Bati Bleki Buzz Weekly Recap, April 26th, 2020

The FTA Laundry List

Reportedly a meeting last week brought GOA together with union leaders. GOA said its piece, then the FTA, representing some of GOA’s employees, sent back an informed counter-offer.

They did a good job; they are not crazy. This is going to be a long column. The FTA made 32 suggestions and with help from my learned friends, we considered each of the items on its own merit.

But before we start we must ask/say: The Unions should have reserve funds for cases such as strikes and unexpected work interruptions. Why isn’t the Union paying its members? If they have been collecting membership dues, then they must have a built-in reserve!

We would also like to see the FTA’s financial statement; would that be OK??

1.Agreed. All work places should adhere to a strict Covid19 prevention protocol.

2.Granting social foundations and organizations more assistance? This item should be examined case-by-case. Not blindly across the board.

3.All workers previously on payrolls in the private sector are to received 75% of their salaries? If that is feasible, sure, but deeper salary cuts should be made, wherever possible

4.Here, the FTA came up with a salary concept with arbitrary numbers/percentages as a suggestion. BUT, for GOA to lend money to companies so they can pay salaries to workers that are not producing, because there is no work, is a bit insane and counterproductive. Why create a system by which companies go into insurmountable debt?

5.Yes, in the event that employees get paid, AZV and SVB premiums should also be paid, if at all possible.

6.Companies who pay their employees more than 75% of their salaries get a tax credit at that same amount, on future bills? We should be careful with this. It might lower GOA’s income for years to come. And GOA will have to make that up somewhere.

  1. Suspend all payments to GOA except AZV and SVB?? NO. Some companies are much less effected by the crisis and can continue to pay their taxes, and should. If you discontinue payments the hole this proposal would create is way too large and unnecessary.
  2. Suggesting that banks lend money to companies, to pay their employees, funds they have no real chance to recover, puts savings of many working people, held by the banks, at risk, especially if the money went as a loan to a company already struggling.
  3. Defer payments by the banks? This has already been done voluntarily. Also, my learned friends suspect the banks will continue to be flexible and use sound judgement on a case-by-case basis.
  4. Good idea: Teach locals via social media, TV and radio how to better manage their money. This is long overdue.
  5. Terrible idea. To suggest that every agreement previously made, other than the one suggested by the FTA, is nil and void. If a company has reached an agreement with its workers which ensures its survival and protects future jobs, then that agreement must be respected and honored.
  6. This item suggests to cut redundancy and reduce the number of GOA’s consultants by 30%, effective January 2021. My learned friends believe that putting people out of work in these times is irresponsible. Their salaries should be cut and benefits eliminated. And in principle, down the line, the way GOA hires, revised.
  7. Reducing all allowances to zero, among public employees, ministers, parliamentarians, directors of GOA’s state companies, is a good idea. This item also suggests a revision in salary scales of all public sector employees which is a giant, much-needed, undertaking. The way this item is worded is very unclear and can mean a million things.
  8. The FTA suggest a 10% salary cut across the board, for all public sector employees and we think we can consider a steeper cut. Why are they asking the private sector to take a 25% cut, and allocated just 10% to the public sector?
  9. Reduce the rent GOA is paying to privately held real estate in GOA’s service, by 50%. Very good strategy, wherever possible. GOA has been known to rent expensive real estate from political supporters. This has always been a good way of ‘giving back’ to a political alley, at the public’s expense.
  10. Serlimar to grant the public incentives, to encourage clients to pay their bills? Shame on you Serlimar for failing to collect. Take a page out of Setar/Elmar/Web book.
  11. The smart use of GOA’s employees is recommended especially in the PR sector. FTA suggests, and I applaud the initiative, to revive GOA’s own PR machine, the defunct BUVO, mandating the use of a central PR service instead of each minister and each department employing their own private sector entity. I regularly receive PR pieces from agencies who command fortunes for posting idealized pictures on social media. Drastic reduction? A must.
  12. The FTA is asking for directors’ salary reviews. And we say, a thorough review of all organizational charts, at all levels pf public employment not just directors, is required, all salaries and job descriptions from top to bottom.
  13. MOST IMPORTANTLY: Former Minister Bermudez came up with a great plan which should be implemented ASAP. The transition from direct to indirect taxes. No MinPres ever had the balls to do it. Maybe the women at the top now, do. This is their chance to do something BIG and lasting for our country.
  14. This items talks about raising the ceiling, on income tax, SVB and AZV. It is unclear what the FTA means. Loonbelasting has no ceiling. Besides my learned friends do not agree that the ceiling on premiums should be raised.
  15. The FTA states we have 1.6 billion (!!!!!) on the street in uncollected taxes and would like to lower than amount by 30% in the next 6 months, by encouraging people to pay at a discount. Good. Also don’t forget to reward those with a perfect payment record.

And on that same subject: The island should stop workers from sending money to their families abroad. The long lines at Western Union, bleed Aruba of dollars it desperately need.

  1. Change our laws to prevent the share-sale of state-owned companies? If executed correctly it can be an excellent source of income.
  2. Intensify the availability of Enseansa pa Empleo courses to teach the unemployed new skills. Fantastic initiative.
  3. Reopen some employment channels, to jumpstart our stagnant economy especially in construction of a better tourist product, and the improvement of our infrastructure. YES, as long as it is responsible in the sense that it would NOT contribute to the spread of Covid19.
  4. Diversify our economy, in sectors outside tourism, food production, fishing, livestock, local products. SURE: BUT as long as our tax system, labor laws, CBA regulations don’t change it will not be attractive to invest here.
  5. Allow all online work, with respect to social distancing? Duh, there are no restriction on online work. Of course, social distancing is the new normal.
  6. Allow on line teaching, training, to improve our level of service? There are no restrictions on that. The ATA is already conduction My Promise to Aruba online courses, for free-of-charge certifications.
  7. The FTA is asking to grant help to those unemployed that are now illegal, assisting in repatriating them to their country of origin now that their source of income dried out. My learned friends agree in kind. asking: Is it humane to just toss those people out after they have contributed to our growth?
  8. the FTA requests a special bonus to award essential employees for their diligent contributions during trying times to the tune of a 50% of a month’s salary, bonus. Why? Should people ONLY work during easy times? And be given extra for being lucky enough to have maintained an income?!
  9. The FTA asks that monies saved by above measures are to be handed to the Netherlands in payment of their monetary assistance. Self-understood.
  10. Monthly review of all measures? Makes sense to remain flexible.
  11. If all measured mentioned here FAIL to position Aruba in a more stable social-economic and financial situation, a Solidarity Tax may be introduced, as plan B.

My Learned friends say: Not so fast, let’s see if your plan A is working, must have confidence in your own plan.

SEPPA/SIMAR Laundry List

So if I published the FTA laundry list, it is only respectful to publish SEPPA/SIMAR’s list of demands in negotiating with GOA, though it is ALL for naught, we’re all wasting our time arguing, we should have argued all along when waste was going on, but so be it, arguing is part of the process of acceptance.

Reality check: We are under strict financial supervision with more stringent demands, conditions and criteria that will reach far into our social, economic, health, finance, GOA apparatus and governance areas. The Rijksministerraat decided on STRUCTURAL REFORMs, and that decision is an integral part of loan possibilities. THE SOONER we accept, the better off we are!!

The SEPP/SIMAR communication is very criollo, I am surprised that they write so informally about serious situations. The part entitled “Morto di un, ta bira Pan di e otro,” is just ridiculous, a political rant that contributes absolutely NADA.

I expected some Hoch Papiamento, a refined and classy version of the language to prove SEPPA/SIMAR are educated and cultured folks, but encountered a very casual communication.

However, some of their proposals are good:

  1. Recall the two ministers from abroad, Washington and The Hague. Not a great initiative, we will need them in the future and remember there are no flights and secondly they will not be able to cancel their office and home leases, and find housing here, just institute PAY CUTS, same as all other ministers and curtail all unnecessary spending.
  2. Reduce number of ministers: Which minister would agree to be fired along with his entire staff? They simply need to take a PAY CUT and curtail all non-vital spending. (I SAY: If you ask any minister for their opinion they would tell you they are the BEST candidates for their crisis management job, they won their seat, in a democratic election. Now what??!!)
  3. YES, reduce all unnecessary expenses, representations, allowances, of Ministers and Parliamentarians. (I SAY: Go thru the list of cell phone holders, crack down on all internet, cable, and phone communications.)
  4. Crack down on the exorbitant number of “coordinators.” Again, firing people doesn’t make sense, now, but across-the-board PAY CUTS serve the same purpose in cutting expenses.
  5. LIFO: Last in first out. With salaries running between 7,000 and 15,000 many are double dippers, they work and collect fat pensions, if someone has a GOA pension income of 4 to 5 digits, they should NOT be taking a salary at the same time, at least not from GOA.
  6. Same as the FTA, SEPPA/SIMAR wants to crack down on the price of renting real estate used by GOA. My learned friends are of the opinion that killing companies is not the answer, the negotiation of rent reduction, is reasonable. Sure, some “sweetheart deals,” gotta go, they should NEVER have been made, but there is no objective/legal way to differentiate between good and bad leases, so all must be negotiated and REDUCED.
  7. My learned friends are in agreement, that costs of cars in GOA’s service must be reduced. This is not an option. It is a must. But on the other hand we do not want to kill our car dealers, they are not selling any cars, so leases might be very important for their survival and thus the future of their employees, and they pay taxes, and make repairs possible, but all excesses must be TRIMMED and all leases REVISED.
  8. And sure, wherever possible, GOA officials should drive their own cars, and provide their own transportation to work just like the humble workers do! I say: Kiss your bodyguards and drivers good-bye!
  9. Cut, Cut, Cut, fully agree, reduce salaries, this is an austerity measure and GOA has to serve as a role model for locals. Pay Cuts at more than the suggested 20%, are required.
  10. Yes, Yes, all board members of nationally owned companies should NOT be compensated, it is an honor and duty to serve ones’ country as a board member and contribute expertise. In this case, the prestige should suffice, no compensation, the way it once was!
  11. Indeed GOA needs a salary ceiling, where according to SEPPA/SIMAR ministers may earn maximum possible, Awg 12,000, and no other consultant should top that ceiling. Good suggestion. Gone are the high five-digit consultant fees.
  12. Cut all travel, of course, there are no flights. What travel needs to be cut?? Once the airport reopens only truly vital travel should be allowed, and the incessantly travelling Minister of Transportation will just have to stay put.
  13. Drastic reduction in lawyer fees and consultant firms is de rigueur.
  14. Eliminate the 25% allowances. (Wow, that was insanely generous at my expense.)
  15. Eliminate overbruggingstoelage, some kind of crazy benefit of former parliamentarians, my learned friends agree, Aruba is the only country in the universe where having worked for four years you then get an allowance for life. if the former Minister/Member of Parliament has an income, he is not eligible to another allowance, and that should be the norm going forward.
  16. Stop renting expensive equipment and machinery. As much as possible, some things need to continue of course, but less digital copiers, and simpler coffee makers are recommended.
  17. All celebrations, parades and manifestation stopped. We are in an austerity mode.
  18. No more computer purchases, car purchases, cell phones, and phone service purchases – it should be limited and controlled as much as possible.

The unions conclude with a request in the name of transparency, to be allowed to review GOA’s expenses by department.

Good job!

Compulsory reading

From a letter: Emergency Package for Jobs and the Economy
From: The Secretary of State for the Interior and Kingdom Relations
To: the President of the House of Representatives
The Hague, April 16, 2020

…..The Kingdom Council of Ministers has decided to make additional loans dependent on a package of measures aimed at structural reforms.

In recent years, numerous agreements have been made with the countries – including Aruba — to reduce the vulnerability of their societies, which have not yet been sufficiently fleshed out.

The C(A)ft and the IMF have also repeatedly advised on structural reforms.

The Kingdom Council of Ministers has given instructions to countries to comply with mutually agreed budgetary rules.

Unfortunately, all agreements, advice and directions have not been followed or have been insufficiently followed.

As a result, no robust government was created and there are no sustainable public finances.

Programs to strengthen the administration and the civil service have also had little or no effect.

Partly because of this, there has also been no question of building up financial, institutional and social resilience and of an administrative structure to be able to withstand crises of any kind.

Given these experience facts, conditions will apply to additional financial support.

Conditions in areas such as the economy, the labor market, the capital market (financial systems and their supervision), the pension system, the social security system, the health care system, the government organization and the administration. The aim of this is to increase the resilience of the countries themselves against future economic shocks.

For that reason, I have invited the countries to come up with their own proposals that contribute to the sustainable strengthening of the (socio-) economic structure and thus further advance the self-development of the autonomous countries. Talks will be held with the countries about this in the coming period. The aim of the package of measures is that the economies and public finances of all three countries will emerge stronger from this crisis.

End of quote from letter.

Signed: The Secretary of State for the Interior and Kingdom Relations,

The News for Wednesday

I looked at the Commissie Herstel En Innovatie Aruba chart with great interest and thought:

  1. Too many committees and taskforces, too many cooks spoil the broth.
  2. Layer upon layers of inefficiency and ineffectiveness. During the crisis MinPres has the authority to take over any minister’s position and make decisions regarding finance and labor. Why does she need so much baggage, just lead woman, lead!
  3. On the other hand, at least she is doing something about it and inviting feedback from the private sector.
  4. I see Central Bank of Aruba, who couldn’t get a handle on our expenses in good times, and the Aruba Banker Association, which only has its eyes on its bottom line, and ATA, that couldn’t protect its precious ATA bank resources – my money – against a plundering minister, at the helm. Not great.
  5. We’re waiting for the list of people involved, most qualified private sector players have a life to lead, and no time to save the country. They are busy saving their own businesses. Public sector players? I don’t expect much from them, they had their turn.

The FASE Failure

GOA’s update: 10,000 persons have registered, however, only 3,000-4,000 persons have been approved to receive the assistance (due to incomplete documentation).

Think about it.

A total failure in data collection.

This what you get when incompetence marries good intentions. Why didn’t you let SVB assist with these processes? They already have all information stored in their data bank. You have now wasted a lot of time and energy with these simple processing mistakes.

The MinSal – social affairs, and labor – came out swinging, he hatched a plan, having invested zero thought in it. Then he back pedaled. No, you’re not getting Awg 950 from the government, you are getting UP TO Awg 950.

One of my friends reported, he negotiated to his employees Awg 940, so GOA comes in with an additional Awg 950 for them. He was flabbergasted finding out that his crew gets an additional Awg 10.

The instructions were so confusing that the ministry had clarify its instructions and demand additional documents, several times.

When you design a fail proof process, zero bureaucracy, no red tape, you get it right the first time, every time.

But when you give life to a half-baked idea, you reap confusion and frustration. As I said before incompetence marries good intentions, and results in disaster. How are people going to get paid on April 25th?


The #MinFec telling her truth


The Minfec showed grit and gumption, in yesterday’s press conference. She found her voice. She got mad and we support this new direction.

She has the personality to lead us out of the hole, and she can use her God-given gifts to do so, setting politics aside, for once.  

Did you notice? People listen when she says ‘seniores.’  

MinFec is now finally sharing the facts, and NO ONE should argue with her.

Especially NOT the Unions, they should show us their financial statements, first. How much money do union leaders make and where are the membership funds?

And the salaries of their members, Elmar, for example, what do these members make?

Those of you disappointed that GOA’s salary cuts are low, are right, but at least we are now moving in the right direction.

(Mind you all GOA’s employees will get a full salary in April, but in May, we will see some solidarity, which should have begun 6 weeks ago!)

Cft will surely demand more, and this time as a structural change, not a temporary measure, next month, when they see GOA only cut that much.

I watched the MinFec on Sunday night with the same-old presentation and felt a sense of despair. She talked about 1.6 billion aid. She is not getting it, I thought, she cannot ignore the Knops letter – I published yesterday –  why does she try to window-dress reality?

Tell it as it is, girl, I whispered.

It helped. On Wednesday, she came through, she said: We have no choice, we have no money, CFT monitors how we spend the aid, monthly, and there is NO ALTERNATIVE.

Let’s instill some discipline, and achieve reform!

And we’d better get behind this. As a country.

Everyone, please, take your head out of the sand, NOW.

About the Q&A portion of the press conference

SCREEN THE QUESTIONS, enough with redundant, unintelligent and unnecessarily loooong so-called educated questions.  Do us a favor, SCREEN the question, and answer only the relevant ones.

I almost fell off my chair when a press member asked: And what about the Chinese restaurant employees who cannot produce a pay slip, how are they going to get the aid??

I had an AHA moment

The reason why only 3,000 to 4,000 FASE applications were complete is because all the rest were unable to produce documents, HAVING WORKED IN THE GRAY ECONOMY, all along.

They avoided taxes, got paid under the table, were not registered and now DO NOT QUALIFY for aid.

Consequently, I apologize to all those I have insulted. The process is indeed flawed, BUT the reason so many were left out is because they were tax evaders.

Those who paid their dues, and were legally registered, are now benefiting from the aid.

And in spite of the generous facemask donation by the Chinese community, recently received by the MinFec, their tax-evading employees are NOT eligible for the Awg 950 subsidy.

Our Economy in a Chokehold

The Unions are now talking and talking. They must and will come around, because the Age of Protectionism is finally over.

For as long as I remember, tourism had been begging for flexibility in the labor market, always meeting an unwavering resistance from GOA and the Unions.

With this attitude, in the era of CoVid19, employers are left with just two options: Apply for dismissals to shrink their workforce into survival mode, or close shop altogether.

One of my friends writes:

Facing GOA’s imminent bankruptcy, it should negotiate from a position of strength, amplified by a sense of urgent emergency.

Opting instead to bow to reckless, selfish and TOTALLY unacceptable viewpoints of public sector labor unions totally ignore the principles of solidarity and equality!

Our old-style labor unions should bear in mind that the Kingdom Council of Ministers linked the level of the next financing aid to the REFORMS the island is making between rounds of cash injections.

And they should also remember that in this choke-held love/hate triangle, this Ménage a Trois between Goa, Unions, & Entrepreneurs, it’s the entrepreneurs who create employment, and take the risk, investing capital.

The more unions pursue benefits and salaries, the fatter and more useless they get, the more business declines!

And while they are screaming Me-Me-Me, the public, their clients, is really interested in efficiency, and customer service, zero bureaucracy, the elimination of red tape, and streamline processes, befitting the people who pay their salary, delivering wholehearted and conscientious service.

If Hymno & Bandera means anything to you, stop whining, start thinking like partners, this is a marriage and for it to succeed each side must suppress his/her selfish ego in favor of the superior, communal goals.      

Can we have some transparency here??

A WhatsApp message circulated recently with a list of ‘abusive’ companies at RDA and WEB.

I am not in the business of ‘outing’ anyone, but the nepotistic, incestual friends and family relationships between ministers, members of parliament, directors of state companies, their cousins, former wives, and lovers, all benefiting from an untouchable status, and the obvious need of RDA, TDEA and WEB to employ outside contractors, is appalling.

It doesn’t benefit the public.

That WhatsApp message spoke of money laundering, bribes, illegality, workers without permits, sponsored Happy Hours, poor safety records, pleasure yachts, cigar lounges, free trips to Colombia, gasoline smuggling, personal perks, cheap labor, lucrative contracts, late delivery, and under the table arrangements.

Among companies mentioned: Custom Contractors; Doushar; UTLT; Seaview; Field Solutions Aruba; WEB Consultants; FCC: Felipe Construction; Amast; Ponson heavy equipment; Dick & Doof; Warsila; Star Enterprises; Johnson Enterprises; Solo Marine; De Cuba Electrical; Arends Inspection, Albo, and not to forget Memco, which was strangely left out, all delivering sub-par work, at inflated prices in a culture of zero supervision and oversight which fosters this free for all corruption.    

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April 26, 2020
Rona Coster