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Year report 2021 adopted, Saba again receives unqualified audit opinion

SABA (THE BOTTOM) - The Island Council on Wednesday, August 10 unanimously adopted the year report for the budgetary year 2021. The financial statement for 2021 showed a positive balance of US $1.333.350.

Commissioner of Finance Bruce Zagers pointed out in his presentation to the Island Council that Saba again able to achieve an unqualified audit opinion on the financial statements as well as an unqualified audit opinion of the financial compliance of the income and expenses from the independent auditor EY.

“These achievements signify that strong financial management remains one of the fundamental governing principles of this administration,” said Zagers, giving a big compliment to the Finance Department for its consistent solid financial management. “As far as I know, Saba remains the only island in the Dutch Caribbean that has achieved such audit results and for this the public entity’s reputation for strong financial management is well known. This is a direct result of the efforts from our financial team.”

Both in 2020 ($962,000) and 2021 ($1.333.350), the public entity had positive balances, but this was directly linked to the amounts that were received in incidental funding from the Dutch Government during the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2019, considered to be a normal year without abnormal influxes of incidental funding, the public entity closed with a considerable deficit.

Skeleton budget

“This not only shows how fragile our financial position has been for the past years, but it also proves that by working with a skeleton budget, it is rather difficult to remain within the budgetary boundaries even when a very conservative spending approach is taken. Had it not been for the additional incidental funds which are outlined in the reports, it can safely be assumed that 2021 would have ended with a negative balance,” said Zagers.

Zagers said that although the budgetary year ended with a positive balance, the budget in itself offered little flexibility and opportunity for government to grow its operations or to facilitate improved services.

He remarked that in order to balance the 2021 budget, the Public Entity needed special permission from the Ministry of Home Affairs and Kingdom relations BZK to release over $600,000 from the general reserve.

Conservative spending

“Just as in in previous years, in 2021 the Public Entity Saba operated with a skeleton budget, which was balanced on paper, but was far from realistic. Only because of non-structural funding and a very conservative spending policy was it possible to deliver many of the listed results,” said Zagers.

“Using incidental funding to finance structural tasks has become the norm for this administration. For 2021, the finance department managed 70 different incidental subsides, many of which branched off into multiple projects. Had it not been for these incidental funds, the quality of government and its ability to function would be further severely hampered,” said Zagers.

The large number of projects from incidental funding, 70 in 2021, but as high as 86 in the past, puts a big strain on the public entity’s human resources. Zagers explained that during the meeting of the auditor with the Island and Executive Council earlier this week, the auditor pointed out that 15 incidental projects would be considered normal for a small-size municipality in the Netherlands.

Free allowance

With the signing of the Saba Package 2.0 in June this year, the public entity will receive more than 4 million euros extra free allowance structurally from the Netherlands, an increase of almost 50% of the total free allowance that Saba has received annually since becoming part of the Netherlands.

According to Zagers, this increase is a direct result of Saba’s strong financial management and a testament to the good relations that have been established over the years resulting in trust between the local and the national government. “This also shows that with significant lobbying efforts from both the Executive and Island Council, that the Saba agenda and its most urgent needs remained relevant with the decision makers,” he said.

However, it took very long for The Hague to agree to the increase of the free allowance. “If it had not been for the good relations built by this administration, a strong consistent and stable government, and the public entity’s ability to ensure that strong financial management remained a core governing principle even during the most difficult governing periods, this result could have been significantly lower and with many more restrictions,” said Zagers.

Energy subsidy

One significant development which was possible due to the increased free allowance, is the subsidy that was provided to the Saba Electric Company (SEC) which ensures that electricity bills only increased by 10% rather than the anticipated almost 30%. Although energy prices remain high, without this subsidy the energy rates would have been significantly higher for the remainder of this year. This measure will provide some relief for the entire population during these very difficult times where the cost of living is extremely high, said Zagers.

Of the 2021 surplus, $600,000 was allocated to the buffer capital, bringing the amount of this reserve that can be converted to cash to cover any substantial unexpected expenditures to an amount of $2 million. Furthermore, $300,000 was allocated towards a reserve for general maintenance of government buildings, $300,000 towards creating a reserve for infrastructure projects to start tackling the substantial backlogs in maintenance on government properties and the remaining $133,000 to the general reserve.

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ODM: Remain Vigilant and Prepared. Recheck your Disaster Supply Kit

SINT MAARTEN (GREAT BAY, (DCOMM) – Monday, August 15 will mark the start of the active part of the 2022 Atlantic hurricane season, where the islands of the Lesser Antilles traditionally see more storm/hurricane activity up until mid-October.

The Office of Disaster Management (ODM) which falls under the Fire Department (Ministry of General Affairs) headed by Fire Chief/National Disaster Coordinator Clive Richardson, said on Thursday that all residents and businesses need to remain vigilant and prepared.

ODM calls on residents to review the content of their Disaster Supply Kit to make sure it is stocked with the essentials that are necessary to ride out the hurricane season.

Every household’s Disaster Supply Kit should be able to support members of the household for a minimum of seven days after the hurricane has passed.

The Disaster Supply Kit should contain non-perishable food, water and medicine (fill prescriptions before the storm); non-electric can opener; first-aid kit; extra cash (ATM machines and credit cards won’t work if there is no electricity); a battery powered radio and flashlights as well as extra batteries; make sure cell phones are all charged prior to the arrival of the hurricane; fill up your car/truck with gas; check if your home and automobile insurance are up to date; put ID cards, passports and driver’s license, insurance papers in a waterproof bag along with other important documents.

If you are a parent with an infant or young child (ren), you also need to have essential items as part of your disaster supply kit: baby formula; diapers; bottles; powdered milk; medications; moist towels; and diaper rash ointment.

Your Disaster Kit must also include hand sanitizer, a soap bar or liquid soap; two cloth face coverings for each person; disinfecting wipes, or general household cleaning supplies to disinfect surfaces.

Continue to ensure that tree branches around your home are trimmed; cut all dead or weak branches on any trees on your property; clean-up your yard and put away items that could blow away during the passing of a hurricane; re-check your roof and storm shutters to make sure they are secure, and the latter are working.

For those whose homes are not yet storm/hurricane ready, you should make alternative housing arrangements to stay at family or friends.

The community is urged to learn more about hurricane hazards and how to prepare for a storm/hurricane strike by visiting the Government website: www.sintmaartengov.org/hurricane where you will be able to download your “Hurricane Season Readiness Guide’ and “Hurricane Tracking Chart.”

Listen to the Government Radio station – SXMGOV 107.9FM - for official information and news before, during and after a hurricane.

For official weather-related information, check out the website of the Meteorological Department of St. Maarten (MDS): www.meteosxm.com or visit their social media page Facebook.com/sxmweather/

Remember, it only takes one hurricane to make it a bad season. Remain vigilant and prepared!

The hurricane season runs through November 30.

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“Ruby Bute – The Tribute,” concert at St. Martin’s Culture Gardens

SAINT-MARTIN (MARIGOT) - Over 12 cultural groups, plus a throng of poets, dancers, and speakers have already signed up for “Ruby Bute – The Tribute” on August 14, 2022.

The Sunday concert takes place at We Agree with Culture Gardens, Bellevue, at 3 pm – 8 pm, said Sabrina Charville, president of the Coffee & Soda Biscuits Association (CSB).

Ruby Bute is best known as a senior painter and owner of Silk Cotton Grove Art Gallery; her storytelling about old-time customs is regaling; and her poetry is spread across three books, including the bestseller Golden Voices of S’maatin—all of which has endeared her island-wide to St. Martin people and their visitors, according to St. Martin Massive! and other publications.

The Gunslingers Steel Band, The Family String Band, Swali-Ka, Inspirational Tees, Colombier Cultural Traditions, Jolly Boyz, SXM Sport Movement, Soualiga Kultural Women Association, and Bottle Neck Blowing Stars are scheduled among the concert performers and presenters, said Charville.

The CSB, one of two year-round platforms for St. Martin poetry activities, already has commitments for poetry recitals from Melissa Fleming, Joyce Hanley and authors Fabian Badejo and Tamara Groeneveldt.

The organizing CSB team has been spreading the word about Bute’s life and achievements with social and traditional media for the last three weeks.

“We are inviting the whole island to come out and honor Ruby” for her work, celebrating our identity with dignity and love for over 40 years, said Charville.

According to the concert’s theme, Ruby Bute is ‘Our S’maatin Golden Icon,’ said CSB member Soshina Stephen on Tuesday during her radio interview.

The “Ruby Bute – The Tribute” concert has an admission donation of $10 or 10 Euros for adults. For children, age 12 and up, the admission fee is $5 or 5 Euros; children under 12 will be admitted free, said CSB. The tribute concert, in the relaxed picnic ambiance among Bellevue’s greenery and agricultural crops, is sponsored by the Collectivity of St. Martin.

NHP TUE09 2 ruby bute visited by csb members aug 5 6 2022

Ruby Bute (center, front) and CSB members take a coffee break at Silk Cotton Grove Art Gallery, August 2022. (© CSB)

 

 

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“College or University 101: The United States & Canadian Systems” workshop to be held on August 18

SINT MAARTEN (PHILIPSBURG) – A free workshop entitled “College or University 101: The United States and Canadian Systems” is scheduled to be held on Thursday, August 18, 2022, at the meeting room on the first floor of the Government Administration Building from 6:00 PM to 8:00 PM.

This workshop, organized by Student Support Services Division (SSSD) of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Youth and Sport, is aiming to ensure attendants walk away with a better understanding of the US and Canadian college and university educational systems. It is geared at students in their last two years of secondary school or recent graduates who are interested in studying in the United States of America (USA) or Canada, and their parents.

The workshop will be covering aspects from application to graduation. Emphasis will be put on the first year of college/ university, where key differences in comparison to our own educational system need to be addressed, to the last year of college or university.

Workshop participants will learn the various steps in applying to schools and what factors to keep in mind when considering schools to apply to. In addition, while attending college or university, it is important to pay attention to important aspects like the Placement Test, Grade Point Average (GPA), grades and graduation requirements. These and other college/ university terminology will also be explained to the workshop participants. Some social aspects like living in the dorms or off campus will also be addressed. Parents are also urged to encourage their children to attend since this is beneficial to them.

Students are encouraged to contact SSSD to reserve a seat. Participants are encouraged to bring their own writing materials to the workshops, and they are encouraged to be on time. For more information, please call 543-1235.

The Student Support Services Division is located in the Gatspy’s Building, across from the Police Station and next to the Windward Island Bank (WIB) in Philipsburg. SSSD provides many services to students including psychological services, counseling services, speech language pathology services, social work services, educational diagnostic services, career services, and parental workshops.

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Salt and Fresh Ponds Solar Park. Sint Maarten’s Renewable Energy Path

SINT MAARTEN (COMMENTARY – By Roddy Heyliger) - Most Governments around the world have been confronting high energy prices and developing policies and interventions to help protect the most vulnerable people in society from soaring energy costs. The business community is also being confronted with high energy costs which makes the cost of doing business more expensive and translates back to consumers who are already experiencing a high cost of living.

According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), fossil fuel is likely to remain expensive for some time – several years. The World Bank (WB) said the disruption in global energy markets due to the Russian-Ukraine conflict generated the biggest surge in crude-oil prices since the 1970s.

Households and businesses have been confronting a surge in energy prices since 2020.

“The World Bank’s energy price index increased by 26.3 percent between January and April 2022, on top of a 50 percent increase between January 2020 and December 2021. This surge reflects sharp increases in coal, oil, and natural gas prices. In nominal terms, crude oil prices have increased by 350 percent from April 2020 to April 2022—the largest increase for any equivalent two-year period since the 1970s,” the WB reported.

The WB further points out that, “…the prices of energy commodities are now expected to be 46 per cent higher on average in 2023.”

The WB advises countries to prioritize policies that promote energy efficiency and accelerate the transition towards low-carbon energy sources.

Country Sint Maarten needs to move post haste with its own renewable energy plan that would cut the costs of energy bringing relief to households and businesses and at the same time cutting out the country’s carbon footprint on the environment.

Businessman Louis Engel back in May presented two proposals – thinking outside the box - that could generate income for the public treasury and attract more visitors to the destination. The first project entailed a floating farm (for vegetables, fish and/or animal farming) and a fun pond attraction (eco-tourism that simulates salt mining and production) in the Great Salt Pond; and the second one was the Soualiga Orton Botanical Garden and Caribbean Sea Life Aquarium in the Simpson Bay Lagoon.

Another possibility for the Fresh Water Pond and/or the Great Salt Pond, is a floating solar park. With land scarcity, renewable energy company’s also set their sights on alternate and creative ways to deploy new solar projects.

The Salt and Fresh Water Ponds Solar Park can be Sint Maarten’s Renewable Energy Path of the future. Water bodies where large amounts of surface area is underutilized have been identified as potential solar systems.

Renewable energy company EDPR Sunseap, floating solar systems can be deployed on water bodies such as reservoirs or lakes and has the potential to generate more solar energy as compared to traditional rooftop and ground mounted solar systems.

“Solar panels floating on water can generally produce more energy as the water cools down solar panels thus allowing more solar energy to be generated. Furthermore, it can decrease the amount of water lost via evaporation, by providing shading to the water below, says EDPR Sunseap.

Some food for thought solar on water for local energy producer NV GEBE.

Roddy Heyliger

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November manifested as St. Maarten’s Culinary Month through “St. Maarten Flavors”

SINT MAARTEN (PHILIPSBURG) - The St. Maarten Tourism Bureau and the St. Maarten Hospitality and Trade Association jointly announce November as St. Maarten’s Culinary Month through its initiative “St. Maarten Flavors”.

During the month of November, participating restaurants will design a special prix fix menu of either 3 courses or one, highlighting their specialties. St. Maarten is known for offering an exquisite variety of culinary delights island wide and is often referred to as the “Culinary Capital of the Caribbean”. Besides showcasing food specialties during the month of November, restaurants will implement additional activations to make the dining experience even more unique.

“The SHTA is thrilled to promote the many outstanding culinary experiences prepared by our high-end restaurants as well as our unique streetside lolos and food trucks. Our culinary offerings are as widely represented as our population, with so many unbelievable Flavors competing for our next meal. “St. Maarten Flavors” will allow you to indulge in the best that St. Maarten has to offer at affordable pricing, giving you a perfect reason to dine out and try new places with family and friends.” Says Wyb Meijer, Executive Director of the SHTA.

The St. Maarten Tourism Bureau and the St. Maarten Hospitality and Trade Association will jointly promote the restaurants participating as well as the various events, to showcase the culinary destination to as wide an audience as possible. The regional Marketing partner firms of the St. Maarten Tourism Bureau will also be maximizing exposure for the destination.

“I am very happy about the significance of “St. Maarten Flavors” for the island. We want visitors to immerse into the diversity of our unique island that is known as the culinary capital of the Caribbean. With the Fete de la Cuisine organizers and Office de Tourisme de Saint Martin just recently announcing their culinary Festivals, nestled in the Month of November, I believe having the whole month branded as the culinary month, will attract more visitors from all over the world”, says Director of Tourism May-Ling Chun.

With an accessible price point set for “St. Maarten Flavors” the organizers want to ensure that everyone has the ability to participate and try places one might not otherwise get to experience, or would have thought of going to, thus involving our local diners as well as our visiting ones.

Restaurants interested in participating in “St Maarten Flavors” can contact the SHTA office This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or contact by phone at 542-0108 for all details.

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YHC: Good Nutrition, Breastfeeding and Complementary Foods

SINT MAARTEN (GREAT BAY, (DCOMM) – Every infant and child has the right to good nutrition according to the ‘Convention on the Rights of the Child.’

Undernutrition is estimated to be associated with 2.7 million child deaths annually or 45% of all child deaths, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

“Infant and young child feeding is a key area to improve child survival and promote healthy growth and development. The first two years of a child’s life are particularly important, as optimal nutrition during this period lowers morbidity and mortality, reduces the risk of chronic disease, and fosters better development overall.” – WHO

This week the global community of nations are celebrating World Breastfeeding Week (August 1-7).

The Collective Prevention Services (CPS) Section Youth Health Care (YHC) from the Ministry of Public Health, Social Development and Labor (Ministry VSA), has been promoting information via various mediums to educate the Sint Maarten community and women and mother’s/mother’s to be about the importance of child nutrition and breastfeeding.

Optimal breastfeeding is so critical that it could save the lives of over 820,000 children globally under the age of five years each year.

The WHO and the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) recommends early initiation of breastfeeding within one (1) hour of birth; exclusive breastfeeding for the first six (6) months of life; and

introduction of nutritionally adequate and safe complementary (solid) foods at six (6) months together with continued breastfeeding up to two (2) years of age or beyond.

However, many infants and children do not receive optimal feeding, WHO points out; for example, only about 44% of infants aged 0–6 months worldwide were exclusively breastfed over the period of 2015-2020.

WHO recommendations have been refined to also address the needs for infants born to HIV-infected mothers. Antiretroviral drugs now allow these children to exclusively breastfeed until they are six (6) months old and continue breastfeeding until at least 12 months of age with a significantly reduced risk of HIV transmission.

Around the age of six (6) months, an infant’s need for energy and nutrients starts to exceed what is provided by breast milk, and complementary foods are necessary to meet those needs, the WHO says.

“An infant of this age is also developmentally ready for other foods. If complementary foods are not introduced around the age of six (6) months, or if they are given inappropriately, an infant’s growth may falter. Guiding principles for appropriate complementary feeding are: continue frequent, on-demand breastfeeding until two (2) years of age or beyond; practice responsive feeding (for example, feed infants directly and assist older children. Feed slowly and patiently, encourage them to eat but do not force them, talk to the child, and maintain eye contact).

“Practice good hygiene and proper food handling; start at six (6) months with small amounts of food and increase gradually as the child gets older; gradually increase food consistency and variety;

increase the number of times that the child is fed: two-three meals per day for infants 6–8 months of age and 3–4 meals per day for infants 9–24 months of age, with 1–2 additional snacks as required; use fortified complementary foods or vitamin-mineral supplements as needed; and during illness, increase fluid intake including more breastfeeding, and offer soft, favorite foods.”

To learn more about breastfeeding, interested persons can call or email: 721-520-4163; This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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Innovative Techniques could be key for Sea Urchin Recovery

SINT MAARTEN/BONAIRE - Researchers from Van Hall Larenstein, Wageningen University and Wageningen Marine Research have developed a new approach to assist Diadema sea urchins’ natural recovery.  In collaboration with the Saba Conservation Foundation, researchers provided additional substrate for settlement on the reef, increasing sea urchin recruitment and thereby demonstrating the importance of suitable settlement substrate for recovery processes.

Deterioration of Caribbean coral reefs begun in the 1970s when diseases devastated the most important reef building corals in the region.  These issues were then accelerated, when the most abundant herbivore, the long-spined sea urchins (Diadema antillarum), suffered massive die offs in the 1980s. Within days after the Diadema die-off, macroalgae started to dominate Caribbean coral reefs.  This shift from coral dominated to macroalgae dominated reefs have had devastating effects on the biodiversity and overall reef health.

Assisted Natural Recovery

Natural recovery of the long-spined sea urchin has been slow.  A new method for sea urchin restoration, coined Assisted Natural Recovery (ANR), employs similar techniques as those used in terrestrial reforestation. The concept is centered around the idea that by removing barriers to natural recovery, succession can be accelerated. Earlier studies suggested that recovery of Diadema sea urchins might be limited by a lack of suitable settlement substrate for their larvae. With the reefs overgrown with algae, clean substrate with a fresh biofilm, which is thought to be the main cue for settlement, is lacking.

Bio Ball Streamers

With ANR the researchers provided new settlement substrate in the form of streamers attached to the reef.  In total, nine streamers, made up of 30 bio ball tied on fishing line, were attached to the reef.  Bio balls are normally used in aquarium filters and have a large surface area. A previous study, conducted in the same project, showed that this material is very effective to monitor sea urchin settlement. These streamers provided areas for sea urchin larvae to settle, protecting them until they grew large enough to migrate to the reef. In April 2021, six patch reefs were selected off the coast of Saba, of which 3 were provided with bio ball streamers and 3 were left untouched and served as control.

At the end of the study, it was demonstrated that reefs with bio ball streamers had significantly higher Diadema urchin recruit densities than those without, highlighting the importance of settlement substrate in natural recovery.  Unfortunately, the improved recruitment rate did not equate to a recovered population.  The recruits rarely grew larger than 20mm, suggesting that predation on recruits is also limiting natural recovery.  Once a recruit becomes larger than 5mm they outgrow the bio ball and need to move to the reef, where they are vulnerable to predation.

Implications

With the latest news of massive Diadema die offs, park authority managers are desperately looking for ways to protect the future of sea urchin populations in the region.  The new approach of ANR might be one of the ways to assist Diadema sea urchin recovery in the future. Researchers from the RAAK PRO Diadema project are now working on optimization of the method. However, future recovery of this sea urchin species will mostly be dependent on the scale and lethality of a new die-off that is currently happening in the Caribbean. Already accounts of these die-offs have been recorded on Saba, St. Eustatius, St. Maarten and Curacao.  Threatened reefs are struggling to combat the spread of macroalgae, and the continued loss of a herbivores would only exacerbate these issues.

You can help authorities track sea urchin health in the Caribbean by adding your observations of healthy, sick or dead urchins by visiting the AGRRA website (https://www.agrra.org/sea-urchin-die-off/).  To read more about the latest in sea urchin recovery methods, you can find the full article on the DCBD using the link below or follow along with the RAAK PRO Diadema project online.

 https://www.dcbd.nl/document/assisted-natural-recovery-novel-approach-enhance-diadema-antillarum-recruitment

 dcna Picture6 thur0408

 

 

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Detention of stabbing suspect extended by eight days

SINT MAARTEN (PHILIPSBURG) - A man suspected of stabbing a woman multiple times has had his detention extended by eight days in the interest of the ongoing investigation. The suspect went before the judge of instruction today, Wednesday, August 3, 2022.

M.B. is suspected of stabbing E.H. several times on the morning of July 31 and leaving her on the roadside bleeding across from Sint Maarten Medical Center (SMMC) in the early morning hours of Sunday. He fled the scene in her car which was later recovered by police.

The suspect was arrested for attempted murder/manslaughter when he surrendered himself to the police at the Philipsburg Police Station hours after the stabbing incident.

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Prime Minister Jacobs spearheads electoral reform survey. First steps taken in nation building movement

SINT MAARTEN (PHILIPSBURG) - The Ministry of General Affairs has been working diligently to provide framework for its new campaign on electoral reform. The project is a multipronged approach, including collecting data on public input, assessing information, and providing feedback for the people of Sint Maarten.

As such, a survey was created so that the people of Sint Maarten can access, as well provide input in electoral reform. This survey is the first step, which is the gathering of data. Subsequently, there will be district townhalls set up over the course of this month, providing an even greater opportunity for opinions to be heard. Further information on the townhalls will be provided soon.

“We would like to encourage the public to use their voice and fill out the survey. With the information collected we can then ascertain a full scope for policy development. This was one of the platforms I personally championed, and I am very pleased to see it come to fruition. It is imperative that we focus on the importance of nation building as we move forward with legislation. I urge the public to participate in and fill out the survey, no matter what their political views. This is an opportunity to be heard on a platform where it matters.” said Prime Minister Jacobs.

The survey can be accessed on the Government’s Facebook Like Page, on the Prime Minister’s Facebook Like Page, as well as directly at the website, https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/ElectoralReformsxm.

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