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The Ministry of VROMI flagpole project today, Post Irma?

vromipostharoldjackproject22102017A few months before Irma, I got a request from the VROMI Minister on his official VROMI Government letterhead (with what appears to be a Black Power fist as part of that official letterhead?), requesting a donation of FLS. 5,000.00 towards a plan to put two very tall flagpoles with huge Miami- dealership-style SXM flags in strategic locations: one on the Bell property above what was once Harold Jack's look-out stand and one in the (now not so) Great Salt Pond, at the combined cost of well over US$ 150,000.00.
The idea was to before November 11, 2017, have a prominent display of our National Flag in places where if people took selfies, the flag would proudly be displayed in the background, in an effort to increase National Pride awareness. Nothing wrong in my opinion with the basic premise or idea, but I questioned the huge price tag of this project, knowing all the other more pressing needs of the country. A simpler version, even then (pre-Irma), would send the same message of national local pride. But NOW post Irma, with so much suffering throughout the community still very much in play and us as a nation asking third parties to send help and funds to re-build SXM, for our Minister of Infrastructure to press on with this project using taxpayers Guilders is nothing short of ludicrous and irresponsible behavior in my opinion. Unless of course I am missing something and he has gotten 100% private sector funding for his pet project. Then I apologize in advance to the Minister and question the sanity of the lunatics that are providing the cash.

Michael J. Ferrier


Parliament Is To Blame for Delay in Hurricane Aid.

wycliffesmith08022017While most people blame our honourable Prime Minister and the Government for delaying Dutch hurricane financial aid, the hold-up really lies with Parliament. The Prime Minister is only acting on a mandate, received from Parliament on January 30th 2017, which instructed Government to block the establishing of the Integrity Chamber.

In the corporate world when the Board of Directors instructs Management to carry out an order, it is executed until the Board cancels the instruction. Likewise, in the public sector when Parliament passes a motion, instructing government to execute an order, government is expected to carry out the instruction until Parliament decides otherwise.

Let me spare the reader the history and intrigues related to the Integrity Chamber and fast forward to January 30th, 2017 when the Integrity Chamber was once again the topic of discussion on the floor of Parliament. After learning that the Kingdom Government had appointed a quartermaster to the Integrity Chamber, without officially informing Sint Maarten, Prime Minister William Marlin requested a meeting with Parliament to discuss the unlawful decision by the Kingdom. At the end of the meeting, fourteen Members of Parliament (MP Geerlings was absent with notice) unanimously passed a motion ordering the Government to block the creation of an Integrity Chamber and to condemn the decision of the Kingdom Government. The motion further instructed Government to present a plan of approach to tackle various areas of integrity as reported in the four integrity reports conducted on Sint Maarten.

To date, this motion is still valid and binding because Parliament has not amended or annulled it. Hence, the current stance taken by the Prime Minister, towards the Integrity Chamber and the Kingdom is in keeping with this motion and is supported and condoned by our Parliament. Consequently, the onus of the delay of the much-needed financial aid for the reconstruction of Sint Maarten should be placed on Parliament.

Since the January motion, Parliament has done nothing concerning the Integrity Chamber. Here are some facts and observations showing that Parliament does not see the urgency or the need for the Integrity Chamber.

  1. In the January 30th motion, Parliament instructed Government to prepare a plan of approach, but never followed up on this instruction. Clearly, Parliament’s supervisory function leaves much to be desired in this matter.
  2. Between January and August 2017, the Central Committee of Parliament held several meetings with the Prime Minister concerning the Integrity Chamber but the Committee never saw the need to amend or revoke the decision concerning the Integrity Chamber.
  3. Even after learning that the Kingdom Council of Ministers had tied the hurricane aid to the implementation of the Integrity Chamber, Parliament has not deemed it necessary to review the January motion.
  4. Parliament has also slowed down the process of financial hurricane aid by allowing the meetings concerning hurricane preparedness, disaster management and the recovery of Sint Maarten to drag on for more than six weeks whilst the end of these meetings is still not in sight.
  5. Parliament is seemingly unable to deal with the core problem, which is the Integrity Chamber; hence, we see individual Members of Parliament on their own writing letters to the media and to the Kingdom Council of Ministers concerning the desperately needed financial aid. In my opinion, these letters would have made a greater impact if they had come from Parliament itself.
  6. Many Members of Parliament have raised questions concerning hurricane preparedness, disaster management and the recovery plans for Sint Maarten but have not received satisfactory answers. It appears as if the tone, the agenda and the schedule for the meetings of Parliament are set by Prime Minister and not by Parliament.
  7. Parliament knew long before hurricane Irma hit the island that the target date for the approval of the ordinance of the Integrity Chamber was October 31st, 2017; yet Parliament never pressured Government to ensure that the ordinance would be ready on time.
  8. The Interim National Recovery Plan was presented to the President of Parliament and the Faction Leaders on October 10th 2017. However, to date, this report has not yet been brought to the floor of Parliament. Here again, we see how Parliament is delaying the process.

Given the above observations, Parliament should bear the blame for delaying the aid because, as the highest legislative and supervisory body it instructed the Government, via the January 30th motion, to use whatever means available to block the creation of the Integrity Chamber. The Prime Minister as head of the executive branch is only carrying out the instruction of Parliament

It goes without saying that if our Parliament and Government had done what they had to do from the moment the Integrity Chamber ordinance was rescinded by the Constitutional Court the country would not be in this deadlock today. However, to get out of this dilemma, Parliament should revoke or amend the motion of January 30th, 2017 so as to enable Government to enter into negotiations with the Minister for Kingdom Relations concerning a new deadline seeing that the 31st of October is no longer feasible. Negotiations should also commence as soon as possible regarding the much-needed financial aid for Sint Maarten. Parliament should finalize the meetings with the Prime Minister as soon as possible. Parliament should also discuss and approve the National Recovery Plan as soon as possible.

Parliament, please do not hide behind Government any longer. Step up and lead the country. You owe it to our people!

Leader of the SMCP Wycliffe Smith

DRONES: The New Caribbean Lifestyle.

argoandairbusdrones21102017Revolutionizing the medical, economic, and logistic sectors

Drones are becoming an inescapable reality in the Caribbean. They have already taken the world by storm and are now infiltrating every area of business and of our collective social experience causing the Caribbean to ask some essential questions going into the future. What role will Drones play in bringing true economic and social diversity to the region? What kind of opportunities do incorporating Drones in our training institutions create for the employment future of the citizens of the islands? What level of innovation, licensing, and regulations is the Caribbean prepared to provide and confront?
Change is not coming; it is already upon us. One of the things that the Caribbean should consider short-term, is to develop a regional collaborative team to manage the strategic network of drone movements within each island and between islands, develop policies, regulations and licensing types. A research and development institute could be established and be tasked with the role of innovating new regional and international venture opportunities for businesses, government agencies and private individuals.
It is vital for the Caribbean to understand Drone technology and to understand the crucial role Drones will and can play in the region is from various perspectives. Unmanned Aeronautical Vehicles (UAV’s) as they are often called, are flying objects that have become modern-day key players to facilitate reconnaissance, imagery, and be delivery logistics. They are used to make ground breaking research advancements, and are also becoming a key tool to assist with medical care and business activities.

“The invention which I have described will prove useful in many ways,” wrote the inventor of the drone technology, Nikola Tesla, way back in 1898 in his patent ‘Method of and Apparatus for Controlling Mechanism of Moving Vessels or Vehicles’. He described, in a seemingly prophetic tone, the wide range of possibilities for his new radio-control technology: “Vessels or vehicles of any suitable kind may be used, as life, dispatch, or pilot boats or the like, or for carrying letters packages, provisions, instruments, objects... but the greatest value of my invention will result from its effect upon warfare and armaments, for by reason of its certain and unlimited destructiveness it will tend to bring about and maintain permanent peace among nations.”

Today, the Drone civil industries market impact is seen to be $10 billion with an influence on the following areas private security, law enforcement, real estate, media, film, construction, mining, agriculture, and utilities. The impact of commercial drones is estimated to be US$82 billion and a 100,000-job boost to the U.S. economy by 2025. Looking at these forecasts and the areas being impacted by Drone technology, one is hard pressed to know why the Caribbean is not yet more involved in a greater measure.

One opportunity for the tourism industry in the region is hinted by ‘Dronelife.com’, and suggests to its readers that “travelling with a drone has become an ‘epic way to catalogue... summer exploits’, was now much cooler than taking selfies, and was the best way of capturing a visit to the beaches of the Caribbean”.

The Caribbean island authorities don’t seem ready for the Drone technology. There are little to no regulations or licensing governing their recreational use, business opportunities, import, safety, or privacy of others. There are some sporadic undefined regulations throughout the Caribbean, even to the level of having a complete ban on the use of UAV within the country (Nicaragua).
Only Barbados, has instituted fly zones to help regulate the recreational use of the UAV’s. It recently announced that it is reviewing all rules and processes governing the import and use of drone technology, even though it already restricts recreational flying of UAVs to four designated areas in the country and requires an operating license.

On St. Maarten, the Department of Civil Aviation, Shipping and Maritime Affairs is evaluating a number of requests surrounding UAV’s, giving persons or potential companies the opportunity to acquire a business license to operate a Drone business. One such business intends to provide virtual reality residential and commercial listing opportunities, special events and weddings. In addition, it can inspect flare stacks and power lines, mapping and surveying services, SAR -search and rescue assistance, and to facilitate agricultural assessment.

UAV’s are being used for scientific research in various ways. The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute is using Drones to collect breath samples from humpback whales in a Marine Sanctuary off the coast of Massachusetts. It was the first time the difficult task of collecting whale breath samples was executed along with capturing aerial photos of their bodies. In the Antarctic, scientists are now able to check the health of Antarctic mosses, revealing clues on the pace of climate change. Mosses are sensitive to even minor changes in their living conditions. Traditionally, the researchers had to tramp through difficult terrain to collect data on them. Using the specially-designed drones is faster, kinder to the environment, and deliver detailed images that satellite imagery cannot match.

Drones are becoming of increasing importance in the medical field. Not only can they be used to deliver medical supplies to remote location, “Medevac Drones” are developed to move medically critical persons.

In the commercial world, UAV’s are being used to solve and facilitate essential beneficial adjustments to our daily experience. Among the companies that are employing Drones as an increasingly essential part of their business dynamics are: UPS, DHL, Royal Mail, Amazon Prime Air, British Telecom, AT&T, BBC, Microsoft, Shell, etc. Drones are used by law enforcement agencies, National Park Rangers in Africa use them, the Dubai's Roads and Transportation Agency has drones. To round off the examples of the use of UAV’s, the military uses them as spy vehicles and militarized combat drones to carry payloads to locations more than fourteen hours away and hit the target with a 100% accuracy.

Drones provide opportunities for the Caribbean. It is a new area of business activities that should seriously be explored and considered for development in the region.

by ir. Damien Richardson

Changing Caribbean Economies.

budslabbaert05102017The Caribbean is being stuck with economies that are over-proportionally depending on revenue from tourism and related activities. No, this is not just about hurricanes. If it wasn’t the weather, then it was the Zika virus or a recession. It is an economy that was directed in an unsafe direction.

What was in the past is history and what evolved over the years shall not be judged. There is no time for blame games and this is not around politics or politicians from the past until today. It is not about one particular territory but rather about a whole region. What happened yesterday in one location may happen tomorrow in another, or even happen to all. But, as of today, changes are required.

When it’s time for changes, and while being aware of potential risks or dangers, then it may be considered negligence if one doesn’t make appropriate real tangible changes. Bringing matters back to ‘normal’ after an unfortunate event is about the same as not making changes. Not being able to make changes, is not being able to respond, or ‘ir-response-able’.

Some rave about the Caribbean being the most significant tourism region. That may be true when comparing geographical regions. Considering that the main tourism season lasts approximately half a year, then from an economy viewpoint, it only is a half-truth. Things are never what they seem. Yet, the complacent species may think that what seems to be is always better than nothing. That is no-good for the well-being of an economy and its community.

If tourism revenue is 70-80 percent of an economy, and that tourism season lasts about 6-months, it means that the economy is running on half capacity. If an event hits the tourism industry, the economy will be in shambles. Using glue to put the broken pieces together is neither a solution nor necessary change. Promoting more tourism activity to fill up the capacity gap is like using one hand to wave the flag and the other hand to hold up the pants. It is a losing game because it represents an even more undesired increase of dependency on tourism.

Diversification of the sources of revenue in the Caribbean economies should be top priority. More efforts should be made and more funding should be available for international business development that is not depending on tourism. That may mean that foreign business development and investment specialists with a proven track record need to be engaged. They must get the appropriate paraphernalia at their avail to attract new industry segments. This is not about sun, palm trees and white beaches anymore, but more about infrastructure, telecommunication, transportation, etc.

Now that we have the lecturing behind us, let’s try to find solutions. I hate the generic statements that sound like coming from an individual with his head in the clouds, like: “We need a unique global sustainable industry development with a secure return of investment!” Sure. Just take a look under the clouds and see what the reality is. To express it a bit more crudely: “Who looked under the oxtail, doesn’t like the soup anymore!”

It may be difficult to point out an industry segment that would be attracted to settle on an island rather than on a continent. However, they do exist but it may need tougher and more intelligent efforts to bring them in. It could be an innovation, research or development center, horticulture, aquaculture, fashion and design, property rights registration and protection, artistry. These few examples are only providing some food for thought. More ideas are needed. Organizing regional ‘Think-Tanks’ may help.

The Caribbean has a huge amount of capital outside the region and the return of investment of that capital stays abroad. It is called “Human Capital”. Young people who went abroad to study and became too overqualified to come home and no appropriate positions that suit their qualifications are available for them. Some call them the “Diaspora” and think that that’s a great name for it. According to the dictionaries, that word belongs in the category of expressions for displaced persons. Not really something to be proud about. Another scary word that could be used in conjunction with it is “Braindrain”, a continuing dynamic in the region.

What might help stopping the brain drain is something what was listed in the suggestions: innovation research and development centers. Developing knowledge industry. Knowledge can result in solutions. There is always a demand for solutions, and a willingness to pay for it; thus, a market. The intelligence that is bred here locally may attract clientele from abroad. It may result in unique entrepreneurial activities and well-paid positions on island or within the region and the return of investment could remain at home.

‘Human Capital’ falls in the category of ‘Own Capital’. Own capital funds are generally a condition for outside financiers and investors. Without sufficient responsible own capital resources, outside capital givers are not ready for investment. Instead of driving an industry forward that creates employment for room-maids and taxi-drivers, some rethinking needs to be done.

On a different note. It may sound like it is off-the-wall. Studies have shown that the same gene that makes one smarter also makes one more likely to go crazy. And you know what? Being brainy-smart and crazy-cool can lead to more revenue and benefits; it is a proven formula in business and artistry. In business, the brainy-smart outdo the competition; in artistry, the crazy-cool create new styles and trends. Typical is that both outdo their equals by coming up with something more interesting or innovative. The region needs to find something that outdoes others.

We have a challenge on our hands. Being able to handle a challenge with true changes creates strength, but in the meantime...., one cannot throw confetti while the revenues are down.

by Cdr. Bud Slabbaert

Unlawful Closing of Parliament Meeting.

wycliffesmith08022017The Central Committee meeting of Parliament, convened on October 12, 2017 to discuss hurricane preparedness, disaster management and the recovery of Sint Maarten, was closed based on an erroneous ruling. As the Prime Minister, the Honorable William Marlin, was unable to attend this meeting, Acting Prime Minister, the Honorable Raphael Boasman, together with the Honorable Ministers Jacobs, Doncher and Lee substituted for him. After opening the meeting, the Chairlady, the Honorable Sarah Wescot-Williams, announced that there could be a problem with her chairing this meeting. Article 9 of the Rules of Order does not permit her to preside over the meeting due to the fact that she had taken the floor on the topic in the last two meetings. As the first and second acting chairpersons were absent, the meeting would have to be postponed, unless, based on article 95, none of the parliamentarians present objected to her continuing to chair the meeting.

The Chairlady then posed the following question to the Parliament. “Is there any member opposed to the chairperson of parliament, having taken the floor on the topic at hand, can continue the chairing of this meeting nevertheless?”

Immediately, the Honorable MP, Franklin Meyers, requested the floor. “Madame Chair, I oppose the continuation of the meeting for one reason and one reason in particular, it’s the Prime Minister is primarily tasked with the disaster management...however there was a lot of questions that were posed by Members of Parliament to the Prime Minister that wanted to know what the Prime Minister was exactly thinking at the time certain decisions was made and no Member of the Council of Ministers can answer what the Prime Minister was specifically thinking, so I oppose the continuation of this meeting until he, the Prime Minister William Marlin, is present, thank you!"

The Chairlady thanked MP Meyers and then declared, “according to article 95 of the Rules of Order the Parliament can only decide to deviate from the Rules of Order if no member opposes that deviation...! Having stated that. Having heard the opposition of one Member of Parliament to the continuation of this meeting, the meeting regretfully cannot take place.”

Clearly, MP Meyers did not answer the specific question raised by the Chair, who wanted to know if there was any objection to her chairing the meeting. Instead, MP Meyers answered that he was opposed to the continuation of the meeting due to the absence of the Prime Minister. The Chairlady’s ruling to postpone this meeting was obviously based on an erroneous answer. Remarkably though, not one Member of Parliament present stood to a point of order concerning this ruling and so the meeting was closed. This raises a few questions and observations.

Besides being Members of Parliament, the honorable drs. Rodolphe Samuel and Frans Richardson have an added responsibility. They are respectively first and second acting chairpersons of Parliament. Basic courtesy dictates that they should inform the Chair of their absence prior to the meeting. Did both acting chairpersons deliberately not attend the meeting, knowing that the meeting would then have to be postponed? Seeing that MP Meyers was so eager to take the floor just after the opening of the meeting, one wonders if he too were involved in ensuring that this meeting would not take place. In view of the fact that not one of the members of parliament raised objections to the erroneous ruling by the Chair, could it be that, they also colluded in the closing of the meeting. Or perhaps they are so used to business as usual that the ruling of the chair caught them off guard?

Six weeks after the passing of Irma Parliament still has no answers, no plan and seemingly no clue as to what to do next. So now, we see individual Members of Parliament approaching the Kingdom Government on their own. The Honorable MP, Theo Heyliger, has sent a letter, thanking the Dutch Government for their assistance post-hurricane Irma. Furthermore, the Honorable MP, Sarah Wescott-Williams, also sent a personal letter, requesting the Kingdom Government not to attach the Integrity Chamber and border control as conditions to the much the needed disaster aid. The fact that two Members of Parliament approached the Dutch Kingdom on their own is an indication of no cohesion between the parliament and the government. In my opinion, both letters could have had a greater impact if they had been sent by the Parliament, which is the collective representative of the people of Sint Maarten.

On two occasions, during the past parliamentary year, Government and Parliament formed a united block against the Dutch. After hearing the Prime Minister on both occasions, Parliament unanimously passed motions instructing the Government to act. On November 9th, 2016, Parliament instructed the Government to request the Kingdom Minister of Foreign Affairs to address the border dispute with his counterparts in Paris. The motion of January 30, 2017 condemned the action of the Minister for Interior and Kingdom Relations and instructed the Government to use all means available to block the Integrity Chamber. Both instructions were carried out by Government!

If Parliament and Government could unite then, why is so hard for them to cooperate on the matter of disaster aid for the country? Seeing that the Government is dragging its feet on the recovery effort and on hurricane aid from the Kingdom, Parliament should step up and take the lead. Because right now, the people of Sint Maarten are definitely not well served by and do not stand to gain from the current incompatible relationship between Parliament and Government.

Wycliffe Smith
Leader of the Sint Maarten Christian Party

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