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Soualiga News Today (4321)

CFT Richard Gibson: Financial Supervision, Public Finances and Sustainable Growth

PHILIPSBURG, Sint Maarten - Financial supervision contributes to sound public finances, which in turn will lay a solid foundation for sustainable growth, is the line of thought Mr. Richard Gibson brought about at the occasion of the trade mission congress: ‘Connecting sustainable businesses from the Kingdom of the Netherlands and the Caribbean region’. This congress was held on Thursday May 22nd in Sint Maarten in the context of 200 years of Kingdom.

Mr. Gibson, member of the Board on financial supervision (College financieel toezicht - Cft) for Sint Maarten, also pointed out which advantages the Dutch Kingdom has to offer to the young countries Sint Maarten and Curaçao. Going back in time Mr. Gibson illustrated how staggering debts almost brought the Netherlands Antilles to a financial collapse.

Debt relief

Together with the political restructuring of 2010, a debt relief program made available by the kingdom brought a solution to this profound problem. Starting new autonomous countries with an inheritance of a 90% debt to GDP ratio was simply not realistic. This debt relief also brought into existence the Board of financial supervision (Cft). Supervision identifies the risks, and confronts the country’s decision makers with questions regarding these risks and the obligations they have to their own people. The relative stable debt position that Curaçao and Sint Maarten enjoy today and their access to capital at very low interest rates to develop their economies is a clear result of the existence of supervision. Recent economic research of the World Bank and the IMF has proven this. First of all, debt levels above 35 to 40 % of GDP in small island states like the Caribbean countries are a threat to sustainable economic development. Secondly, international comparisons of countries that have some form of supervision over countries that lack supervision prove that financial supervision is necessary for healthy economic development.

Low debt levels

Nowadays, almost four years later, no country in the region has debt levels as low as Sint Maarten and Curaçao. A healthy government with a low debt position instills confidence in investors and the population at large. Investors need trust in the financial and political stability of the government, and this has been achieved by Curaçao and Sint Maarten. The value of those factors for economic development can hardly be overstated.

Checks and balance

The question is whether supervision should be carried out by organizations within the country itself. According to Mr. Gibson independent budgetary supervision is of the essence but every country should work on its own checks and balances. Financial management is essential, and supervision of the budget needs to be carried out by parliament, sustained by internal accountants and the audit chamber. These three institutions are crucial for proper internal supervision. The effectiveness of institutions in Sint Maarten and Curaçao however needs to be improved. Annual examinations of the state of financial management based on the international Public Expenditure and Financial Accountability framework show that the supervision on the budgets and annual accounts by the parliaments is below standard. Reports of the audit chamber and recommendations of the corporate governance councils are not being dealt with adequately.

Four years is not enough time to achieve the necessary improvements, but really independent supervision is hard to achieve even in time. For supervision to function it has to be absolutely free from political influences. The countries should avoid putting new weak institutions on top of already existing weak institutions. Making use of the possibilities the kingdom has to offer is a better option; the Cft and the financial stability it brings to the countries is just one of the advantages of being part of the Kingdom.

Capacities

In addition, more can be done with the unique capacities of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, to achieve more economic development and to build up new institutions together. The countries in the Kingdom are fragile and dependant on each other. However, parties need to learn to know each other better, and increase their level of trust towards each other. With sound public finance and optimized use of the benefits of the Kingdom, the young countries Sint Maarten and Curaçao can truly take advantage of economic opportunities and reach their potential. But they have to do it themselves. The autonomous status of the countries means that no one can be blamed anymore if times are rough. Economic development requires fierce entrepreneurship. In this regard, lessons can be learned from surrounding countries such as Panama and Columbia which are doing well: both countries have been outperforming the region in recent years with impressive growth rates notwithstanding the worldwide economic downturn. 

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Prime Minister Meets with New Board Members of Corporate Governance Council

PHILIPSBURG, Sint Maarten - The Prime Minister of St. Maarten the Honorable Sarah Wescot-Williams met with the new members of the Corporate Governance Council (CGC) at her Cabinet last week. The PM met and discussed various matters concerning the CGC and the management of, amongst other things Government Owned Companies, with new CGC members Madelon Dijkhoffz, Perry Wilson, and Joseph Lake.

The PM mentioned that the term of the previous CGC was up and that the three new members will be supported by an additional two members in the coming days; “The Corporate Governance Council has been installed by National Decree and this has been done.

“Matters pertaining to Corporate Governance Council have been established by law  and one of the most pressing issues that needs to be looked at and has to be reviewed are for example issues related to the Board of Government Owned Companies and their Managing Directors.

“The previous CGC Board has expired and we went through the process of installing a new Council, a lawful body that looks at certain conditions with regard to good corporate governance. There is also a corporate government code according to which government owned companies must adhere to. Especially given the fact that we did not have a CGC for a while there is much work that needs to be done,” commented Prime Minister Wescot-Williams.

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Her Royal Highness Princess Beatrix Tours Simpson Bay Lagoon and Mullet Pond

SIMPSON BAY/MULLET POND, Sint Maarten - The Sint Maarten Nature Foundation had the honor to play host to Her Royal Highness Princess Beatrix during a Royal visit to the Nature Foundation office and the Simpson Bay Lagoon on Wednesday. The Princess, on Sint Maarten as part of the Kingdom Youth Parliament meetings, specifically requested to visit the Nature Foundation and its staff and board members and to be shown the current status of the Simpson Bay Lagoon.

Upon arrival in Cole Bay the Princess and His Excellency Governor Holiday and entourage were introduced to Nature Foundation Board and staff and received an update on various projects currently conducted by the Foundation including work related to the control of lionfish, the nature education program, the Nature Foundation sea turtle management project, the Nature Foundation’s work regarding Climate Change and the Man of War Shoal Marine Protected Area.

Her Royal Highness then proceeded to tour the Simpson Bay Lagoon where she received information on the ecological issues and their management therein. Nature Foundation staff and board members gave an explanation of some of the issue currently faced by the Lagoon and the steps which have been taken by the Nature Foundation to manage them. Her Royal Highness received a complete picture of what is currently ongoing with regards to the Lagoon including the filling in of certain parts of the Lagoon and the concern of the Simpson Bay community regarding some of the issues that are on-going. The Princess was very interested to hear about the current dialogue concerning the proper ecological management and zonation of the whole area.

Positive developments within the Lagoon were also highlighted, including the mangrove reforestation project at the Simpson Bay Causeway, the plans to protect Little Key and to improve water quality of the Lagoon, water quality testing done by the Nature Foundation on a regular basis and the plans to remove, clean and sink wrecks currently in the Lagoon as artificial reefs jointly by the Nature Foundation and SLAC.

The highlight of the trip was when the Princess visited the Mullet Pond Section of the Simpson Bay Lagoon, an area currently in the final stages of being protected as an important wildlife area. Her Royal Highness was particularly impressed with Mullet Pond and commended its proposal for listing as a wetland of international importance under the Ramsar Treaty, a first for Sint Maarten.

Princess Beatrix, who is a Royal Patron of the Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance, an umbrella organization under which the Nature Foundation also falls, also discussed the finances and capability of the Foundation and commended the organization for achieving sound and realistic environmental management with limited staff and resources available to them. The Princess stated that she was impressed at the work which was accomplished over the last few years and encouraged the Foundation to continue to work to protect and safeguard nature on St. Maarten.

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SXM Airport Presentation to IMF Delegation Well Received

SIMPSON BAY, Sint Maarten—Managing Director of the Princess Juliana International Airport, SXM gave a presentation to the visiting delegation of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on Monday, which was well received. The eight-member delegation, led by Mr. Menno Snel, Executive Director of the IMF Executive Board, had earlier been given a tour of the terminal building.

The presentation included the economic impact of the airport on St. Maarten’s economy and on SXM’s hub partners as well. Ms. LaBega informed the IMF delegation that SXM is #1 in General Aviation in the region with The Bahamas as #2. She said SXM is building a new FBO facility to maintain its competitive advantage as other airports in the region are aggressively seeking to cut into its market share.

LaBega, who was accompanied by Kalifa Hickinson, SXM’s Corporate Communications Specialist, Migdala Artsen-Clarinda, Chief of Administration, and Robert Brown, Special Projects Coordinator, informed the IMF delegation about discussions SXM has been having with Southwest Airlines to secure the service of the carrier to the destination.

The IMF delegation inquired about whether SXM is looking at attracting Asian carriers to which SXM replied that it has not yet looked into this.

Other areas of discussion included coordination between SXM and the Harbor Group of Companies in terms of passenger flow as well as the issue of dividends or concession fees.

Similarly, the IMF delegation were informed about the Moody’s rating of Baa2 which SXM received, the bond issue and the interest rate of 5.5% secured in refinancing the old loan, which resulted in a savings of over US$10 million for the airport over the duration of the loan.

Also, the Car Park project and its importance were discussed, especially since the park would offer government a new revenue stream.

“We were very pleased with the meeting and the response from the delegation on the information provided,” said LaBega.

For its part, the IMF delegation disclosed that they were preparing a report on their visit, which will be made public. The report will contain information garnered from their meetings on the island including the meeting with SXM.

 

 

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May 28 Deadline Approaches for Political Party Registration

PHILIPSBURG, Sint Maarten - The Electoral Council calls on all political parties which have not yet registered to participate in the upcoming Parliamentary elections to do so as soon as possible as the deadline for application for registration of political parties is Wednesday, May 28, 2014.

Any party that fails to apply for registration before or on May 28, 2014 and/or does not adhere to all requirements stipulated for registration of political parties laid down in the National Ordinance on Registration and Finances of Political Parties will be excluded from participation in the upcoming elections.

Submission of an application for registration by a political party does not mean that the party is registered by the Electoral Council. Subsequent to the submission of the application, the application will be thoroughly reviewed by the Electoral Council. Only after receiving a positive decision on the application by the Electoral Council, the party can be considered registered and may participate in the Parliamentary election to be held on August 29, 2014.

Together with the application for registration of the political party the following documents should be submitted by the party to the Electoral Council:

-          Notarial deed containing the Articles of Association

-          Excerpt from the Chamber of Commerce and Industry

-          Statement containing the appointment of the party’s authorized representative and deputy authorized representative

-          Application for registration of the identification to be placed above the list of candidates

In view of the upcoming deadline for registration of political parties on May 28th, 2014, the  Electoral Council will extend its opening hours on Monday, May 26th, Tuesday, May 27th and  Wednesday, May 28th, 2014 and will be open from 09:00 a.m. to 05:30 p.m.

For more information or to make an appointment, please contact the Electoral Council office, located on Back Street No. 145B. Telephone No. 543-9888, Fax No. 543-9887.

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TAC CEO Refutes Erroneous Blogger Comments of SZV to Invest US$200 Million in Medical Tourism

MIAMI-PHILIPSBURG, Sint Maarten - Dr. Sam Hess, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of The American Clinic (TAC) said on Thursday that he was shocked by what he read with respect to guarantees of US$180-US$200 million being made available by the Social Insurance Bank (SZV) for medical tourism.

In order for the people of Sint Maarten to have the correct information about the interests of TAC and its plans for medical tourism, Dr. Sam Hess made the following statement to bring clarity and transparency to unfounded blogger reports:

“We have no agreement in place either with the SZV or the Government of Sint Maarten where funding of TAC’s medical tourism project is concerned.  We are not asking for any monetary contribution from either the Government or the SZV, and to say that an agreement is to be signed this Friday is just simply not the truth.

“We have been and are committed to working closely with the St. Maarten Medical Center (SMMC) to improve the quality of medical care available to the people of Sint Maarten.  Specifically, we are prepared to provide those specialists that are needed and not currently available on the island.

“Our project is unique when compared to other medical tourism wellness facilities throughout the world.  Rarely does a medical tourism project help the resident population.  We on the other hand have committed to assisting SMMC and SZV to provide access to specialist not currently available here on the island.  This would prevent delays in diagnosis and treatment which is what the people of Sint Maarten want.

“Sint. Maarteners would no longer have to leave the island to travel to Colombia, the Dominican Republic, the French Caribbean islands of Guadeloupe/Martinique or Europe.  Instead they would be able to have their consultations and treatment done right here at home.  They will be able to recover with their family and friends right next to them.

“The American Clinic physicians will follow them after their surgery which is not happening now when they come back from having travelled abroad.  Importantly, millions of dollars could be saved by SZV, the Government, and tax payers will obviously benefit as well. 

“TAC envisions having the specialist and facility in place to cater to the needs of the Sint Maarten people while working side by side with SMMC which would continue to be the national hospital of the country that meets the basic health needs of the population.

“TAC’s role comes into play in areas that SMMC is not able to focus on.  This is where the synergy between both health care institutions would be a win-win for the community of Sint Maarten. 

“TAC would focus on developing the medical tourism sector which would be its core business bringing millions in new tourism revenue, mitigating and balancing the seasonality of tourism on the island, and employing hundreds of locals in full-time positions.  Together with the SMMC, we can make Sint Maarten the shining star of medical excellence in the Caribbean,” Dr. Sam Hess, CEO of TAC said on Thursday in bringing clarity and transparency to the issue of public health and medical tourism matters. 

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IMF Pays Article IV Visit and Meets with Government, Private Sector and Unions

GREAT BAY, Sint Maarten (DCOMM) – A delegation of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) visited the country last week. The delegation arrived on May 13, accompanied by members of the Central Bank of Curaçao and Sint Maarten.

The delegation just completed their visit to Curaçao, where they first conducted the Article IV Consultations before they continued in St. Maarten. The Article IV Consultations are held in both countries due to the fact that Curaçao and Sint Maarten together form a monetary union.

The IMF has published, based on their findings, a preliminary findings report. The final version will be presented in their Consultation Staff report later in the year, (http://www.imf.org/extend/np/ms/2014/052014.htm)

The IMF is an international financial organization, formally created on December 27, 1945, initially with 29 member states. Now the IMF has 188 members and its headquarters are situated in Washington D.C. in the United States of America.

The IMF’s Articles of Agreement state under Article IV that the IMF will hold bilateral discussions with members, usually every year, in the countries involved. These consultations focus on the review of the overall economic development in a country, as well as its policy measures aimed at maintaining economic stability.

The IMF attempts to assess each country’s economic health in order to forestall future financial problems.

The Article IV Consultations are part of the surveillance tools applied by the IMF to monitor the economic and financial policies of its 188 member countries. In addition, the IMF offers technical assistance to its members and provides loans to countries that have trouble meeting their international payments, as well as provides concessional loans to low-income countries to help them develop their economies and reduce poverty[1].

The IMF delegation consisted of five members and was headed by Mission Chief, Davide Lombardo, who is a Senior Economist at the European Department of the IMF and included Menno Snel, who is an Executive Director of the IMF Executive Board.

During their week on the island the IMF delegation conducted meetings with Government representatives and other stakeholders of economic importance, namely theUitvoeringsorgaan Sociale en Ziektekosten Verzekeringen (SZV), Algemeen Pensioen Fonds (APS), the Chamber of Commerce, Sint Maarten Hospitality & Trade Association (SMHTA), Indian Merchants Association (IMA) and Union representatives.

At the end of their visit the delegation had a meeting with the Council of Ministers on Saturday, May 17, in order to present and discuss the preliminary report. The findings presented were not entirely a major surprise to the Council; the Prime Minister stated that “the issues as you put forward that government need to take into consideration, are issues we ourselves have outlined that needs to happen,”, thus Prime Minister Hon. Sarah Wescot-Williams.

The Council was therefore pleased to receive confirmation from an independent observer regarding the priorities identified by the Government. Furthermore, the Council expressed their appreciation that IMF took into consideration the challenges Sint Maarten is facing and the factors that have a great impact on the matters that influence the outcome of the report. 

On Sunday, May 18, the IMF delegation went per bus on a sightseeing tour around the Dutch side of the island, as well as a Simpson Bay Lagoon tour by boat. The delegation received on-site presentations at the Port St. Maarten (Harbour Group of Companies), the Wastewater Treatment Plant at A.T. Illidge Road and during the boat tour in the Simpson Bay Lagoon.

In the bus representatives of the Government (Ministry of Public Housing, Spatial Planning, Environment and Infrastructure, Ministry of General Affairs and Ministry of Tourism, Economic Affairs, Transport and Telecommunications) were at hand to elucidate about the new developments and projects along the route. The delegation received a tour of the Princess Juliana International Airport (PJIAE) before departure on Monday, May 19.

The IMF officially stated that the delegation “is grateful for both islands’ warm hospitality, for the authorities’ cooperation both in the run-up and during the visit, and for open, frank and constructive discussions”.


[1] A concessional loan, sometimes called a "soft loan," is granted on terms substantially more generous than market loans either through below-market interest rates, by grace periods or a combination of both. (Source: Wikipedia.org)

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Cabinet PR Officers, DCOMM Staff and Police PRO Complete Media Workshop

LITTLE BAY, Sint Maarten - On May 15 – 16, 2014, the Workshop Media Training for government public relations (PR) officers took place at Divi Little Bay Beach Resort. The workshop was attended by PR-officers from the Tourism Office, press officers of the Ministers’ Cabinet, communication specialists of the Department of Communications (DCOMM) and the spokesperson of the Police Force St. Maarten. The Workshop was facilitated by the Thomson Reuters Foundation, which is associated with the renowned Reuters Press Bureau. Trainer Lisa Anne Essex, originally from Great Britain, came from the United States of America to give the course.

Lisa Anne Essex has extensive experience as a journalist and media consultant. Recent courses given by Essex include Oil and Gas reporting in Iraq, Political Reporting in Nepal, International Newswriting in Bangladesh, Investigative Journalism in Ukraine, Good Governance and Anti-corruption in Turks and Caicos. Essex’s clients included Reuters Foundation, UNDP (United Nations Development Program), The World Bank, The Financial Times, and the European Journalism Centre.

The workshop, which was funded by USONA and organized by the Secretariat of the Council of Ministers, was intended to increase the understanding of the PR-officers and the communication specialists regarding the different roles of journalists and PR-officers. As well as increase the confidence of the trainees to deal with everything from everyday press releases to crisis communications.

The training modules were designed with communications professionals in mind, to ensure that they are providing the tools necessary for journalists to do their jobs. The relationship between journalists and PR-officers can be a challenging one, mainly because neither has a good understanding of the others’ roles. For this purpose an additional session was planned Friday evening to which local journalists were invited to openly discuss these differences.

The Deputy Prime Minister, Hon. Dennis Richardson, was present Friday afternoon to hand out the certificates to the workshop participants.

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Dutch Military Top Calls on Minister Dennis Richardson

PHILIPSBURG, Sint Maarten – On Tuesday May 20, 2014, a courtesy visit was paid to the Minister of Justice the Honorable Dennis Richardson by the incoming Commander Hans Lodder as Commander of the Netherlands Forces in the Caribbean and Director of the Coastguard; he was introduced to the Minster by the outgoing General Swijgman. 

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Port St. Maarten officials return from CSA Executive Committee Meeting

POINT BLANCHE, St. Maarten – Port St. Maarten – A delegation from Port St. Maarten recently attended the 13th Caribbean Shipping Executives Conference (CSEC) that was held Miami, Florida.

The conference was hosted this year in collaboration with the Port of Miami at the Marriott Biscayne Bay.  It brought together shipping industry executives from the Caribbean, Latin America, North America and Europe to discuss key issues affecting the industry.   

High on the agenda was an update on the Panama Canal, which has recently been embroiled in disputes over funding and delays.  An agreement is to be signed soon that would allow for construction to restart and the new date for the completion of the expansion is January 2016.

The Panama Canal connects 144 trade routes.  The main users are USA, China, Chile, Japan, Colombia and South Korea.  The canal contributes to the lowering of costs of transportation of goods as well as delivery time of products.  If the canal did not exist, cargo vessels would have to navigate around the South of Chile and vice versa which would mean considerable higher costs for international trade. 

Additional topics discussed included the new marine gas era, securing ports impact of International Ship and Port Facility Security/Maritime Transportation Security Act on shipping companies as well as a cruise industry update.

Port St. Maarten officials also listened keenly to a presentation about trends and developments related to power solutions for ships plying the oceans of the world as well as trends in the energy markets.  Wartsila did a presentation about ‘New Marine Era for Gas.’  Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) is seen as the gas of the future.

Alfredo Di Palma, Chief Commercial Officer of Maersk/Sealand, gave a presentation on his company’s plans for the Caribbean.  Sealand is expected to start its Caribbean operations in January 2015.

Another topic was how maritime domain awareness affects ports and shipping, by William Lusk.  Lusk emphasized on the involvement of non-traditional stakeholders as Port security is everybody’s responsibility and others such as fishermen, boaters and environmental groups should be brought together in a consultation forum to provide their input.

Other topics ranged from the benefits of advanced level training in the maritime industry; an overview of marine sector insurance and a presentation by the Port of Miami, Juan M. Kuryla, port director under the theme, ‘Looking at The Caribbean as Latin America and the Caribbean make up Port of Miami Largest Trade Region.’  The Americas and the Caribbean make up 54.3 per cent of trade and Asia-Pacific 34.8 per cent.

Kuryla emphasized that the key to their port success is that partnership is key not only with various port departments, but also with lines and their respective agents.

Port St. Maarten has a cruise ranking of number four, and this is due to the strong strategic relationships that have been built with the cruise lines and other stakeholders.  On the side of cargo, Port St. Maarten management continues with its endeavours of becoming a top transhipment operation in the North Eastern Caribbean.

President of the Florida Caribbean Cruise Association (FCCA) Michele Paige made a presentation entitled, ‘The Cruise Industry: Know the Benefits in Order to Appreciate and Seize the Benefits.’  Paige was very adamant that ports needed to put the WOW factor back into cruise destinations and officials needed to create more AWESOME experience tours, and cruises go where passengers want to go.

During her presentation, Paige referred to St. Maarten several times pointing out the manner in which the destination was able to keep on top for both cruise passengers and crew.    

Port St. Maarten delegation comprised of Supervisory Board members Humphrey Mezas, Chairman of the Board, Renald Williams, board member, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Mark Mingo, Roger Lawrence, Manager Terminal and Cargo Operations, Hector Peters, General and Governmental Affairs, and Phil Laplace, St. Maarten Harbour Shipping Consultant.

PHOTO CUTLINE:  L to R, Hector Peters, Mark Mingo, Grantley Stephenson, President of the CSA, Humphrey Mezas, Renald Williams, and Roger Lawrence.

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