Bati Bleki Buzz Weekly Recap, Feb 2nd, 2020

An Update on Michael Lampe and the MADNESS BAND, ready for CAISO & SOCA MONARCH, 2020.

It made me happy to see Michael Lampe at the official Dia Di Betico ceremony, he was warmly welcomed from what I saw in pictures; the MinFec even posed with him in front of the Betico Croes memorial; they both looked equally content and handsome.

They put their polarization on pause for five minutes which was great.

Michael Lampe was the only AVP party-member to attend the ceremony, he said he represented his party but I think it was more his own initiative, after all, they are all somehow related, at least musically.

I remember stories from the old days reporting that politicians divided between party lines still went for a beer after hours. They kept the theatrics up in public, but in private talked to each other.

The funny thing is that there are no ideological differences in Aruba between the parties, they all want exactly the same: Job security for themselves and their voters. So how come they are so polarized?

The appearance put in by Michal Lampe was a move in the right direction.

It also pleased me to see at the island’s Governors reception in honor of the new year that the MinFec is fond of Richard Arends, a member of the opposition party, she stopped by to chat, crossing party lines, a good move because they are the island’s political future – career politicians, intent on keeping their jobs, so they’d better be taking to each other.

Michael Lampe was in the news this weekend. He is serving up five (5) songs, with the Madness Band, competing tonight in the Caiso & Monarch 2020, pre-finals.

As a fresh member of parliament Michael explained he took two years to study the materials and stepped out of music. He is ready to return, now, and while he will not be taking part in Carnival parades, he is doing his share by providing the fuel, the music.

The Madness Band will be backing up five socas, in different styles, for singer Trini-T, Cata Pirata, Johnny Bee, Boss Lady and Robert Yeah.

Lady Boss is Michael’s sister Rachel, her song in Papiamento is the most Criollo, she is fond of the island’s cultural heritage and her music reflects it. Cata Pirata is Michael’s partner, originally from South Africa, she embraced island life and her song is a jungle soca, a new hybrid genre; Robert Yeah’s composition has a catchy play on word; Johnny Bee’s is pure original fun, and Trini-T delivers the authentic Caribbean soca groove.

They are all good, says Michael, and the band had sufficient rehearsal time, in a fantastic recording studio somewhere around Frenchman’s Pass, so they are ready to dazzle and entertain us.

Michael says that after the long-silence he has about 60 to 70 songs ready to hatch, under his Fellows and/or Data Panic labels, and that making music is a major part of his life.

We love to hear that.

We don’t want to take life too seriously.   

Real estate, the backbone of the economy

That is a direct quote, from one of my friends, an Aruban living in the USA, and visiting her home-island.

Apparently, she is in real estate there, and learning a lot, content to contribute to her family’s well-being.

The previously main bread- winner, her husband, an oil man, was laid off during one of the refinery’s closings. Now the main bread-winning job is hers.

And she likes it.

There is promise in real-estate, she says.

Why? I asked.

If you are a certified agent in good standing, she explained, you may run your real estate business on your phone, with the help of 4 applications, one containing all listings and detailed information —, a closed network for members of the National Association of Realtors, or, an amazing data base — then you have another app that holds the keys to all properties, which any of the above agents can open with his smartphone, etc.

Every sale is data-driven, and transparent, and everyone may check exactly if the mortgage is paid, the tax settled, the building constructed according to code, flood history, storm damages, all record are fully transparent, including how much the house went for, plus all other homes in the neighborhood, so that pricing makes sense. It is relative to location, and other variables. It takes intelligent-guessing out.

And Aruba, I asked?

There is a lot for sale on the island. Perhaps as a result of divorce or speculation.

And pricing here, she said, is often intuitive, not completely data driven. Of course the well-established brokers know the market, but new agents could be lost because the information is simply not there.

If Aruba had an MLS, multiple listing service, it would be much easier to conduct business here.

So I called a local broker, to check.

Indeed, Aruba ALMOST has its own MLS, but the system is flawed because information is not forthcoming from cadaster. There is no real data to base pricing on, and thus sudden price reductions, and/ or unreasonably increases, are frequent.

And while I had the local agent on the phone I learned that Central Bank has become increasingly demanding, often overbearing, requiring the clearing of all buyers on international foreign investor lists and, exercising excessive compliance, making the process of buying a house in Aruba cumbersome and lengthy. Moreover, Central Bank has been imposing 6 figure fines, no warnings, and that the collection of those fines must have become a budget item, because they are unreasonable and frequent!

The agent said lawyers, realtors, accountants, notaries, feel under fire, for having to run all their foreign clients by financial sanction lists for all purchases over $300,000, so basically everyone.

GOA makes money on real estate deals. So the question is, should we be friendly toward real estate buyers? Or not.         

A new International alliance

I went to buy envelopes at Bruna yesterday and was told the store will be closing, in March. The remaining inventory will be shipped to Curacao to the main office, and for further purchases of envelopes and office supplies I will have to go elsewhere.

The group’s neighboring toy store, cosmetics and vision outlets will remain active.

I guess retail is struggling.

But some are doing well.

We were told on January 20th, that SYGNUS acquired a significant interest in Aruba Wine and Dine, AWD, a chain of existing restaurants in Aruba.

The release revealed that Aruba Wine & Dine, entered into a strategic alliance with Sygnus, a Jamaican-based regional investment group, through its private equity fund, Sygnus Deneb Investments. 

Bottom line, a significant shareholding interest of AWD was picked up by investors because “Sygnus recognizes Aruba as a stable economy with a strong hospitality industry and Aruba Wine & Dine, being a significant player in the industry with 9 restaurants, 1 piano bar and a catering business, represents an attractive investment opportunity.

That’s something to be proud of. Because as you remember it all started with the Plaza Café.

That same Jamaican-based business entity has been collecting commercial interests in Curacao and Aruba, including the Guardian Group Holding, they are now in a majority ownership position in FATUM, they also picked up OMNI, the Van den Tweel Supermarkets and our favorite, Ling & Sons Super Center in Aruba, where they made a considerable investment, and improvement.

Their latest accomplishment is the chain of 11 AWD outlets.

And my friends think that there may be more Curacao and Aruba businesses, e.g. Radio Shack maybe or probably.

I went to the Sygnus website, it states Sygnus operates with a lean and clean business model that does not replicate traditional financial institutions.

Good news: Kevin Slangen, remains Managing Director of AWD, and he already runs a pretty tight ship.

The Curaçao Financial Group N.V. (CFG) helped put the deal together, I bet many other Aruba businesses are now knocking on their door, in search of their own international alliances and access to capital.

Aruba Wine & Dine –

The Curacao Financial Group –

Sygnus Group –

BOI Online Tax filing Platform, rolled out

AHATA invited for an informative hour with the tax office crew to hear from them about the mythical digital platform forthcoming.

We were told about the digitalization process of our tax paying system, and now a milestone has been reached, the platform is live.

The conference room at AHATA was filled with hopeful accountants, I was there too, as the accountant of my own mini-company.

The mood in the room was pleasant, and the tax office crew helpful and friendly. They showed us the wonders of the online platform that makes calculators obsolete; you punch in a number and the clever platform applies it correctly, all you have to do is save your work, print it, then go to your online banking to pay the amount, and if you punch in the reference number correctly, you are in the clear, with much less work on your hands.

It’s so simple, they gushed, it’s so clear, we couldn’t have made it easier for you, you will surely have no problem accessing your data, or filling it out, and filing, that platform was made for simpletons, they implied, and will make paperwork, stamps, people waiting in lines and photocopies totally obsolete.

A few thoughts raced through my head, as I was listening to the lighthearted, jovial, presentation.

Main thought: The tax office greatly underestimates the burden that it has imposed on its clients to date. The hardship that we have suffered. They should have acknowledged that.

Last year, my mini-company filed 26 dispute letters for unjust fines and assessments, perhaps more. Besides, there is this double-taxation issue that has been hanging unresolved for one full year, for which I cannot get anyone’s attention.

At the back of my head a Kafkaesque theme always plays whereby the little guy, the tax payer, is crushed by complex, and illogical bureaucratic delays and demands.

Kafka has lived at Ontvanger for many years.

One of the AHATA members asked whether the tax office will be reimbursing him, compensating him for all the time he spent for the past 35 years standing in line.

We thought it was funny. But clearly it is not…we’re all traumatized.

Then the same clever man asked: And what will you do with all your employees, that are now free from stamping and collecting paperwork; what will their job look like from now on, will there be more enforcement and control?

We realize IMPUESTO is working hard on the digitalization process, and I don’t want to rain on their parade. Thank you for doing that.

BUT, this before and after video they showed, featuring a stressed-out accountant, hand-filling forms VS that same man AFTER the introduction of the digital portal, carefree, chatting on his cell phone while coffee-drinking in his office, with plenty of time to kill, is a bit of an insult.

In the private sector, no one reclines on the job, chatting on their cell phone while drinking coffee.

That would be sufficient cause for termination.

The Little One continues to deliver exciting turn-key events

I first wrote about the Little One more than two years ago when I was greatly helped by Maarten, in a red vintage VW van that parked itself on the beach at Arashi, to serve drinks and lovely snacks for my birthday.

The Little One still does that, only it evolved into a premier catering and event planning company, and last night at Arashi, it nicely promoted itself, by showcasing its diverse product to local wedding and event planners.

We had a great time. The highlight of the night was the video booth, a charming air conditioned (!) cabin where squeezed-in friends may leave recorded messages for their party hosts. We laughed so hard, we cried, at our numerous botched attempts to produce a sensible thank-you note for Maarten and Jacky, the twin engines behind the business.     

The business of the Little One took off with a mobile bar, nicknamed Lola. It is fire-engine-red and an eye catcher, perfect for any occasion. Immediately, the resorts recognized this versatile wagon, and we started seeing it serving specialty cocktails, in all the best places and at private events.

Then came the silly photo booth, nicknamed Lucy, also in a VW wagon, that added a retro look to weddings, and promo activities. Guests regularly have a blast with all ridiculous props that come with the van.

Later Otto, the Vespa moto was added, serving as a juice bar, and Bella, a motorized Piaggio with Prosecco and Stella Artois on draft, a classic Rockabilly Jukebox, Beethoven the piano-DJ station, and recently elegant, free form stretch tents in a number of sizes.

Owner Maarten Thoonen — The Little One Aruba, phone: +297 745 5008 — reports he first bought the VW in the Netherlands and fully restored it with the help of his father, then he brought it to Aruba, at the beginning of 2017, and started to offer party services. While slow at first, he is now on fire, very popular and busy.

From the start, Maarten was the efficient bartender, DJ, and sunshiny host. He is by nature, genuinely interested and engaged, and cares immensely about the enjoyment of his guests. He delivered food, drinks, smoothies, music, waiters, lights, tables, generators, glassware, toilets, and most importantly permits for events in out-of-the-box places.

He worked with some excellent island chefs, and then Jacky danced in. They have been inseparable since that Little Miss Sunshine stepped onto the stage with her considerable culinary talents, passion for food and people, infectious laughter and boundless energy.

They are a winning duo. Maarten met his match in Aruba. And they jointly produce stress-free turn-key events. The success of the Little One proves that even in a saturated market there is room for innovations, and for a creative, passionate quality operator.

Too much Fast Food

My colorful friend, Elvis Lopez, the curator of Atelier 89, occupied headlines this week when on behalf of his family members and his sleepy neighborhood he argued in front of the judge that Santa Cruz already had plenty of Fast Food options and that the plan to develop a Burger King with an imposing drive-through right next to his residence infringes on his quality of life and the quality of life of his neighbors, a community of elderly people.

He cited the already-congested traffic situation in the heart of Santa Cruz and the bottleneck created by the many fast food establishments operating on that main drag.

He claimed Jersinio Kock of J&K Burger Holding, have been busily erecting a wall around the driveway, without obtaining the necessary permits.

Jersinio Kock of J&K Burger Holding, the recent buyers of the Rowigini property, stated to their defense that the building has always served as a business, a family restaurant and a sometimes-nightclub, owned by the Lopez family, he further claimed he is to date unsure about the type of business he will be introducing there.

Obviously, there is an added family-feud layer here, in view of the fact that not all Lopez family-members were in agreement with the real estate sale.  

I understand the judge sent the dispute to the land department, so that the bureaucrats may decide what can and cannot be done on the property.

I’m with Elvis. I would be pissed if a busy burger joint with a big smelly exhaust pipe would check in next door.

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February 02, 2020
Rona Coster