removed questions where a specification of gender is irrelevant,’ the minister said. 

The basic register for personal data BRP will be exempt because the information is ‘not unnecessary’ although the cabinet will explore different ways of addressing people in official local council communications. 

The cabinet is also exploring the technical, legal and financial implications of changes to gender registration on id cards and passports but applications for gender neutral birth certificates and passports will not become a standard option in law for everyone, junior home minster Raymond Knops said in a reaction to MP’s questions. 

In October last year a gender-neutral birth certificate and passport were granted to Leonne Zeegers who doesn’t identify with either sex. Van Engelshoven said new registration regulation will take time but that this is the moment to take steps. 

‘Asking people to register their gender is to contribute to stereotypes and gender norms. Trans and intersex people who do not recognize themselves (fully) in the binary division between men and women experience this as a hindrance to their participation in society,’ the minister said. (DutchNews)


Dutch lawyer ‘refused US visa’ because of terrorism defence work

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Dutch lawyer Serge Weening has been banned from entering the US, possibly because he has defended several terrorism suspects, law journal Advocatenblad said this week. 

Weening is one of the lawyers involved in the defence of an alleged terrorist cell rolled up last September. The public prosecution department says the group were planning an attack at a major event in the Netherlands. 

Weening and his girlfriend were planning a holiday in Miami but his application for an ESTA permit was rejected three days after it was made, Weening told the journal.  

Attempts to apply for a formal visa at the US embassy in Wassenaar also failed. ‘The only questions I was asked at the embassy were about my job,’ Weening told broadcaster RTL. 

‘They asked if I took on high profile cases as a lawyer and when I mentioned the word ‘terrorism’, they ended the conversation. They said I would have to be screened in the US and that would take months.’ 

The Dutch law society has condemned the refusal to allow Weening a visa and has raised the issue with both the Dutch foreign and justice ministries. Weening has now changed his travel plans and will holiday in Jamaica instead.  (DutchNews)

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