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Second Chamber reminded of Saba’s financial woes

SABA (THE BOTTOM) - The Executive Council recently sent a letter to the Second Chamber’s Permanent Committee for Kingdom Relations in which the Committee was reminded of Saba’s problematic financial situation due to the lack of structural funding from The Hague.

The Committee members were asked to give special attention for Saba’s dire financial situation as long as the Committee was still in place in its current composition. A number of Committee members will not be returning to the Second Chamber after the March 17 elections. The letter started out by thanking these members for their efforts and trust.

It was explained that the current structural funding and the free allowance (“vrije uitkering”) were insufficient to cover government’s operational costs and for the Public Entity Saba to execute its legal responsibilities.

In 2012, an external research bureau set a top limit and a bottom limit for the free allowance. Ultimately, the Dutch government decided to use the lower limit for the free allowance. In the opinion of the Saba government, the free allowance was set too low, especially considering the backlog that needed to be cleared in areas such as infrastructure and know-how. Issues such as good governance and the social domain were not discussed at that time. In the meantime, it has become clear that in backlogs need to be cleared in these areas as well.

In 2015, the Ministry of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations (BZK) asked the same research bureau to update the reference frame for the free allowance. The result of this assessment was that the free allowance needed to be raised by US $1.1 million, and that another US $1 million needed to be added in order to fully cover the legal obligations. “Unfortunately, this report has not resorted in an adaptation of the free allowance,” it was stated in the letter to the Committee.

Because of Saba’s solid financial management, the local government was able to secure the trust of various ministries, which has resulted in incidental funding. The government said it was very grateful for these funds which made it possible to get rid of some backlogs and to develop in several areas. Even though this was deemed as very positive, the incidental funding also has a negative spin-off.

In the letter, the recycling project was mentioned as an example. In 2014, the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management (IenW) invested some US $1.5 million in recycling. However, Saba was made responsible for the management and upkeep of the recycling facility, which cost government an additional US $500,00 per year.

Saba has had to borrow money from the Netherlands to carry out a number of infrastructural projects, including the S-turn in the road to the harbor. “The repayment of these loans is a heavy burden for our budget for years and continues to be so.”

Where it comes to Saba generating its own income, it was explained in the letter that this is not easy due to the island’s small scale and the lacking of income generating sectors. While the harbors of St. Eustatius and Bonaire can generate own income with visiting oil tankers and cruise ships, Saba’s harbor is unprofitable. Aside from the contributions of the Dutch government, Saba’s own income is generated through limited tourism and its population, of which a large part lives under the poverty line.

Saba’s free allowance is reportedly not increased because of the effects that this would have on the other two Caribbean Netherlands islands. Saba last year had a US $0.6 million deficit and the 2021 budget shows a deficit of US $1.3 million which needs to be compensated from the already low reserves. The multi-annual perspective is worrisome. “It seems that our strong points of solid financial management and being pro-active are working against us.”

The Committee was asked to again bring Saba’s need for fitting structural financial means and a higher free allowance to the attention of the relevant ministries. “A clear signal of the members of the Kingdom Relations Committee is very valuable,” it was stated.

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SCDF: ‘We are not fighting to wukup, we are fighting to work.’ Safety plan launching on Friday

SINT MAARTEN (PHILIPSBURG) - President of the St. Maarten Carnival Development Foundation (SCDF) Alston Lourens on Wednesday said this misconception that Carnival organizers and stakeholders are fighting “just to party” belittles what the festival means for employment and economy. “We are not fighting to wukup,” he said, we are fighting to work!”

Lourens explained that the foundation fully understands concerns, but is simply asking for the a chance to remedy a terrible situation for its stakeholders and generate economic activity for the country. He stressed that there is no economic stimulus from government that can put 1,000 people to work.

“What many people do not understand or refuse to understand is that the festival in 2020 was stopped long after investments were already made not just by SCDF, but by promoters, booth holders, troupe leaders, vendors and others. “This is not a new Carnival,” Lourens said.

“St. Maarten Carnival is the only festival in the Caribbean that is burdened by this fact. Everyone else had the opportunity to cancel when COVID picked up last year with little to no consequences because they were not as far as we were with their events. We were two weeks from the first event. For the past year, persons were not able to recoup their investment and have suffered tough times.

He continued: “Carnival is not made up of rich people. Our people when they make investments depend on recouping it or making a small profit to live. We too have seen suffering due to the absence of the festival. In any given year the festival employs almost 1,000 people. Workers, booth helpers, sound crew, cleaning crews, part time promo people, heavy equipment drivers, garbage removal crews, security personnel and so on. Almost 1,000 people gain honest employment. This isn’t just about having a good time, it’s life.”

He said the foundation is grateful to the Council of Ministers for at least recognizing these realities as well as the economic activity the festival creates for the country. “The Council of Ministers gave us a chance, just a chance, to not just host a quality event that we love, but for those involved to try and get out of the financial hell last year’s stoppage caused. It is better than nothing and we are grateful,” he said, adding that government is not the competent body on Carnival, SCDF is and the information on measures has to come from SCDF.

Lourens added that Carnival is a shortened two weeks in a facility that will be controlled. “In the meantime, we have casino’s open daily, complete night life activities daily, a Festival Village that is active every weekend, in December we had Christmas villages and various other Christmas events, we have daily international flights, the country is open, schools are open, people are on radio yelling and criticizing with no masks on, restaurants in Maho for example are packed nightly with visitors and residents with no masks, Kimsha is filled with people, all of these with no strict measures being enforced by any authority about covid19 protocols. And people are losing their minds over a short Carnival with no road events?

“What other economic stimulus does government has that can put 1,000 people to work this year? There is nothing. Too long the country has shunned what we do best tourism and looked at it as a weakness to have one pillar, so far that we have weakened that same pillar looking for the pie in the sky. Carnival was the tool tourism used to strengthen its tourism product and add a month of employment to all workers on the high season. Did the government not welcome visitors back to the island? Is the country not open? He asked.

“The SCDF in invited collaboration with the Police, Government, Health Authorities and Tourism Authorities are focused on enforcing and setting protocols to keep the people who come safe as we have always done so. We know where the risks are and have planned to minimize exposure in the best way we know how to and with advice form important stakeholders locally and abroad in the festival industry.

“Again we ask the public to await our plans before jumping to conclusions, we have never let the society down and we don’t plan on doing so this time around. He stressed that the foundation is confident in its plans to keep the public safe and will release these plans on Friday via the media and its social media platforms.”

The SCDF has a two month awareness campaign planned complete with videos on digital billboards and a social media blitz.    

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SABA’S SEA RESCUE FOUNDATION DONATES “ERIKA” TO THE SABA COMPREHENSIVE SCHOOL

SABA (THE BOTTOM) - Since August 2020, the Saba Comprehensive School (SCS) is offering students the possibility to enroll in the Maritime Course Seaman Operations as part of their educational program.

In this course, students learn how to navigate, use maritime communication methods, perform first aid and, of course, how to operate a vessel. In the upcoming week, the SCS is finalizing the installation of its Ship Simulator and training for the teachers is scheduled.

The ship simulator is an advanced training device used to expose students to typical shipboard conditions and systems. “It is the first and only simulator of its kind in the Caribbean,” Anton Hermans, Principal of the SCS, stated.

In an effort to make the training also more hands-on, the SCS approached Saba’s Sea Rescue Foundation to see if they would be willing to donate the Sea and Rescue vessel “ERIKA” to the SCS so it could be restored and used for educational purposes.

The ERIKA, a German rescue boat, arrived in Saba in 2010 and was donated to the Sea Rescue Foundation. Despite several fundraisers and some bad luck, the ERIKA stranded on shore. “We are very delighted that the Sea Rescue Foundation decided to donate this vessel to the SCS as it will enhance the students’ learning enormously,” Anton Hermans continued.

The simulator is also useful for additional training and review for current vessel operators and crew members. Persons who are interested in a training course can contact the SCS Administration (+599 416 3270).

The intention is to relocate “ERIKA” from the harbor to the SCS in St. John’s in order for the Maritime and Technical Department to perform checks to evaluate what needs to be done to restore the vessel to its former glory.

The SCS welcomes all persons from the community who are interested in working along with the students to get the vessel back where it belongs: in the Caribbean Sea.

SCS Simulator

The SCS Ship Simulator.

 

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Registered Parties must submit 2020 register of donations before February 1

SINT MAARTEN (PHILIPSBURG) - The Electoral Council would like to remind all registered political parties that in accordance with Article 37. Par. 1 of the National Ordinance on Registration and Finances of Political Parties, they are required to submit to the Electoral Council a chronological register of donations of all donations received throughout the year 2020, be it in cash, by check or in kind, before February 1st, 2021. Political parties who did not receive any donations in 2020 must also submit a signed register.

All registered political parties, including parties who did not participate in the 2020 parliamentarian elections are requested to complete their register of donations.

All party representatives will receive an email with instructions on the procedure set by the Electoral Council for the execution of the registration of donations in 2021.

The completed register will have to be printed, signed by the party representative and submitted to the Electoral Council no later than January 31, 2021.

The Electoral Council can be contacted via email at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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Belair Beach Hotel receives SafeSeal recognition

SINT MAARTEN (PHILIPSBURG) - On Friday December 18th, 2020, Belair Beach Hotel received their Platinum SafeSeal recognition of best practices in protecting its customers against COVID19. The hotel states that they are “proud to be a part of this progressive movement to ensure a safe working and accommodation environment while enhancing the safety of St. Maarten as a destination.”

SafeSeal is the immediately recognizable emblem for companies that are verified that they adhere to strict cleanliness and hygiene guidelines to counter the COVID19 pandemic.

Belair takes the pandemic very seriously and has additional measures in place to the ones required.
Director Evans highlights some of the steps taken to ensure this: “A hygiene specialist from SMMC gives our housekeeping staff regular training on the proper protocols, highlighting any changes within the industry and going over practices implemented on the property.  Visual reminders and bi-weekly updates for supervisors, remind them of the importance of updating their staff and obligatory bi-weekly departmental meetings are held where we discuss shortcomings and ways to enhance practices.  We do hourly fogging of public spaces during high traffic periods and fogging every two hours once the traffic subsides for the evening”. 

Team spirit is a key feature of the hotel, and that accounts for protecting against the pandemic as well. “Belair Beach Hotel has a strong responsibility to their employees as they are a part of the team that makes up the resort. We believe in continuity, training and enhancing the skills of our current employees, while welcoming new employees and sharing the talents as team players.  We believe that training and having the right equipment are sure ways to create a safe environment for our guests.  We take care of our employees so that our employees can take care of you”. 

Evans underlines that though travel might be temporarily different, the timeframe offers opportunities as well. “St. Maarten is an amazing island and in spite of the pandemic, the island continues to have amazing sunrises and sunsets, delicious cuisine, friendly people who genuinely care about you having safe fun, great for families, wonderful experiences and great vacation opportunities.  If there was ever a time to be spoiled on St. Maarten, it's now!” 

SafeSeal standards have been devised by medical and occupational safety professionals; the methods and practices have been used to grant acknowledgement of best COVID19 prevention practices to 1700 companies in the Caribbean. For St Maarten, the checklists per sector have been validated to befit, among other, the guidelines on stmaartengov.org.

By highlighting best practice companies, supporting organizations St. Maarten Tourism Bureau, the St Maarten Hospitality & Trade Association and occupational health company Medwork want to spread the word that Sint Maarten is making its best effort to be a safe destination. More information regarding SafeSeal can be found at www.shta.com/safeseal and travel information updates at www.stmaartenentry.com.

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Pilot shipment to test new fresh produce supply line

SABA (THE BOTTOM) - The Public Entity Saba last summer approved a project to investigate possibilities to accomplish a more reliable supply of fresh produce, in terms of availability, quality and price. As part of this project, a new supply line from Miami to Saba is tested later this week by the Big Rock and Unique supermarkets. This should lead to the availability of more high-quality fresh produce that remains fresh longer.

Crises have shown that securing the supply of fresh produce on Saba remains a challenge. At the start of the crisis, caused by the coronavirus pandemic in March last year, it became clear that the supply of fresh fruits and vegetables from St. Maarten stagnated. Due to the fact that Saba is not fully self-sufficient, this quickly led to shortages on the island. Combined with the hurricane season and aware of the responsibility that the government has to ensure the basic needs of the community, the Public Entity Saba decided to look for solutions to improve the continuity of supply of fresh produce.

The supply route, Miami - Sint Maarten - Sint Maarten - Saba, has existed for decades, even though research conducted by the Netherlands Enterprise Agency (RVO) and the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy (EZK) has shown that it is not the most suitable supply line for perishable goods. Long transportation times, combined with incorrect temperature regulation and product handling, leads to faster deterioration of fresh products, resulting in more food waste, which leads to higher prices on Saba. In the current situation, the availability of certain basic needs, especially fresh produce, cannot be guaranteed and the community sometimes has limited access to these products.

Direct import of fresh produce to Saba has been mentioned as the most promising solution to overcome these issues. To assess the potential of opening up a direct, weekly shipping route for fresh produce between Miami and Saba, a pilot shipment is scheduled to arrive this week. Unique and Big Rock supermarkets have decided to take part in this pilot shipment. The fresh produce from Miami is available at these stores coming Wednesday.

In de days after the shipment, the shelf-life of the incoming produce is assessed and after an evaluation with the stakeholders involved a final decision is made whether or not new shipments can be brought in.

Fresh produce 01

 

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Commissioner Zagers stresses importance of vaccination

SABA (THE BOTTOM) - Commissioner Bruce Zagers (Finance, Education, Economic Affairs, Tourism, Infrastructure, Constitutional Affairs) in a statement on Monday said that vaccination against the coronavirus is imperative for Saba and its people to regain some normalcy, and to revitalize the local economy. Vaccination is slated to start mid-February.

“This year it is important that we make the necessary strides to get back on track. Ensuring that our economy is revitalized and that specialized health care (referrals) becomes more assessable will need to be a priority on every level. Reopening our borders for tourism and getting several projects such as the construction of the new harbor back online will definitely aid us is stabilizing our economy and with the creation of jobs.”

According to Zagers, a possible prerequisite to these developments will greatly be determined by the willingness of the Saba people to be vaccinated once the vaccine becomes available. “It is understandable that many are cautious about being vaccinated for Covid-19. I know many of you are in a wait-and-see-mode because there is an underlying fear that the vaccine has been created so quickly. However, I personally find solace knowing that this has been a multinational effort where billions of dollars have been invested into research, while some of the world’s most gifted and talented minds worked tirelessly to develop such a vaccine that will save lives globally and can protect us from the virus.”

Saba is in the unique situation with the Netherlands having committed to sending enough vaccines so the entire adult population can be vaccinated. “I have heard many say that they do not want to be ‘guinea pigs’ for the vaccine. However, we must realize that by the time we receive the vaccine on Saba, tens of millions of people will have already been vaccinated worldwide. We must also realize that if we want to open our borders and if we want to travel freely, being vaccinated will be of utmost importance. This is an opportunity for us to regain freedom; a sort of return to normalcy.”

Obviously, taking the vaccine will not be mandatory but Zagers did urge everyone to take advantage of this opportunity. The demand for the vaccine is extremely high, resulting in a worldwide shortage. Many countries, including first world countries, will have to wait months and in some cases years before there are sufficient doses to vaccinate their people.

“The opportunity that we are gifted with is unique but also one that we should not take for granted. I can assure you that when the program starts on Saba, that I will get vaccinated. I will do this for my own protection and for those who are around me. In the coming days and weeks there will an intensive information campaign starting with two townhall meetings this week. I encourage you to not only focus on the negative headlines which tend to appear on various social media outlets, but to also follow the real, well sourced news which outlines the positives about the vaccine.”

Zagers noted that this new year started out with the opportunity for people to make a significant step back to normalcy. “Many of our initiatives and goals for 2021 will greatly depend on our decisions within the next few weeks. Making an informed decision, and not an emotional one about the vaccine, is paramount. I will accept the vaccine with confidence. I hope that you will too.”

The Commissioner said it was important that to approach this new year with renewed optimism and energy, and to use the life lessons from last year as a learning experience. “I urge you to be open to change, to always be prepared and most importantly appreciate the little things in life. Everything on Saba may not be perfect, but the freedoms and opportunities that we often take for granted, are lacking or in many cases not even possible for many in our region or in the world.”

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Cancel Carnival

SINT MAARTEN (COMMENTARY – By Michael Ferrier) - As a former President of the St. Maarten Carnival Development Foundation, I stand in support of St. Martin of Tours Parish Priest Father Adam in asking our Government to CANCEL all plans and REFUSE issuing the necessary permits for CARNIVAL 2021.

And just in case there were thoughts of it, do the same for the HEINEKEN REGATTA. Hopefully the Collectivité will also deny permits for Carnival on the French side of the island. NONE of these events where NO ONE can truly control crowds getting in each other’s faces, must take place this year to prevent more havoc on our health system and by extension on our really screwed up economy!

As much as I personally LOVE the annual event, the idea to organize St. Maarten 2021 Carnival is irresponsible and dumb, not to mention playing Russian Roulette with our citizens’ and visitors’ health. Our Governments must ensure EVERYONE living on St. Maarten and Saint Martin, legally and illegally, get vaccinated against all COVID19 strains as soon as possible.

The USA CDC predicts that in the US, the place where well over 70+ % of all our tourists come from, the more aggressive UK Corona Virus variant could become the predominant strain by March 2021, with rapid growth projected in the coming months..... yet our SXM Government succumbs to the SCDF’s public scolding and gives the green light for Carnival 2021?????

A truly irresponsible and dumb decision that hopefully will get rescinded.

P.S. I understand Trinidad and Brazil both cancelled THEIR carnivals!!

Michael J. Ferrier

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CPS Suspends Baby Clinic and Vector Control Services

SINT MAARTEN (PHILIPSBURG - DCOMM) – The Collective Prevention Services (CPS), a department in the Ministry of Public Health, Social Development and Labour (Ministry VSA), that effective January 18, all Baby Clinic Services will be temporarily suspended for the next two weeks and scheduled to re-open on February 1, 2021.

Clients with appointments during this period will be called and provided with a new appointment. CPS kindly request that if you have not received a call about your appointment that you please contact Youth Health Care via email: sxmhThis email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

All vector control services will be temporarily suspended for the next two weeks and scheduled to resume on February 1, 2021.

Please email any vector-related complaints or concerns to: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

CPS takes this opportunity to remind persons to eliminate mosquito breeding in and around their homes, vigilance is required to manage the Aedes aegypti mosquito.

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APC Bank obtains banking license

SINT MAARTEN/CURACAO - After an extensive preparatory process, APC Bank recently obtained a commercial banking license from the Central Bank of Curaçao and Sint Maarten. With this license, APC Bank can now focus on the necessary preparatory work to start operating in Curaçao and Sint Maarten.

APC Bank was founded in April 2020 and bought the shares of PSB in May. APC Bank plans to purchase the shares of CHB as well. In addition to these developments, APC Bank worked hard on its business and capitalization plans.

With the license in hand, APC Bank has initiated a communication process that will keep all stakeholders informed of developments. As a kick-off of the communication process, Mr. Oswin (Oz) Eleonora, Chairman of APC Bank’s Supervisory Board of Directors, briefed PSB and CHB employees on the recent developments in a town hall meeting held on January 15.

The community is also a key stakeholder. Therefore, you can expect to receive updates regularly. Further communication on this topic will follow.

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