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MPs Emmanuel and Buncamper critical of budget, calls for respect for police, vacation pay

SINT MAARTEN (PHILIPSBURG) - Independent Member of Parliament (MP) Christophe Emmanuel and MP Claudius Buncamper of the USP faction on Tuesday were critical of the 2021 budget presented by the UP/NA Coalition government, condemning it as a roadmap of “vanity projects” with no realistic options to solve the issues that matter to people most.

"On top of being nine months late, this budget is remarkable for what it doesn't mention,” the MPs said. “It reads more like a competing vision for the future of the country, rather than a cohesive effort to address what matters most for a post-pandemic economy and for upward mobility for hard-working people,” they said.

The MP’s said the budget does nothing for families living in poverty or for those just managing, it does nothing to address the drop in living standards, the rise in living costs, and nothing to tackle the chronic levels of contracts abuse and low pay. It also does nothing to help public sector workers and, in fact, tells the civil service that their situation will remain the same for the next six to seven years unless the constitutional court rules that the three reform laws are unconstitutional. And even then the government does not know how it will act," the MPs said.  

MP Emmanuel on Monday called on government to clarify to the public if the non-payment of the vacation pay is the result of the agreement that government has with the Netherlands or if the government outright cannot pay the vacation pay. “Because if it is an agreement with the Netherlands, and possibly an illegal one, that is not the problem of the civil servants. Government should have known better. Instead it placed its people further into financial hardships,” he said.

He pointed out that government is sitting on enough money to pay the civil servants their vacation pay. The addition al NAf. 2 million for garbage collection is not necessary he stressed, neither is the Naf 500,000 budgeted for vehicles for TEATT or the amount of money government will have to spend to insure, maintain, fuel, inspect and get number plates for the new SUV’s and pick-up trucks provided by NRPB.

“It all comes with a cost to government and so does many other vanity projects in this budget. By our calculations government can save upwards of Naf 5 million and pay the civil servants. Vacation pay is not what its name suggests. Vacation pay is school fees, school uniforms, hurricane preparedness, home and car insurance, vacation pay is a life essential, it is an income your people depend on,” the MPs said.

Focusing on the plight of police officers, The MPs said that at a time when the local police are working hard to protect the country from a rise in crime in very difficult economic times, for there not to be more attention paid to solving their issues is outrageous. The MP’s said investment in police and fighting crime does not only involve money, but a commitment to ensure that these officers are protected by rights, covenants and the legal position that are due to them. “That is also an investment,” the MPs said.

"Sadly the police are one more victim of this government. The police should be fighting crime not fighting for their rights. The police have faced a level of disrespect for years but are still expected to be motivated to work as well as recruit new officers. To their credit, the police are rising to this challenge. Our police are being asked to do more and more but are being given less and less with which to do it. It is simply not fair and morally unacceptable and disrespectful towards people who put their lives on the line for us every day,” they said.

MP Buncamper stressed that “it is unfortunate that the proposed laws that we were forced to accept and implement in order to receive liquidity support are now bearing their negative fruits. Police officers and school teachers are rightfully revolting, which can create negative labeling of the country. We do not believe that this was the intention of the law, which is now being contested by the Ombudsman on its legality.”

Public school teachers too are facing hardships without their vacation pay while their colleagues at semi-private institutions have reportedly gotten or will get their vacation pay. “The money that can be saved can pay civil servants and public school teachers their vacation pay,” they said.

The MPs further described the budget as one of broken promises since many of the issues have been lingering for years. “The government spent a lot of time sticking plasters and rhetoric over reality and offered little to ordinary people. This is a budget which does nothing to help those people who don’t know if their next pay check will be enough or if they will still have a job tomorrow.

“Government sits and boasts about a strong rebound of tourism but try telling that to the many families who are struggling to make ends meet or left with no choice but to hope they get a food voucher or turn to food banks which are now popping up in the country. You can’t put a plaster on that and the government through its budget has shown again that it has no solutions other than to wait and see.”

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St. Maarten Minister Recognizes Importance of Airlift Recovery

SINT MAARTEN (PHILIPSBURG - By Kelly Murphy, Washington, DC, USA) - Ludmila de Weever, Minister of Tourism, Economic Affairs, Transport and Telecommunications of St. Maarten, opened the 5th Annual CaribAvia Summit & Retreat last week underlining the importance of having sustained airlift and reliable aviation partners to aid in economic recovery in the post-pandemic era.

“St. Maarten welcomes you,” de Weever said, adding “A thriving aviation sector in St. Maarten is indispensable for attracting investment to our shores.” She emphasized the direct links between aviation and job growth and entrepreneurial opportunities on the island.

“That’s why we took the bold, but measured, decision to re-open international airlift as early as was safely possible last year, in particular to the United States, our main tourism market,” de Weever said.

She noted June (week 23 of 2021) recorded the largest number of weekly arrivals with 22 aircraft on Saturday, June 12th compared to the previous weeks’ at 19 arrivals. In May 2021 destination visitors (21,949 persons) were 85% of May 2019 figures (25,905 persons). A majority of these visitors were from the United States.

Frontier Airlines will begin brand new service to St. Maarten in July 2021 which will bring additional U.S. leisure travelers to the island.

To help encourage additional international travelers to St. Maarten in a safe and efficient way, a number of steps have been implemented as the world recovers from the pandemic. International travelers are currently required to submit a negative PCR test result within 72 or 120 hours of departure (depending on departure location) to the COVID-19 Electronic Health Authorization System (EHAS) through the Ministry of Public Health, Social Development & Labor St. Maarten.

The reviewing process takes up to 12 hours to process, and the traveler is then pre-approved or rejected. In addition, each traveler pays a US$30 insurance to ensure hotel and medical expenses are covered in the case of a positive test result while in St. Maarten resulting in a 2 weeks quarantine that can be reduced to 10 days if asymptomatic and negative PCR test takes place on day 10.

As an additional level of safety, every visitor is required to administer a daily temperature check and upload the results to the EHAS portal. Prior to departing St. Maarten, travelers must have a pre-departure PCR or Antigen test with a negative result. These steps will surely help airports, airlines, and passengers adjust to normal travel protocols and return to business as usual.

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UNESCO AND FYI FOUNDATION COMPLETE PILOT STILT WALKING PROGRAM

SINT MAARTEN (PHILIPSBURG) - Sint Maarten National Commission for UNESCO has partnered with the Funtopia Youth Initiative Foundation to launch the pilot afterschool program for introducing the Art of Stilt walking and Moko Jumbie culture in primary schools as an extra-curricular activity. This initiative is a part of UNESCO and the Ministry of Education Culture Youth and Sport (Culture Department) aim to stimulate local institutions to engage in the preservation of the intangible cultural heritage (ICH) attributes of Sint Maarten.

The program was held at the Sister Borgia Primary School where St. Joseph, Martin Luther King and Oranje school students came together to participate on Wednesday afternoons. Participating students were between the ages of 6 and 12 years old. Initially the program set out to accommodate 10 students, however 29 students participated.

On Monday 21st June participating students were able to give a presentation at the Sister Borgia School to showcase their learnt skills to the entire school. We received great enthusiasm from students, parents and school staff about how exciting the program was. Several students were able to start walking within the first week’s others found it more challenging and required extra care. The foundation would like to acknowledge the trainers and assistance Quair Hodge, Sue-an Agol, Leroy Walcot, Hika Hughes and John Walcott for their hard work for training with the children weekly.

All participating students received a certificate for their commitment to the program. We hope to have inspired more students to participate in the program for the next school year and we will be extending the participating age to student 5 to 12 years of age. We encourage other schools that would be interested in the program to reach out the Unesco SG Marcellia Henry at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. in order for provisions to be made on time.

UNESCO INS2

UNESCO INS1

 

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VMT says COVID-19 Vaccines are now available for Children 12+ with Underlying Conditions

SINT MAARTEN (GREAT BAY, (DCOMM) – The Vaccine Management Team (VMT) decided on Monday, June 21st, that based on the green light from the Dutch Health Council (gezondheidsraad in Dutch) and European Medicine Agency (EMA), that children 12 years and older with underlying conditions are now eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine at one of the two vaccination locations: Ministry of Public Health, Social Development and Labour (Ministry of VSA) Collective Prevention Service (CPS) at the Vineyard Office Park in Philipsburg, and Caribbean Cinemas in Cole Bay.

The underlying conditions are blood cancer (leukemia, lymphoma, myeloma), severe kidney failure or on dialysis, severe primary immune deficiency (immune-compromised, or HIV), down syndrome, morbid obesity (a BMI higher than 40), organ or bone marrow transplant recipient (added chronic COPD), and diabetes.

A parent needs to state that the child has one of these underlying conditions at the vaccination location.  

The VMT also reminds the public who have not yet received or registered for their COVID-19 vaccination, that Friday, July 9th - less than three weeks from today - will be the last opportunity to do so as part of the mass vaccination campaign. This is done so that you can receive your second dose three weeks later, before the end of July.

At the end of July, the mass vaccination with the Pfizer vaccine will transition into the maintenance phase. In this phase, it is not certain which COVID-19 vaccine will be used and the walk-in basis will be discontinued.

The VMT also would like to remind everyone that the Caribbean Cinemas in Cole Bay is now open for vaccination walk-ins on weekdays, from 9:00 AM to 2:00 PM. This has to do with the temporary closure of the Belair Community Center.

CPS is also still available for vaccination walk-ins from 8:30 AM to 12:30 PM and 1:30 PM to 4:00 PM on weekdays. The VMT will also continue its community outreach program with another Pop-Up on June 26th, in Dutch Quarter, at the De Weever Estate.

Protect yourself, your loved one, and Sint Maarten, and get vaccinated!

Sint Maarten Protected Together.

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Prime Minister Silveria Jacobs Father’s Day Message

SINT MAARTEN (POND ISLAND) - Today, Sint Maarten joins the world to celebrate fathers and father figures who are role models for and guardians of their children. Let's take this time to recognize the value of fathers in the household, the community, and in the building of our nation. They are our leaders, and they have an essential job to do in helping to form confident children who believe in their ability to live their dreams.

Honor your dads in any way you can, whether with gifts, cards or words of gratitude and inspiration. The most important gift you can give your fathers today is the endless love and appreciation for what they have done and continue to do to ensure your safety, security and a loving home. 
The father's role in the home is changing; we recognize that a father's presence is just as significant as a mother's, as fathers play a vital role in the development of their children - financially, socially and especially emotionally.

I want to take the time out to recognize those involved fathers who realize that their contribution to the development of their children goes beyond financial and is vital to their children and by extension to our nation - as we endeavor to build a strong nation made up of strong families and individuals.

On behalf of the Council of Ministers, Happy Father's Day to all fathers and father figures both here at home and abroad.

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Point Blanche staff join island’s aviation conference this week

SINT MAARTEN (POINT BLANCHE) - Seventy prison workers from Point Blanche Detention Centre participated in this week’s CARBAVIA 2021 – the region’s international aviation meet up - to learn etiquette and the art of handling people, in a unique engagement initiative.

Their involvement was endorsed by Ludmila De Weever, St Maarten’s Minister of Tourism, Economic Affairs, Transportation and Telecommunication, who was pleased to formally open the event this week. And welcome some 60 plus delegates to the Island.

Organiser Cdr Bud Slabbaert and team, responsible for the fifth annual edition of the event, which took place at the Simpson Bay Resort on the Island, despite the challenges of the pandemic, was initially surprised to receive interest in participation. However, he responded positively.

“We must be the first event organiser ever to adapt our programme for this unusual audience,” said Cdr Bud. He resiliently changed the schedule for speaker Leif Ytterstad to accommodate some dedicated training sessions for the group. “It turned out to be a great success and we will do it again,” said Bud.

Leif is Head Butler and Trainer in the Sky at Fort Lauderdale, FL. DaVinci Training, one of CARIBAVIA’s long term supporters and sponsors.

His usual environment is training flight attendants who take care of the safety and well-being of clients who travel on private jets, or who serve in the VIP hospitality industry.

Leif highlighted the need to be kind to people who will be in their establishment and care for some time. He dispensed advice on how to keep day to day life simple and sweet - ‘KISS,’ as he calls it.

Leif’s engaging style swiftly brought delegates from the back of the room to the front as he encouraged them to express the issues and feelings, they experience on a day-to-day basis. He highlighted the value of leading by example –listening to fears and plans for outside life – being a listener and showing compassion. There was laughter and warmth as they listened to the Norwegian-born speaker, who adapted his presentation to reflect and appreciate the often intense and challenging environment these workers encounter in their daily lives.

The prison staff also met with international aviation, travel and tourism delegates at CARIBAVIA who had flown in from all over the USA, various parts of the Caribbean and internationally from France and the UK.

They look forward to taking on board many of the ideas DaVinci’s trainer shared with them in a very useful and engaging educational exercise.

workshop4

 

 

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Prime Supports NIPA Bartending Curriculum

SINT MAARTEN (COLE BAY) - Prime Distributors and NIPA, under the leadership of one of their instructors, Paul Peterson, join efforts to expose premium and diverse wines to the students. As a community it is imperative to understand that these students have dreams and goals and that we need to do whatever we can to assist them in achieving those goals.

“Bartending done right can be a lucrative career, one where you can save money quickly and have opportunities to move into other facets of the industry. If you want to own your own bar or restaurant one day, this can be the stepping stone that you need’, says Prime Distributor & Senior Trade Coordinator, Kenty Lichtenberg.

The idea is to establish tastings and winery discoveries as a regular component for these students, preparing them from the inception of their study journey will help them gain knowledge and with knowledge comes confidence and drive to succeed.

We would like to thank NIPA for reaching out to us and making us part of an important learning process for the students. In addition to this we would like to wish them success and perseverance as they add these new skills to their belt. We would like to encourage the rest of the business community to get involve, in any way that they can. Together we can strengthen our society and our service products in our community.

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PFP Submits Contraceptive Coverage Request to VSA Minister

SINT MAARTEN (PHILIPSBURG) – On Tuesday, 15 June 2021, the Party for Progress faction submitted a letter to Minister of VSA Omar Ottley, appealing to him to request an advice from the GVS Committee regarding adding contraceptive methods (primarily birth control pills and intra-uterine devices (IUDs)) to the coverage list for health insurers.

In their letter, the faction explained that early this year, they began research into the possibility of amending the national ordinance that governs SZV. The goal, the faction shared, was to identify whether or not contraceptive methods were covered by the insurer and, if not, what was the best way forward with adding contraception to the coverage list.

In their letter to Minister Ottley, the faction states that as medical research has expanded, the use of contraceptives has grown to include treating irregular menstrual cycles, painful cramps, acne and, most importantly to them, endometriosis and Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). Both these conditions can hamper a woman’s ability to lead a normal, active and healthy life.

“PCOS, while it affects women of all races and ethnicities, impacts black and brown women in different ways,” Gumbs stated. “Endometriosis is its own beast; many women go undiagnosed or receive an incorrect diagnosis of what can start off as severe pelvic pain and grow into a more serious issue. Both conditions’ symptoms can be managed with access to contraceptive methods such as the birth control pill and IUDs.”

The faction’s letter continued to explain that in Sint Maarten, birth control is an over-the-counter item but in some instances, there is a medical need for it. However, the health insurance provider doesn’t cover the cost. PFP’s research into the national ordinance on Health Insurance revealed that health insurance providers only cover substances considered “medication”; however, contraception is considered an “aiding” substance but not medication. PFP expressed that at this point, it became clear that new or changed legislation was not necessary, since the GVS Committee exists to handle the review, addition and/or removal of substances to the coverage list for health insurance providers.

“The GVS Committee was created in 2018 in accordance with article 20 of the National Decree for the Reimbursement of Costs of Pharmaceuticals,” the faction states. “Its tasks are to review any requests to amend the annex attached to the same decree. That annex includes a list of all medication that is and is not covered by SZV. In our letter, we also included medical information regarding the risks and symptoms of PCOS and endometriosis, the types of contraception commonly recommended to women, as well as data regarding accessibility of contraceptive methods for women in Latin America and the Caribbean, to support him in his request to the GVS Committee.”

It is PFP’s goal that their letter to the Minister of VSA be a first step on the road towards making access to contraception accessible for all women in the country and plan to follow up with their request after Parliament’s annual summer recess.

MP PFP Raeyhon A Peterson

 

PFP MP Raeyhon A. Peterson

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MP Emmanuel says Government bad spending cost civil servant vacation allowance

SINT MAARTEN (PHILIPSBURG) - Independent Member of Parliament (MP) Christophe Emmanuel on Monday said that if the Prime Minister and her government were truly serious about cutting costs, they perhaps could have shown some empathy and act in good conscience and paid civil servants a small percentage of their vacation allowance “instead of telling them they are getting nothing at all.”

The MP was reacting to the Prime Ministers online group call with civil servants on Monday in which she finally brought some clarity to the government workers who have been asking for weeks whether parts or all of their due vacation pay would be paid. Government also owes its workers 50% of this allowance from 2020. The clarity the PM brought, the MP said, was to inform the workers that they will not be getting the allowance at all this year.

The MP said he finds it astonishing that government can so casually announce that civil servants are not getting any percentage of the allowance considering government’s gross bad and over-spending when it is supposedly cutting costs to make ends meet. “I do not believe this government thinks it is speaking to real people, with real problems and real common sense,” the MP said.

He explained that government continues to make its apparatus bigger and more expensive by hiring new workers every week. “You can barely pay the workers you have and are denying them benefits that are due, but every week you are hiring people. Why are you hiring under the current financial crisis? How does this make any sense?” The MP asked, adding that the financial cost for new employees hired since the beginning of 2020 is reportedly in the range of Naf. 360,000 per year.

He went on to re-iterate that government also somehow found an extra two million guilders for garbage contracts for the next five years totaling Naf 6 million for the last nine months of 2021. “So are you saying that garbage is worth more than people? Two million more for garbage, but zero for workers. It’s a shame,” he stressed.

“These are not normal times,” the MP said, further suggesting that management and workers with government issued cellphones should use their office phones and government WIFI while on the job. He reminded that phone usage cost government some Naf. 19 million over the past 5 to 6 years and a serious effort to limit the usage overall could save some Naf. 2 million. He said in times of emergencies such as the aftermath of a hurricane, emergency cell-phone services could be activated.

Additionally, he pointed out that the 34 SUVs, 17 pick-up trucks received from via the Trust Fund also comes with a cost. “The government could have realized that only one school has been repaired and handed over since 2018 and could have said to the NRPB to direct the funds for those vehicles to the schools. But no, government took on extra cost again,” the MP said.

He said those vehicles will have to be insured with the minimum third-party coverage (but probably more comprehensive) which could total Naf 950,000 per year considering the standard coverage for brand new SUV’s and pick-ups. They will also have to be serviced and maintained, fueled to the tune of approximately Naf 50 per week, which amounts to approximately Naf 133,000 per year. Moreover, inspections for the vehicles, road tax, number plates are all services that government actually has to pay for.

The MP also mentioned that Ministers are still travelling first class through Miami to other destinations and to Holland “to talk about nothing and bring home nothing.” Taking these examples alone, the government is spending almost Naf 10 million when it didn’t have to or money that could have gone towards paying at least a percentage of the vacation allowance for civil servants.

“As usual, the Prime Minister and this government shoed no empathy at all and told civil servants that nothing is forthcoming to help them with school fees, school uniforms, hurricane preparedness, insurance, nothing. Not 10%, not 15%, nothing from the allowance. And as expected, when asked by civil servants when they will get their money, the Prime Minister had no answer to provide just like she has no Plan B for the country. At this point is should be painfully clear to everyone that this government is 100% dependent on Dutch aid as a result of its lack of ideas and solutions to solve the country’s problems,” the MP concluded.

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MP Duncan: Time for the Development of the Creative Economy

SINT MAARTEN (PHILIPSBURG) - On June 11th, Member of Parliament (MP) Solange Ludmila Duncan sent a letter to the Prime Minister, Minister of Education, Culture, Youth and Sport (ECYS) and the Minister of Tourism, Economic Affairs, Transportation and Telecommunications (TEATT), requesting a meeting to present a proposal for an inter-ministerial working group on the creative economy.

“St. Maarten has long had a history of creative output through dance, theater, song and literature. We are currently experiencing an explosion of art, photography and soca and hip-hop music. As we work on reviving our economy in a post-pandemic world, I believe that it is time to make a concerted effort in developing our creative and cultural industries,” stated the MP.

2021 has been declared the ‘International Year of Creative Economy for Sustainable Development,’ by the United Nations via resolution A/RES/74/198. MP Duncan’s proposal seeks to establish a permanent working group of policy advisors, legal advisors and project workers across the ministries of General Affairs, ECYS and TEATT tasked with the coordination of cultural and creative projects, synergizing of cross-cutting policies and the creation of the necessary regulatory framework for organizing the creative economy, amongst other things.

“While we continue to cope with the country’s economic vulnerabilities, we should also be focused on sustainable development through new avenues. This island has an abundance of creative and cultural goods and services and with export potential. St. Maarten artists are performing all over the world now, more than ever, our fashion designers are producing brands that should be featured throughout the region and I truly believe that we have the potential to become the street art capital of the eastern Caribbean,” added MP Duncan.

In her letter, the MP acknowledged the success of the Color Me SXM project. “Those beautiful murals throughout Philipsburg are the results of creativity and collaboration. The public-private partnership between artists, the Be the Change Foundation, the Department of Culture and the St. Maarten Tourism Bureau alongside other organizations, proves that there is a need for a structured approach to developing and supporting similar initiatives.”

The MP hopes to make her proposal to Government following the upcoming budget debate as well as fully supporting from Parliament, any and all efforts to increase economic opportunities for citizens and residents.

“Creating an encouraging environment for our artists, creative and cultural small businesses and ‘islandpreneurs’ will boost economic activity, improve social cohesion and strengthen our cultural and national identity. It’s imperative for nation-building. This is why it is so important, especially now, during this time in our history to actively develop our creative economy,’” concluded Duncan.

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