Bati Bleki Buzz Weekly Recap April 19th, 2020

Parkietenbos rears its ugly head

If you recall Anouk Balentina, living in the area of the dump and working as a GOA legal advisor, took her employer, or a portion of it, to court demanding the immediate closing of Parkietenbos, the municipal landfill, first opened in 2002.

Balentina lives within smelling distance from the burning pyres. She is a rare-cancer survivor, her children suffer from asthma and respiratory issues, the fumes rising from Parkietenbos have been intolerable for years, but finally not long ago, she decided to ask the court for help so measures could be taken to eliminate the health hazard. She asked the court to restore her Basic Human Right of living undisturbed.

(Sanitation comes under article 25: Right to Adequate Standard of Living.)

The court case was a first. Residents here don’t usually sue GOA for negligence of anything. We usually sit politely and wait for the people in charge of our well-being to act. Most of the time we are forced to wait a long time.

In order to be realistic, the judge granted GOA a stay of three months to act – they said the fastest they could do anything was three months – before the case would be decided on its merits. With or without measures, the nine petitions filed by Balentina regarding the damage and nuisance, smoke, odor, pests, and flies, contain, as you realize, violations punishable by law.

The fires subsided for a while, because the judge obligated GOA to take measures, but in comes CoVid19 and the dump starts smoldering again, under the blanket of TDQ. At night. All witnesses locked up at home. And this time they are burning hazardous waste from the hospital, which by all accounts should be disposed of in the Police incinerator, the one they use to destroy drug seizures.

But no, they are burning medical waste, infectious material, biomedical deliciousness favored by neighborhood flies, who roam the area, at Parkietenbos.  

The burning of the dump during CoVid19 is especially upsetting due to a study which finds a link between air pollution and the increase of CoVid19 death rates.

Balentina gets in touch regularly with the prime minister and the ministers and they reject her calls, block her number, there is no political good will to fix that HUGE challenge in an era where HUGER challenges present, and that is why Balentina turned to the local media, asking for help, as she is cooped at home, unable to open windows, prevented from going outside.

So where is Stichting Parkietenbos, when we need it? Where is the so-called legal body registered by neighbors to fight on their behalf and lobby for the closing of the dump?

Where is the famous task force appointed?

Apparently, Workgroup Waste Processing has been created in 2017, by MinInfra and MinPres, in an effort to appease residents, and pretend to be working on the solution, as a priority.

That is dormant. They now have bigger fish to fry.  

And as is a common practice here, the head of the foundation in doing a great job elsewhere, hired as the PR agency for the government.

They are really doing an excellent job disseminating the correct CoVid19 information, but privately do a great disservice to the neighborhood, they promised to protect.  

Crawling out of the Hole

Last evening, at the nightly press conference, I heard the MinPres repeating the word sacrifice, reiterating it was meant for everyone. Then I heard the phrase NEW sustainable economic model, good for the island, and good for the environment. Wow, I almost fell off my chair, that was fabulous.

But one of my friends blew my balloon stating that she has said that before. Same old. We now need action, not words, he added.

True. It’s been one month of no action, and at the end of the day, we only have one-decision maker who is not making any decisions. Of course, it is politically-correct and democratic to say that you take decisions consulting your team, but as a servant-leader the MinPres is at the bottom of our pyramid, carrying our weight and serving us all, the final decision-maker.

Please make some decisions. Economic ones.

And if you can’t, and wouldn’t, step aside to make room for a business cabinet. We will respect that, we still love you for your excellent leadership in handling the medical aspect of the pandemic, we will forever be grateful.

But

It’s time to think about our economy and looking at Curacao, they followed advice and were approved for 180 million florins over the next 6 weeks, supporting employers to pay their employees and conserving the holy bond between work-giver and worker.

Aruba’s renegade approach of doing our own thing, encourages people to distance themselves from their workplace, breaking down our economic infrastructure.

So please, do what the private sector and the kingdom asks you to do.

You ran Belastingkantoor and your own office, you know something about the REAL WORLD.

The real world is in BIG trouble. Even BIG companies are in danger of collapsing, even ELMAR and WEB are under threat of extinction.

The island’s livelihood will be wiped out IF you do not support business, which in turn supports employees, who will pay AZV and Elmar and Web, and maintain the economy running, on a smaller scale, but running.

We will have thousands of bankruptcies if you do not act now. (More about bankruptcy options, tomorrow.)

So step up to the plate to implement the BES strategies, paying employees 80% or even 60% of their salaries via SVB, with funds that the Dutch will make available, because you presented them with a well-thought-out, kick-ass plan.

Curacao came up with a good program and was granted assistance, that makes sense.

Last week I told you the former MinInfra took it upon himself to host a series of Zoom town hall meetings, with 40 local movers and shakers. He will be sharing a document today or tomorrow based on those conversations, and his findings, will express the fears and hopes of our business community, disappointed by GOA’s economic paralysis.

I hope the document is read and discussed, then the MinPres can take action knowing what her constituents want.

Aruba post CoVid19? We must be nationally dedicated to rebuild our economy with sustainability in mind, no more waste, in all aspects of government, health, food production and consumption, water use and production, energy use and production, education, governance, sanitation, environmental practices, agriculture and industry. If we created a NEW sustainable economic model, trim and lean, using our resources wisely, we have a chance of crawling out of the hole, breathing.

Legal tools to cope with our businesses’ financial crunch

I consulted attorney Jeanot de Cuba about the issue of bankruptcy and what they call in the USA Chapter 11, the temporary suspension of payments.

According to de Cuba, in our current vulnerable state where we don’t know whether the crisis/recession will last 3 to 4 months or one year, it is best to proceed with caution and NOT make any radical decisions. We should continuously assess the situation, and weight common sense against our fear/despair/panic/paralysis.

Don’t proclaim yourself bankrupt in a rush, he says, because you will lose your business.

See if you can navigate the situation, and seek other temporary relief measures.     

Our Inflexible labor laws, he explains, are based on the assumption that employees need protection. Also our rental laws, are based on this social, 19th century idea, and are exceedingly tenant-friendly.

It makes it difficult for business people/owners to unilaterally amend agreements, we always require the court’s help. The law certainly provides the possibility to amend agreements, but at the end of the day it is up to the judge and his world view, to interpret the law and deliver the verdict.

And all this takes time.

In the current never-before, extreme, pandemic situation, the totally unforeseen circumstances created chaos in our economic landscape usually filled with small restaurants, rental places, beauty salons, saturating the market over the past years.

This financial disaster will separate the men from the boys, de Cuba says apologetically, but will also sanitize and clean up our cluttered economy.

In Aruba, in general, talking about bankruptcy or chapter 11 reorganization is still considered taboo, but we should get used to talking about the subject because this will be a daily phenomenon here.

In the case of bankruptcy, you must present in court, then a trustee is appointed who will liquidate assets, pay creditors, a certain percentage of the debt, then the company no longer exists.

But in case owners apply for suspension of payments it will bear creditors off. Then to discontinue labor agreements owners must go to the Department of Labor. If the court granted a suspension of payments, the Department of Labor will follow their lead. Certain rules apply to Collective Labor Agreements, and to essential businesses, which must be taken into account.

This suspension of payments solution is only helpful to those with a strong brand identity, brand following, a good business model, vision, agility and solid business practices. If those find themselves under an extreme, temporary, liquidity crunch, then that’s the way to go.  

Having been granted a suspension of payments, owners get a chance to organize, re-organize, get rid of dead weight, waste, and reinvent themselves.

But first let’s get the virus under control, de Cuba says.

After that we may recreate our business environment, a sustainable lean and trim machine, the weak will die, the strong with survive. The suspension of payments will help.

This is a great opportunity to tweak and fix our business models, digitalize, experiment, innovate, de Cuba concludes.

Local Pride, a source of great produce

For the last two weeks I have been super excited to meet my Local Pride delivery man with my paper bag of baby green, arugula, cucumbers, cilantro, and orange juice. All excellent products.

I called Ashley Krosendijk for a chat about his business.

The farm, on 500 square meters in San Barbola, will be relocated to Boroncana, soon, he says. Water is not an issue at the moment because the partners built a super-efficient system that uses about Awg 400 of water a month to grow 11.000 plants. Which is impressive.

Ashley started out as a chef, but found out he wasn’t crazy about the kitchen. He spent some time as a small scale livestock farmer, raising pigs, goats, sheep and cows, then venture into the public sector, working at Santa Rosa.

It seems to me that as far as his professional development he followed an intuitive, but very helpful path, having mastered planning at Santa Rosa, he learned a lot about sales and the hotels, working for Total Services. He then studied the behavior of our visitors as a temporary taxi driver. All this brought him back full circle to farming, first growing finicky mircogreens and later graduating to baby greens, yes, lettuce! Why? Because he originally wanted to open a salad bar, and needed a reliable source of produce, in order to serve his clients.

Today, Local Pride markets to a network of clients in Noord, Santa Cruz, San Nicolas and Oranjestad with home deliveries going out every day.

The product as I mentioned is 100% delicious.

Alas, the local lending institutions did not want to get involved with the project at the start and it took an off-shore loan to get the business off the ground.

How about taking the business to the next level? Additional investment is required and Krosendijk is looking for investors with a strong belief in the local economy.

A number of other local farms contribute to the home deliveries: Goshen, Cunucu Fresh, and Happyponics. Local Pride regularly gets products from other growers to round up his home deliveries.

What did we learn from CoVid19, I asked?

In the past, Krosendijk explains, the local market shied away from his products, they didn’t buy directly, and were not accustomed to home deliveries, so his best produce went to the hotels. Fresh quality greens were served to visitors, and locals opted to buy tired, refrigerated, container-stored produce, slightly cheaper but definitely inferior.

Now, with our new thinking about cracking down on import, saving our dollars, and feeding our immune system with better ingredients, Local Pride is enjoying a wide following in the local market. The locals saw the light, he reports, buying a good product at a fair price, from the farmer.

Finally, MinFec saw the light

After nearly 5 wasted weeks GOA decided to pursue what Curacao and St Martin have followed from the get go. It was always made clear to Aruba, that if it asked for support in a certain manner, it would require NO special approvals. A Loonderving, salary subsidy, system through SVB is a simple non bureaucratic way to boost the economy, and help out-of-work employees, and it was waiting for Aruba to solicit one, but the MinFec and her advisers, and the misguided MinSAL – social affairs, labor – had other ideas. They were wrong and Aruba almost missed the boat.

It remains a mystery why GOA waited so long to go down the correct path. The Amigoe newspaper article, on 4/14/2020, gave a detailed explanation of the situation. Perhaps Minfec read the article, but on 4/15/2020 she showed signs of a spiritual awakening: In a press release she explained a change of heart, back-pedaling to where she was supposed to be from the start.

Gratefully, 6 weeks late, on May 1st, she will submit the correct document as recommended by CAFT, for Aruba’s employees to receive some funds, via their employers

GOA has difficulties handling the island’s affairs in fair weather, and it is struggling greatly in a storm.

And we have at least 2 more years of economic depression to get through…

About turtle-speed SVB

Rona, why is the Loonderving, the much talked about salary subsidy, the system through SVB, that is so-called simple and non-bureaucratic, the one the private sector is pushing as way to boost the economy,

WHY is this great news?

Now small companies have to keep paying their employees and maybe wait ages for GOA’s refund. One of my employees is on maternity leave and it takes SVB seriously almost a year to compensate. Now small companies need to keep their employees on their payroll and wait?! If we even get the funds from GOA. Maybe I missed the point? How is that good for small businesses??

Sure, this system works very well in the Netherlands, in a way that supports both companies and employees, but I don’t see it happening here. We all know the speed in which GOA operates. Now we are forced to keep employees on the payroll and pay them?? What if GOA compensates us 6 months later? What if they don’t compensate us at all?

Small companies are not that liquid, what shall we do, pay the overdraft charges? What if small companies cannot afford to pay employees BEFORE they get compensated? What happens if they cannot pay them or need to fire them? How is GOA going to save small businesses? Tooooo many questions. Nothing is perfect. Let’s all hibernate and wake up in January 2021.

DIMP announced we can soon pickup our number plates for 2020!

We are living with a control-based GOA, that is just another symptom of our wasteful culture.

In the Aruba of the future, if we do things right from the start, there is need for corrective control, right?

I have been writing about our wasteful number plate system for years. The argument for the yearly CHANGE in number plates was so the police can see from a distance whether or not the vehicle has paid its road-tax.

Also the manufacturer of the plates was classified as friends & family, and as such and deserved a piece of the pie.  

We never stopped to ask why is the police in charge of checking whether or not tax is paid.

The system as is, is already burdened with the largest payroll, and has a lot on its plate, we should remove items from that to-do list, so that remaining services would attain higher levels of service.

In the Aruba of the future, can we absolve the police from road-tax control? No more yearly plates. No more stickers either.

Here’s what we can do:

All vehicles, are subject to road-tax, by law, as a form of payment for our excellent roads and bridges. My calculator says that at Awg 165 x 60.000 cars, GOA collects at least 10 million florins.

Don’t you wonder how much of that actually covers the maintenance costs of the infrastructure?

Why can’t DIMP just e-mail us, sms us, WhatsApp us, with the charge. Just apply the regular existing collection processes, specified by law, including “boets.”

The weekly traffic control for driving-under-the-influence can also weed out and fine the non-payers.

Think about it: The existing system costs more than it brings in.

We could simply get rid of it, it would save us all hidden, indirect and direct costs.

It could also tag the accijns on gasoline and diesel, allocating a certain amount for infrastructure and repair of the roads, the more you drive, the more you pay road-tax. No extra bureaucracy, no extra waste, simple. Why not?

To accommodate the culture of Family & Friends, we turned Aruba into a bureaucratic mess.

Idealismo VS Realismo

Quite a few of my friends shared their secret wish with me lately, “Let us be like Bonaire” or even Statia, where the education and health systems have recently received great upgrades. Bonaire even got a new jail, something Aruba cannot afford.

Both Bonaire, and Statia, Sint Eustatius, formerly part of the Netherlands Antilles, became special municipalities within the kingdom of the Netherlands in 10/10/10, together with Saba to form the BES islands.

So what would happen if Aruba turned the keys over and said, I can’t do it anymore, you do it?

What is holding Aruba back? Pride? An old-fashioned, misguided, 19th century patriotic sentiment? The belief that we are so special and unique and as such must strive for an exclusive and separate identity, which is expensive to keep up, because as a mini state we then need a prime minister, numerous ministers, lots of government employees, a central bank, and other trappings of autonomy, that in a global kind of world just cost us money and do not deliver value to the individual citizen.

We all know that many of Aruba’s residents avoid paying taxes, and hide their income in the famous gray economy because they do not see value in the current arrangement, and refuse to sustain it.

At the onset of the crisis, the MinPres/Minfec asked for 1.3 billion florins as a gift or loan, to help us keep our heads above water. Can you wrap your mind around that number? That means that zero thought was given to making us more efficient and/or sustainable, that means a freeze, we remain crazily bureaucratic and top heavy, living in an alternative universe that only benefits the party in power.

(Effective yesterday, things started moving and the MinPres outlined changes, I will report in my next blog)

One of my friends had solar panels installed on December 4th, 2018. She was told by DOW director YESTERDAY, that Elmar is not cooperating and will not finish the solar installation work to connect her panels, indefinitely.

Another friend who moved a mini market and asked for the liquor license to be relocated to a new address in the tourist area, was answered recently after 18 months, that the law changed and additional paper work is required.

Last week, Setar had 500 clients in Aruba without phone, internet or cable, 8 days without service, as they are not working with a full staff, but will nevertheless charge the same.

This non-existing level of service in the public sector, DIP, SIAD, DIMP, DOW, requires 1.3 billion to save. Is it worth to preserve this Kafkaesque world, where GOA’s employees receive 17 salaries and year and private sector workers get bubkes, the least amount.

We don’t want that anymore. This cannot go on anymore.

I listened to the POR press conference, they went around and around, paid lip-service to the current government, praised leadership, bla-bla, but never discussed any meat and potatoes. It was a waste of my time.

I later read their report and indeed they do mention that the reduction of government operational expenses and income increase are crucial, in the effort to mitigate the impact of Covid19.

ALAS, this impact is so tremendous nothing will mitigate it, just hand the key over, you failed to navigate this ship with 98% hotel occupancy, you cannot do it in crisis.

And the idea of selling assets off is a good one, but moving them around from one GOA entity to the other is cosmetic and will just create more opportunities for friends & family to make money from the internal transactions.

Beside any sale of these entities now, equals a fire-sale, you will never get the asking price, but will be offered 50 cents on the dollar.   

If you do sell off utility companies, Setar, Serlimar, you must keep in mind that water, electricity and communications are very important consumer rights, and must remain accessible and affordable, at all times. How would you make sure of that? By letting go of the monopoly and including very strict conditions into the concessions/licenses. That will also force these semi-government entities to streamline, cut costs and synchronize or merge where possible. New shareholders will also insist on modern governance, efficiency and market/merit based salaries.

As this time, however, it is easier to invite Rijksdienst Belastingen in. We’re past the tipping point, we cannot make it on our own.

Share on:

April 19, 2020
Rona Coster
Bati Bleki by Rona Coster
Bati Bleki by Rona Coster
Bati Bleki by Rona Coster
Bati Bleki by Rona Coster
Bati Bleki by Rona Coster
Bati Bleki by Rona Coster
Bati Bleki by Rona Coster
Bati Bleki by Rona Coster