Bati Bleki Buzz Weekly Recap, Jan 19th, 2019

Aruba’s Governor Offers a Toast for a Sharing, Ethical and Protective 2019

Aruba’s Governor, the honorable Alfonso Boekhoudt, invited the island’s officials, NGOs and some members of the business and media communities, for a New Year’s toast this past weekend, at the Renaissance Convention Center.

This year, as in the previous one, his message of austerity and moderation was the underlying theme of the reception, everything from décor to catering had an unmistakably stamp of restraint good taste, reflecting His Excellency’s core belief of leading by example.

Invitee were asked to attend without their significant others or spouses, and in the casual spirit of the event, His Excellency and his wife were at the door, to first meet and greet their guests.

Invitees, including many members of the parliament – I don’t recall seeing any members of the opposition party – listened intently as the island’s conscience spoke, outlining three core values: Respect, Integrity and Protection, which he wanted to highlight as a blueprint for a successful 2019.

Let it begin with me, was his first point of discussion, asking his citizens to start the movement of change themselves, in their personal life and in their communities, leading a more service-oriented and sharing, less self-centered life. He also advocated compassion for fellow-citizens in need, and for fellow-nations of our region, undergoing tough times.

He spoke about integrity, doing what’s right, standing for what is right and acting ethically.

The environment got helping hand from our governor when he spoke about protection, protecting what is ours and conserving resources.

A nice touch was the Dande band, at the end of the governor’s address. Dande King Edjean Semeleer with a group of traveling musicians, asked for a donation into his hat, in exchange for musical blessings.

The governor’s office then matched the funds collected that night for a generous donation for a charity of His Excellency’s choice.

(Luckily, I tucked some bills into my evening purse, before leaving the house. I noticed quite a number of small no-interest loans being made in the room, as some of my cashless friends turned to their friends with more padded pockets.)   

Cycling on the rise, and on the move

We were shocked during the holiday season to find out one morning that a young cyclist was killed while riding his bike across a notorious junction, on the boulevard.

The young man was mourned by the cycling community, and while they paid tribute to their fallen peer, they realized there is strength in numbers.

Apparently over the past years the cycling community, both recreational and competitive has grown and there are a great number of stakeholders involved in the activity.

On Monday, the media, and a number of sport organizations were invited to the Seaport Cinemas for a screening of a Dutch documentary, GEWOON FIETSEN or Why We Cycle – it did feature a few snippets in English and it highlighted how innate, essential and characteristic cycling is to the Dutch culture, and suggested we should follow in those footsteps.

Hotelier Jurgen Van Schaijk, an avid cyclist, helped host the gathering in which he and his fellow-organizers presented a three-pronged plan to safely grow the cycling community on the island, especially among children, who derive such sense of freedom and independence from riding their bikes, providing they thoroughly understand the rules of the road.

The WHY WE BIKE initiative strives to promote cycling as a healthy strategy in the fight against over-weight and diabetes.

The initiative strives to educate the driving and riding populations about road safety, and the need to prioritize cyclists and pedestrians.

The initiative also announced a number of upcoming cycling events, national first, and international on the horizon.

There are so many benefits to making the bicycle a more frequent mode of transportation, I could fill three pages, and if the initiative manages to make biking safer on Aruba, the number of cars on the road could be reduced, also partially solving parking and pollution challenges.

Of course, our terrain is not as flat as that of the Netherlands and our weather is not bike-friendly most of the year with high temperatures and strong winds, but the need of taking cyclists into account in all stage of urban planning was made urgent by the fatal recent accident.

Organizers say that education is key, not just in theory, but on the road, in real traffic situation, so that kids can ride confidently, even beyond their neighborhoods. And motorists must learn to respect cyclists, as part as the license curriculum.

WHY WE CYCLE presents the bike culture in the Netherlands as ‘gewoon,’ meaning ordinary, simple, nothing special, part of life, intrinsic. The Dutch are practical and pragmatic, and bicycles fit in with their modest philosophy of commute which aims at getting from point A to point B with no attention paid to the mode of transport.  The average Dutch bike is a clunker, a beat up, no frill set of wheels with a basket attached.

I recently saw a documentary about Amsterdam, and its bicycle congestion and bike parking challenges. I wish it on Aruba. More bikes. Less cars.

TWO worthwhile reads

Dear All, your attention please!

The Government has placed the draft ROP 2019 – 2029 on different websites available for the public.

This will be for the period of 4 weeks, starting yesterday.

We need everyone to go through these charts meticulously.

Please check all nature areas and anything that used to be nature areas. Please check explanations.

The site is: https://aruba-ro.nl

It can also be found on: www.dip.aw

The DNM waardenkaart and the document Natuur en Milieu in the ROP are apart, but they are annexes (bijlagen) in the toelichting (explanation).

On the waardenkaarten, the proposals of ABC for bird areas can be found (I was just informed).

Please help make sure that all the NGOs take a close look at this.

Please send Aruba Birdlife Conservation any findings that we might need attention for.

Good luck and thanks.

MFA Noord, serving the public, with two cashiers

Like many other tax paying citizens, I don’t always trust online payments to GOA. And to make sure my monthly pounds of flesh are credited correctly, I prefer to pay them in person, by messenger.

Here is yesterday’s saga, by an ever-faithful tax payer:

So, this is the situation in MFA Noord: At 8.11am I took a number, even BEFORE picking up the tax forms. I got #D133. But SIAD hadn’t started work, yet. I heard a rumble about “waiting for the money to open cashier windows” or something in that spirit.  Apparently, they were waiting for cambio. It was later reported they started handling the public at about 9am.

By 10am they were at #34. By 11am on #56. I kept up with my other errands through the morning, and regularly popped back into MFA to monitor progress. They were on #71 midday, and I just hung around. Read newspapers…Whatever….

Now the other thing I heard twice is that they are not taking ATM cards because they encountered some problem… I just hope that by the time it is my turn (around 3pm?) this challenge will be resolved…. Someone told me to get cash…. Of course, you don’t have THOUSANDS of florins on you, right? My plan B is to ask them to stamp the forms and perhaps you can pay via bank later…. And I will get some kind of proof that THEY had trouble with the debit system….

To cut a long story short that ever-faithful tax payer, handed his belasting over at 4:08pm. The ATM cards worked.

MFA Noord went through 113 clients in 8 hours, yesterday, that’s 8.5 minutes per client….

The Road to Good Governance is Under Construction

And that is a piece of good news, hailing from the symposium by that name, with about 300 people in attendance – though I did not see anyone from the green or blue political parties!

According to the last speaker Alexander van Dam, our Attorney General, three years ago, when he arrived in Aruba, you couldn’t talk about ethics or integrity, they were very unpopular concepts. But towards the end of his tenure here, his office managed to investigate and bring charges against a government minister, which is a considerable shift in communal mindset.

The Attorney-General was not a great speaker, but he outlined a recommended three-pronged approach for the island: Creating, and increasing awareness to the issue of morals and values, taking disciplinary measures in violations and deviations, and as a last resort, when all else fails, prosecution is a solid option.

On a side note: It makes little sense that van Dam is leaving now; now that he knows how our devious minds work and who the players are.

Anyway, I started from the end.

Activist Armand Hessels better known as the man in the white suit, organized his second symposium on the subject of ‘doing what is right the right way,’ within the public sector, calling for a well-functioning moral compass and an effective system of checks and balances, in government.

As I was sitting in the ballroom of Paseo Herencia under the glaring stage light, I thought to myself that we have to send the entire island back to kindergarten. Apparently, we haven’t learned anything there about morals and values and as a result are now suffering from political patronage, overwhelming cost of GOA personnel, wasteful administration, the highest taxation in the world, improper use of public funds and dubious public infrastructure projects.

Back to kindergarten, is my advice.

And by that, I mean that we must teach what we THINK people already know.

A good example to that came in the words of the MinPres who is a very pleasant orator. She made eye contact with her audience and stated that the public must do its share, refrain from attempting to bribe ministers, refrain from demanding special favors and special treatment, not seek any shortcuts, but adhere to the language of the law, and respect GOA’s mechanism, instead of constantly plotting how to circumvent it.

In essence, she condensed the biblical 10 commandments, Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5, teaching us that if we behave, corruption will become unacceptable in our culture.  

I was very happy with this part of her speech. But not happy with the rest.

The symposium made clear that the MinPres hiring. A director and staff for the Bureau of Integrity. A director and staff for the Chamber of Integrity, and staffers for the Integrity Supervisory Body for state-owned companies. More GOA employees.

So, there will be a new GOA system dedicated to the investigation of corruption. But the person in charge of setting this infrastructure up is an insider, a central bank employee, and the people in charge of the new bureau will most probably be insiders too.

Enough for today, just the thought of making GOA even bigger, takes the wind out of my sails.  

Th symposium, was organized by Stichting Deugdelijk Bestuur Aruba in close collaboration with the University of Aruba.

More about the good governance symposium

The first symposium speaker was the Jane Semeleer, the President of the Central Bank of Aruba, since 2008. She is the first woman to occupy this position in the Dutch Kingdom and she explained why good governance in the public sector is so important from a central bank perspective.

She elaborated how all market forces work together, and how the Central Bank acts to protect the fixed peg of the local florin to the dollar.

From what I understand from her presentation, almost nothing about our fiscal good governance is anchored by law, and thus it is so subject to interpretation, and flimsily followed up. We basically need good fiscal governance laws. Rules on reporting and forecasting, and solid procedures, so that sustainable public finances can survive. Stuff like the ceiling of debt to GDP, and how much we should spend on education, all that must be committed to paper.

Most importantly, all of GOA’s data must be transparent, and open to public scrutiny. (I want to read RDA contracts….see what is happening there.)

The first lady of banking also dictated that we should have a national anti-corruption strategy, whatever that means and in preparation for the above the Central Bank surveyed the locals:

Above 70% of those surveyed, think that the problem of corruption is widespread in Aruba while a marginal percent thinks there is no corruption

Almost 70% agreed that there is corruption in public institutions in Aruba only close to 20% disagree

More than 50% agree that the current parliamentary system contributes to corruption in Aruba

About 60% perceive corruption as part of the business culture in Aruba also more than 70% agree that favoritism and corruption hamper business competition

Those are tragic findings.

One of my friends writes: I attended the symposium last night with some of my AHATA colleagues. I was pleased to see, although not completely surprised, in the CBA’s presentation how they quantified the lack of confidence the public has in government and in government institutions when it comes to corruption. Unless you are a totally crooked politician how can you not take note of this?

I thought the MinPres spoke well and was glad to see her cabinet actually acknowledging and addressing the issue of corruption. I don’t know how effective the three new government integrity entities will be in addressing this but at least something is going to be done. I would have preferred to call these new entities “the bureau of anti-corruption,” etc. instead of integrity.

The cynic in me asks if we can’t root out drugs and thugs off Palm Beach how are we going to root out corruption in government?

Also, when the MinPres says Parliament is behind this, I wonder what goes through Benny Sevinger’s mind when this is tabled on the parliament’s agenda?

Anyway, I was glad I went. It was worthwhile and at least this important issue is been addressed.

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January 18, 2019
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Bati Bleki by Rona Coster
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