07 February 2011

Saba, Statia Gear up for Elections

First polling since the two islands were partially integrated by the Netherlands

Daily Herald

ST. EUSTATIUS--No less than five parties will be contesting the first Island Council election under Statia's new constitutional status. The ruling Democratic Party (DP) of St. Eustatius, Progressive Labour Party (PLP), United People's Coalition (UPC), St. Eustatius Empowerment Party (STEP) and independent candidate Wilhelm "Joshua" Spanner will be contesting five seats in the Island Council.

At 9:45am, Spanner was the first to present himself to Head of the Civil Registry, Ricardo Tjie-A-Loi. Asked about his party's name, Spanner replied he would receive a number, not a name. The UPC, headed by former DP member and current independent Island Councilman Reginald Zaandam, was the second party to submit its candidates' list to the Civil Registry. Other names on the UPC list are Elvin Henriques (2), Vilma van Zoest (3), newcomer to the political arena Bernadine Schmidt (4) and Derrick Simmons Jr. (5).

STEP was the next party to present its list. Party leader Franklin Brown, who is determined to win the election, presented a list with three candidates. These include besides Brown, number two Glenn Schmidt, and newcomer in politics Koert Kerkhoff.

Brown said STEP wants to give hope back to the people. "Hope is what STEP stands for and for empowering the people in taking their rightful places back in the community of St. Eustatius, and to strengthen the social and economic development of our island in protecting our local businesses." He encouraged all voters to come out and vote.

Current opposition leader for the PLP Clyde van Putten presented a list with ten candidates. Headed by Van Putten, other candidates on the PLP slate are Millicent Lijfrock-Marsden (2), Laurens Duiveman (3), Richelline Leerdam (4), Arlene Spanner-Schmidt (5), Brenda van Putten (6), Esmond Roosberg (7), Sonaida Smithen-Windefelde (8), Orlando Sanchez Rivera (9), and Renaldo Redan (10).

Van Putten announced that his party and Zaandam's UPC have closed an electoral alliance for the upcoming election. After the signing of the agreement, members of both parties joined for a photo outside the Civil Registry.

The ruling Democratic Party was the last party to present its list of candidates on Tuesday afternoon. Party leader Rueben Merkman led his party and supporters to the Civil Registry under the accompaniment of honking cars.

Some of the other parties had also arrived at the Civil Registry with some pump and circumstance, including balloons on the sound of blowing car horns.

Rueben Merkman is the third member of his family to run for office. His late brother Earl Merkman was the youngest commissioner on Statia, his sister Edris was also a commissioner on the DP slate, and now he has taken up the mantle from Julian Woodley to lead the DP.

Number two on the DP slate is first timer Koos Sneek, current treasurer of the St. Eustatius Business Association. Other candidates include current Island Councilwoman Adelka Spanner (3), newcomer Maritza Patrick (4), Commissioner Julian Woodley (5), first timer Maya Leon Pandt (6), Donald Zimmerman (7), Jeremiah "Jerry" Obispa (8) and Commissioner Roy Hooker (9).

The process at the Civil Registry went smoothly and without incidents.

Island Governor Gerald Berkel and Acting Prosecutor Jacques van der Horde and members of the Main Voting Bureau were on hand to monitor the process, while members of the public were anxiously waiting to hear whose names would be on the political slates.

As usual, the candidates will be contesting five seats in the Island Council. The number of seats in the Island Council has not been increased under the island's new status, but with the introduction of the principle of dualism the newly elected commissioners will no longer also be members of the Island Council.

During previous drafts of the law on the special municipalities of Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba (WolBES) different numbers have been discussed, up until a nine-member Island Council. The final version of the law, as passed and amended by Dutch Parliament, left the number of seats at five. This all means that the two-member Executive Council will need the cooperation of a five-member Island Council for the approval of ordinances, policies and decisions.

Party lists submitted on Saba Nomination Day

Wednesday, 19 January 2011 00:46 .SABA--Governor Jonathan Johnson officially received the electoral party lists with the names of candidates for the March 2 Island Council Election on Tuesday. Windward Island's People's Movement (WIPM) and Saba Labour Party (SLP) are the two parties that will take part.

At 10:00am, represented by its leader Rolando Wilson, WIPM submitted a preliminary list of six candidates.
The SLP, represented by Ishmael Levenstone, followed suit at 11:00am, submitting a list with three candidates. Current party leader Akilah Levenstone's name was absent from this list. She announced her withdrawal from politics after the election. After the registration, a follow-up, closed-door meeting was held between the party leaders and the Governor.

Acting as chairman of the Main Voting Bureau, Governor Johnson said a public meeting will be held on Friday, January 21, whereby he will officially announce the names of the candidates. Election Day is set for Wednesday, March 2, when all eligible voters are called to cast their votes for one of the five persons who will represent the community in the Island Council. Two polling stations will be available: one in The Bottom and the other in Windwardside.

While in the past voters were required to cast their votes in the polling station closest to their residence, the current rules allow voters to freely choose where they want to vote. Following the October 10, 2010, integration of Saba into the Netherlands, new laws and regulations have become applicable in local elections.

These new electoral laws will be posted on Website http://www.rijksdienstcn.com/ of the Kingdom Department for the Dutch Caribbean (Rijksdienst Caribisch Nederland, RCN).

RCN communication advisor on Saba and Statia Alida Francis assured that efforts are currently underway to have the laws translated and posted both in English and Dutch by the end of January.

More information will thus become available to the public in an effort to dissipate any misinformation or confusion.


Bonaire Adjusts to 'Public Entity' Status of Partial Integration

Bonaire Island Elections in March 2011

Bonaire Reporter

The first elections since the new constitutional structure that dissolved the Netherlands Antilles and integrated Bonaire, Statia and Saba into The Netherlands will take place on Wednesday, March 2, 2011. The election is analogous to Dutch elections for the provincial councils. The “public entity of Bonaire is responsible for organizing the Island Council elections and informing citizens about the process of this election. The RCN (Rijksdienst Caribisch Nederland) is responsible for encouraging citizens to use their right to vote.

Therefore, The Netherlands and the Island government together provide information to the public. For the first time, Dutch voting rules will apply. Under the slogan, "You also do it?" an intensive campaign will be launched, involving a range of media and a door-to-door leaflets.

Five-year Residency Requirement for Voting Upheld

Bonaire Reporter

Foreigners residing on Bonaire legally five years or longer can vote in the Island Council elections in March. That’s what the court ruled in a case filed by PHU President Rafael Santana against the government, which had earlier rejected his appeal. The ruling means that long-time adult foreign residents can vote in municipal elections. The Dutch Second Chamber had approved an amendment presented by Member of Parliament Johan Remkes to forbid foreigners to vote in the new overseas Dutch BES Island municipalities (Saba, Statia and Bonaire) because that would indirectly influence elections for the Dutch First Chamber. But because this amendment has not yet been introduced, the court found there is no justification to bar immigrants from voting, which would constitute unequal treatment under various international treaties.

Modernised Commonwealth Status Proposal Expected by March

 Opposition Popular Democratic Party finalising a more autonomous governance model

By the first week of March, the Popular Democratic Party should have a new definition of what an enhanced commonwealth should look like. That’s more than five months after PDP President Héctor Ferrer issued an order to the   Status Commission to draft a new version of   the more than 54-year old commonwealth status should be and what new powers it would incorporate.

“We have met with former governors, mayors and other leaders to discuss economics and political issues,” PDP Rep. Jorge Colberg said. Colberg, along with fellow lawmakers, Brenda López de Arrarás, Carmen Yulín Cruz, Antonio Fas Alzamora and PDP Vice-president Carlos "Charlie" Delgado, had been working on the new  version for more than eight months.

Whatever ultimately emerges from the meetings conducted by the Commission would be defined in a new pact between two sovereign nations, Puerto Rico and the United States. Although the discussion had been closely guarded and many issues are still pending, Colberg confirmed that on at least one aspect the group has agreed.

“The consensus is that the current federal law would need to be replaced by a new form of pact between the United States and Puerto Rico,” the lawmaker said.

Several sources have told the Daily Sun that the new version of the commonwealth will include enhanced powers that will allow the island to enter, as an equal partner, in several well known international organizations such as the Organization of American States (OAS) and the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
Another aspect added under the new pact would be the power of the island to negotiate trade agreements with other nations, but only those which have diplomatic relationship with the U.S.

Colberg cited the recent enactment by Gov. Fortuno of a trade clause in negotiations with Spain that would allow the island to take advantage  of preferable trade status as a reason that the commonwealth is more viable than the statehood movement has admitted.

The Commission is also looking to deal with the complicated issue of the utilization of the U.S. merchant marine as the sole maritime goods transportation fleet.

“The use of the merchant marine had always been in discussion by the PDP. We are waiting for a legal opinion on the matter but this is an important part of the process,” Colberg said.
(Editor's Note: Puerto Rico is eligible for associate membership in UNESCO with United states concurrence. under the existing commonwealth status, whilst the constitution of the OAS provides only for independent country membership or observer status. The impending White House Report on Puerto Rico should shed light on the Obama administration's interpretation of how much autonomy would be acceptable under an enhanced commonwealth - the previous two Bush White House reports on Puerto Rico in 2005 and 2007 had left little space for any enhancements - unless the territory moved to a free association arrangement.       )

Autonomous Sint Maarten Discusses Cooperation with Dominican Republic

Prime Minister Wescot to develop cooperation protocol with Dominican Republic

GREAT BAY, Sint Maarten (GIS) – Honorable Prime Minister Sarah Wescot-Williams, will be working on a cooperation protocol with the Dominican Republic in the coming months in the areas of education, health and micro business trade development.

The first official visit of the Head of State President of the Dominican Republic Lionel Fernandez to the country of Sint Maarten could also materialize in the coming months with the official signing of the protocol between both countries.

The aforementioned is a result of an official working visit by a delegation from the Dominican Republic comprising of Vice President of Foreign Affairs, Economics and Trade Honorable Juan Guiliani and Hon. Minister of State Miguel Mejia who visited the Prime Minister on Wednesday.

Parties discussed several issues of mutual interest between both countries. Among them are educational opportunities such as a scholarship exchange program for students in the hospitality field. The Dominican Republic has several international hospitality training schools and with the future SBO School on Sint Maarten, this exchange could be a viable option in the region.

Another important area discussed was public health. According to the Prime Minister, an inventory will need to be done with respect to what medical services and specializations the Dominican Republic could offer and at what cost.

“We must look at how medical opportunities in the Dominican Republic could complement what we have on the island and involve relevant stakeholders in this process.

“When it comes to medical referrals, as a country we are now able to decide where persons should be referred to for further medical care. Several Sint Maarteners have made us of the medical care in the aforementioned country. The Dominican Republic is close by and offers excellent specialized medical care at a lower cost when compared to the United States as an example,” Hon. Prime Minister Sarah Wescot told the Government Information Service (GIS).

Where it concerns the development of trade involving micro, small, medium and large businesses, this is an area to be pursued to the benefit of the citizens of both countries where it concerns products and services.
Sint Maarten’s strategic position as a transshipment port and further growth of this business also formed part of the discussion.

The Prime Minister said that she is looking forward to a follow-up meeting that will lead to the signing of a protocol agreement between both countries.The initial steps will be taken by the respective departments of foreign affairs of both countries in developing the outlines for the protocol.

The Prime Minister envisages this step as one of many yet to come, carrying out the vision of the UP/DP Government for stronger regional ties and collaboration.

American Samoa Government Cuts Workers' Hours

Gov. Togiola hopes to save $3 million

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa – American Samoa’s Governor, Togiola Tulafono is implementing a reduction in work hours plan for all American Samoa Government (ASG) employees paid for by local revenue and it goes into effect this weekend. This is a move praised by Senate Galeai Tu'ufuli, who has insisted that tough decisions should be made to reduce the ASG payroll and assist the government with its financial woes instead of imposing new taxes on residents.

A reduction in working hours, which is expected to save some US$3 million in local revenue, is for employees of the Executive Branch only. It includes all directors, the lieutenant governor and the governor, said Dr. Jacinta Galeai, the communications director for the Governor's Office, when asked yesterday afternoon for confirmation. It was not immediately clear in the document breaking down the reductions, what the US$3 million savings references per payroll, per month, or for the total year 2011.

It should be noted that last month during testimony before the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee, ASG Treasurer Magalei Logovi'i gave a one page summary report to the panel of what he later described as the ‘fixed payments' the local government has to pay monthly. In the summary was a monthly figure of "US$5.44 million for payroll local only and based on 2010 expenses."

The furloughs were first announced during a cabinet meeting yesterday morning, which was followed in the afternoon by the governor's memorandum titled "Reduction in Hours for ASG Employees." The memo included a note to cabinet members, saying that as the governor stated during the cabinet meeting, unless otherwise directed, this reduction in hours will be effective beginning Feb. 6.

To be clear, said the Governor, the reduction in hours does not apply to:

- Grant funded employees
- Two year contract specialists
- Grant portion of grant and locally funded employees
- School-level employees of the Department of Education, specifically those that are physically located at the school sites, inclusive of bus drivers and on-site school lunch staffs that are funded with local funds; [and] locally paid bathroom monitors.

"The hour reductions are configured in an effort to target the reduction in a way to minimize the impact on the lowest earners," he said. According to the data provided to the directors, the reduction depends on the employee's salaries. It says that employees paid below US$10,400 annually up to US$20,800 will get four hours deducted every pay period. The number of affected employees in this category is 1,788.

For employees paid US$20,800 to US$49,999 there will be a reduction of 6 hours per pay period affecting 728 workers; those paid US$50,000 to US$62,400 will have 8 hours deducted, affecting 36 employees; and there are 31 employees paid above US$62,400 and they will get 12 hours reduction.

In total, 2,583 government employees will be affected, according to the Government data.

Togiola said each director and agency head is responsible for scheduling their staff in order to assure the continuation of services to the public. He also said that cabinet members are responsible for ensuring that the hour reduction plan is carried out as smoothly as possible.

At least three government officials told Samoa News yesterday afternoon that they hope the Fono leadership will do the same when it comes to employees of the Fono, especially since lawmakers are only in session for 90-days out of the year.

"There are so many Fono employees and what do they do when the Fono is not in session? I have also been in the Fono a couple of times during hearings and witnessed at least four to five Fono employees sitting in the gallery watching the proceedings," one official said in an e-mail message. "If the Fono is really concerned with the financial shortfall their employees should also get a reduction in hours, since their pay is all locally funded," said the second official. Both officials asked not to be identified.

Togiola had already stated publicly that he hopes the Fono will follow suit when the executive branch does implement a reduction duriing working hours.

"I congratulate the Governor for doing the right thing. This is the smartest thing he has done so far, declared Sen. Galeai Tu'ufuli, after learning about the reduction in hours. This move should have been carried out from the beginning when the administration knew there was a problem with revenue collection."

Galeai said, a testimony received by the Senate showed a US$7.2 million shortfall which was also the Governor's statement to the Fono and then on Wednesday, new information surfaced with the estimated shortfall climbing to US$12 million, which was revealed during a House committee hearing on Wednesday.

"At this point, we don't have the accurate information in terms of the government deficit, whether it is US$7.2 million or US$12 million, he said. But this new cost saving measure by the Governor, in reducing hours, is a very, very wise move. The Governor might not like my comments but a leader has to do the right thing and make those tough decisions," said the Manu'a lawmaker, who insisted during hearings on the administration's proposed revenues measures that the public should not be burdened with new taxes.

Turks & Caicos Former Minister, in Anguilla, Discusses Decolonisation


The Anguillian

Talk Show host and former Cabinet Minister in the Turks and Caicos Islands, Robert Hall, said the current situation in his homeland and issues in Anguilla were not identical, but that there were some similarities.

Hall made the statement while visiting the island at the invitation of the Concerned Citizens associated with the Anguilla United Movement Government. His itinerary included a series of radio interviews early last week, participation in a forum on Friday, January 28, in the House of Assembly and an evening of prayer and reflection at the Airport grounds on Sunday, January 30. Those who led the forum were Josephine Gumbs-Connor host of “On The Spot”; Elkin Richardson of ”To The Point”; Timmy Webster, host of "What's Up" and Patrick Hanley "Sheriff".

Mr. Hall said in one of his radio interviews that he was invited to Anguilla by the Concerned Citizens to offer them “solidarity in their ongoing struggles with the British administration”. He made the point that he had not come “to interfere in the local politics or not necessarily to bash the Governor” whom he did not know, but that he would be making broad statements and “who the cap fits it fits.”

One of the matters on which he was questioned, was independence. He explained that ordinarily he was not a supporter of political independence for the Turks and Caicos Islands as he felt, among other things, that there was a need for a great deal of preparation of the people for that status. He charged, however, that he and others there were now beginning to look in that direction “because of the attitude of the British” who suspended the Constitution and took over the administration of the territory.

The difference which the forum at the House of Assembly provided, compared with the radio interviews, was that it was possible for members of the public to ask questions on various matters.

Marcel Fahie, a retired top Public Servant and Economist, made the following observation: “I seem to be hearing independence from something, but it just can’t be about from. It also has to be independence to do certain things. The idea of educating and getting our people ready for independence has a lot to do, in these present times, to do what.” He noted that Anguillians and others had the benefit of looking at many years of independence enjoyed by a lot of former colonial countries, and a chance to look at their pitfalls in terms of how they went into it and learnt their lessons. He stressed that there was a real need to approach the matter properly and to be very careful about shouting for independence at this point in time.

Mr. Hall replied, in part: “I would not want to be accused of dabbling in your affairs but, for example, if the Turks and Caicos Islands were to move away from Britain, then we would be moving to a stage where we are no longer dependent on them for external affairs. The matter of defence is hardly relevant…When the Columbian drug pushers occupied some of our islands, they [the British] thought they could depend on the Americans for that. And so if we had to take that step, we can forge such relations with the United States or other countries where we have much more in common; so moving from that relationship with Britain, is simply giving you that right to negotiate on your own.”

He said he would not like to see his territory “become independent and a beggar of the world, but that every country had at some stage to borrow…” He added: “In this colonial setting, if you want to borrow some money, the United Kingdom has to agree to that and if it doesn’t, then you are stuck for a while.”

 The dialogue continued as follows -

Fahie: So one of the key reasons is to be able to borrow without anybody putting restrictions on you?

Hall: It is not just borrowing. You have to look at borrowing in the context of having the ability to deliver on the mandate you gave your people to provide certain basic needs, and to advance their cause and the country’s development, without being hindered by this colonial power.

Fahie: (Citing IMF restrictions on borrowing by independent, developed, developing and debt-ridden countries): “I am only saying that the educational process is much more complex than we think. I don’t want us to talk about the ability to borrow as if it is just to be free from Britain and to do so. The whole world is inter-dependent and the United Nations system has a lot of checks and balances to do with borrowing …both for short-term stabilisation through the IMF, and long-term through the World Bank and IDB. It is a complex thing.

Hall: (Caught by Fahie’s explanation): “What I am saying to you, [is that] you can do your country well in educating them….”

Mr. Fahie was also invited to appear on one of the local talk shows to share his point of view with the Concerned Citizens on current matters relating to independence.

Parliamentary Secretary, Haydn Hughes, who took the floor, presented a different perspective. He emphasised that there was a need for vigilance at all times. He recalled that, in their latter stages in office, Ministers of the former administration had mentioned independence quite often. He stated that he was proud to have been one of the founders of the Anguilla Independence Movement in 1999/2000. “At that time I thought that we should go into independence; but now I know we must go into independence,” he asserted. “I know of a fact that the people of Anguilla must go into independence. Just today I met with an American gentleman and he said: ‘I don’t like the idea of independence for Anguilla. I respect it, but I don’t like the idea.’

“I said, 'well I am sure the Founding Fathers would have had a disagreement with you… the great America had a revolution…and they freed themselves…'”

See also:  http://tcweeklynews.com/anguilla-uprising-sparks-action-in-tci-p2339-1.htm