Bati Bleki Buzz Weekly Recap December 9th, 2015

Hanging around bars

The Aruba Bar Association last night elected a new board: President: Ronnie Wix and Vice-President: Johan Sjiem Fat.

Other board members elected include Demis Illes, Lianne Pieters & Gabriela Sjiem Fat,

The new board will start its two-year term in January 2019.

They intend to focus on the following things among others:

  1. Continuing legal education both for our members, as well as providing information about legal topics for the general public.
  2. Representing interests of the bar vis a vis the courts, regulatory agencies and the government 
  3. promoting the rule of law in general.
  4. Inviting more guests to speak on non-legal topics at Bar Association meetings.
  5. Organizing more social events for members.
  6. Figure out other meaningful ways in which we can contribute to our community. Perhaps some form of pro bono work for charitable or idealistic causes.

The new board thanks the outgoing board for the great work it did during their two-year term.

I understand that there are about 90 lawyers in Aruba, about 60% of them show up to the bi-monthly meetings of the bar association to discuss legislation and/or government policies.

Some of the highlights of the outgoing board achievements included a raise granted to criminal lawyers who undertake the defense of complicated cases pro bono, but collect a standard rate from the government. That rate which hasn’t been updated in 25 years, was just recently adjusted.

Another highlight included the discussion undertaken by journalists, members of the media, and law enforcement regarding the role they play in ethical reporting of news on the island.

(That discussion did not go anywhere according to me, but it was potent and turbulent while ongoing)

The bar association also devoted time to training and educating its members regarding the refugee crisis in the region, and the refugee law, a branch of international law which deals with the rights and protection of refugees, from all walks of life.

It’s a thankless job, says the outgoing president of the bar, you listen to many people whining, and there is no reward for hard work! I did not seek reelection, he adds, but am pleased to say that the outgoing board kept the association together; no divisive arguments, no controversies.    

My information however tells me that the election of the new president was not glitchless, and not unanimous, and no one would explain further!

The First Cannabis Conference

Remedi was the first International Medicinal Cannabis Conference in the Dutch Caribbean, and it had the pleasure of featuring some good speakers who talked about the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow from a number of angles, including the medicinal and recreational use.

Anyone who argues against medicinal marijuana has been living under a rock for the past two decades.

Last year there was a political debate in Aruba and all parties agreed to support medicinal cannabis. The AZV board wrote a paper on it and informed GOA that it stands behind the introduction, in small steps, prescribed by doctors, distributed by boticas, where it will be handled just like any other restricted medicine such as opioids.

So, I am not arguing with the introduction of medical cannabis. It has, by the way, been available in Israel via pharmacies since April 20, 2018.

What was new to me and I just heard it at the conference, loud & clear, that it is coming here, in both medical & recreational forms, whether we like it or not, resistance is futile, it is one of the fastest growing industries in the world, it creates jobs, it brings in tax money,  it requires no marketing, no promotion, everyone wants some, and its big business; so we’d better gear up for its widespread medicinal and recreational use, because it is an unstoppable freight train, and we’d better benefit from it ourselves, before some multinational comes in and exploits us, in the name of their experience and expertise.

We’d better become expert ourselves. Fast.

As explained again and again by the speakers it is just a business opportunity, it required farmers, and warehouses, and bakeries, and labs, and mostly large money vaults, because with 1.6 million tourists a year, our financial challenges will be over.

Ok, got it. I still think St Nichols may benefit from an Amsterdam coffee-shop model, however NIMBY, not in my backyard.

The conference was organized by Vicky Perez and Maria Silva. Really? Yes.

Vicky, a tourism executive organized a pilgrimage in February 2018 to Israel where her group met the Minister of Health who talked about the progress made by the state regarding the use of medicinal Cannabis. Vicky was so impressed and upon her return to the island, teamed up with Maria to produce a conference, and push the issue forward into the light.

That’s my legacy she says, my contribution to my adoptive country, while I have NEVER tried cannabis myself, and I have NO financial interest in its business aspects, I wholeheartedly support its medicinal uses.

Anyway, the conference was informative. Keynote speaker David Nissman, outlined the steps we have to take as a country, legal, financial, educational, and what hurdles we will encounter, with the legalization/introduction of cannabis. He was dynamic and informative.

The colorful Piedad Córdoba, in a head wrap and blue suade shoes with rhinestone buckles, talked about the use of cannabis as a God given right, in fact a basic human right. She is an interesting character, and a controversial one in her country as the former presidential candidate and ex-senator of Colombia with alleged ties to the leftist rebels.

Dr. Suzanne Sisley, chairman and principal investigator of the Scottsdale Research Institute, was an enlightening speaker, and fully endorses the use of Cannabis in cases of PTS, and a great number of degenerative diseases.

Dr. Juan Luis Castro, a psychologist and senator of Colombia, talked a bit about addiction, finally, trying to dispel what he labeled misconceptions.

Robert Y lee, a humanitarian and economic advisor and former presidential candidate of the U.S., explained there is no turning back.  

From Aruba Member of Parliament Ricardo Croes and Minister Rudy Lampe spoke, I missed both. While their party ran on the platform of legalizing Medicinal Cannabis, it is a mistake to make this a political issue, and to take all the ‘credit’ for its introduction. It will encounter more opposition than necessary, if it remains a political issue, ‘owned’ and ‘patented’ by Red.

But there is progress: A government committee “Commission legalization of medicinal cannabis” has been established.

Fiscal reform, Carrot and Stick

Yesterday the MinFEC in conjunction with the MinPres, presented the first phase of their promised fiscal reform.

The Carrot: The goal, they declared, is a form of simpler, more-just, taxation system, and they worked it out with the Tax Department, Customs, Central Bureau of Statistics, and the Legal Department.

The promised reform will take place in stages, effective Jan 1st, 2019, with 30.000 people completely exempt from income tax, 25.000 people now in a lower income tax bracket, 12.000 people exempt altogether from ground tax, and 16,000 people now in a lower ground tax bracket.

The business community will also enjoy a tax break on dividend, as taxation will plunge from 25% to 10%.

And here comes the Stick: To facilitate the reform, ‘a few changes’ will be made in the tariffs of ground tax, tabaco, and alcohol.

End of GOA’s press release

So, what does a simpler, more-just system mean?

I asked some top banana in the tax advisory field.

Hold your horses, he said, put the champagne back in the cooler. This still has to pass as law in Parliament and we’ll see how they usher it in. They are basically shifting from direct to indirect taxes, which is a good move, but we aren’t sure whether it will work, or not.

Bottomline: The lower income segment of the population will see more cash in hand. They will benefit, but people with a more substantial income will not see any benefits from the reform, on the contrary, as prices go up, they will have to make a decision whether to have eggs or steak for dinner. Food and luxury items will increase scientifically! We’ll have more expenses, with the ground tax increase, and our purchasing power will diminish.

But let’s talk in a few days, let’s see the official law and its implications, after Parliament digests it and spits it out!

Will Fairy Tales Come True?

What I am telling you is nothing new, it’s been around since 2015, and I am referring to the Dutch financial supervision, and the cause of the unforgettable hunger strike.

So, we’ve been in debt for a while now — it’s somewhere between 4 or 5 billion, I could not get consensus — and on a number of occasions GOA was made to sign a protocol outlining the rules of good financial conduct. These norms were outlined again on November 22nd, 2018, BUT the document was not made public, it circulated in the underground, and I got to read the 11 sparsely typed pages, in unpolished Dutch, I am told, last night, with the help of a linguist elf!

Again, GOA was admonished for its cost of personnel eating up 80% of its budget. It was again told to reduce its expenditure in view of the fact that nothing has been done to shrink the number of civil servants in the past three years, on the contrary, the hiring continues.

GOA was presented with a chart this time: On a 1.5 billion florins in expenses, GOA is only allowed a 0.5% deficit, meaning it could go over budget to the tune of 25 million, in 2019.

For 2020, GOA must show a surplus of 20 million, and for 2021 and beyond, a surplus of 40 million.

GOA was also told that effective Jan 1st, 2019, a ceiling for expenditure on personnel has been set, at current level, to 479 million, not a penny more, and this number had to DROP steadily as GOA reduced its personnel in 2019-2021, to a sustainable level.

At this point I have to add that the linguist elf reiterated that the practice of letting people go by the front door, then ushering them in again by the back door via contracts for services, must stop because then they are no longer on the payroll, the payroll shows reduction, but the payments for contractors and special services increase.

Then the document added a fairy tale: By 2027 our national debt to GDP would read 70%, and our national debt reduced by 1.5 billion.   

I feel bad for the two leading ladies the MinPres and the MinFEC, standing pretty and courageous in the sea of debt, they did not create, they cannot control, and they cannot cure.

How would they reduce personnel? One of my friends told me recently that walking into Cooclishi, GOA’s headquarters he felts like he walked into a newspaper or a radio station where an army of PR personalities run around to doctor the news!

How do you doctor that Nov 22nd protocol?

You suppress its publication here.  (It was published in the Netherlands, on an official website)

Once we feel it in our pocket, we’re willing to make changes

AHATA, the Aruba Hotel & Tourism Association hosted a Sustainable Management crash-course just recently facilitated by AHATA’s Excellence Award winner, Sustainability Champion Nathaly Stanley, who serves as Sustainability Manager at Bucuti & Tara Beach Resort.

AHATA’s CEO, Tisa La Sorte, thought she would have a handful of people interested, and scheduled the crash-course into the AHATA board room. She was surprised to see 27 individuals who showed up for the presentation, most of them in the field of sustainability at the hotels, I even saw one general manager, some directors of engineering.

Why?

Because according to a case study presented by Nathaly, a 450-room hotel property which averages 2.72 metric ton of waste per room, per year, IF it does not separate garbage, and just throws everything into the compactor, it will be paying Awg 242,266 per year, to dispose of the mess.

Garbage disposal rates went up dramatically recently, following an agreement by Serlimar and ECOTECH.

Just as an example: The same quantity of trash previously cost Awg 99,058, to dispose.

So, the steep augment propelled the hotels into action, and according to Nathaly’s presentation they could SAVE 92,409 per year, that’s 38% of their cost, if they separate their waste into three categories: Food waste, cardboard and glass.

The Bucuti & Tara Beach Resort feed their food waste to pigs, I understand that farmers pick it up, making their pigs very happy on haute cuisine, and saving the resort 28% of waste disposal fees.

That strategy prevents almost 400 tons from going to the landfill and most importantly cracks down on greenhouse gas emissions, equivalent to 154 passenger cars driven for one full year.

Imagine.

Following the well-informed presentation, I heard from the general manager that he immediately ordered a cardboard baler, and is looking forward to an 8% cost reduction.

According to Nathaly, if you recycle cardboard you save money and prevent 130 tons from going to the landfill, and most importantly crack down on greenhouse gas emissions, equivalent to 104 passenger cars driven for one full year.

And so on with glass. 2% savings.

I think the message is slowly sinking in that waste should be proactively prevented, meaning REDUCED, and actively managed, REUSED and RECYCLED.

Suggestion: Some of the hotels chlorinate Aruba’s delicious water to adhere to their corporate safety standards. So, guests resort to buying bottled water. You could UV the water for added safety, and encourage guests to drink from the tap, cracking down on hopi plastic!

Know when to hold it, know when to fold it!

I have a small request, and I checked with friends, they want the same thing.

We want the former MinPres and the former MinJust to sit quietly in their corners, lick their wounds, take inventory of what went wrong, and only come out of their holes when they have something positive to say, something that would contribute to the country’ wellbeing.

I listened to two press conferences for a short while, this week. What agony, I turned the radio off.

Arthur Dowers sounded bitter and resentful.

Mike Eman sounded unemployed and desperate.

You had your turn boys, you left a path of destruction, now will you please keep quiet and take some responsibility for the ‘pakete di medida feroz,’ because you left us with a 4 billion debt, maybe 5, and the unfinished Watty Vos Blvd, as a monument to incompetence.

Mike – take a page out of Bill Clinton’s book, get yourself on the speakers’ circuit, that way you can travel, all expenses paid, and blow your own horn around the globe.

I understand that while you allowed everyone in your government to ‘prepare for retirement’ you did not. I appreciate that about you. On the other hand, you allowed everyone to prosper on your watch, which makes you guilty by association.

This string of fake news is upsetting. If you recall, some islands in the Caribbean suffered greatly because of last year’s hurricane season. Aruba benefited from their disaster and we welcomed many more tourists. Things are going back to ‘normal’ now. Other islands are opening up, and we are going back to that normal. But our normal is still fantastic, as far as tourism goes.

Arthur – What happened to you? You were once a positive force. Or maybe it was all paid PR that left the good impression, and what you show now, is the real you. Angry. Disillusioned.

Anyway, as I said, take inventory of what went wrong, and only come out of your holes when you have something positive to say, something that would contribute to the country’ wellbeing, we need all the horses and all the men in times of crisis, all pushing to put Humpty Dumpty together again, after his great unfortunate fall!

 

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