Bati Bleki Buzz Weekly Recap January 6th, 2018

Last column for 2018

I decided to give you a short year-in-review article and looked at January, 2018.

Wow, it was a roller coaster, between the Venezuelan border closing and the fruit and vegetable crisis, the futile kill-cage demonstration, the dreaded dredging on Palm Beach, the talked about Beach Policy, since 2014, my unanswered plea to outlaw cock fighting, the ban on bank checks, and the quagmired refinery deal, that is going nowhere, but must be benefiting someone, otherwise I do not understand why it is still ticking.

Crime fighter Clarita Britten was a ray of sunshine, and then came Carnival 64, as spectacular as ever, a precursor to the upcoming, much-anticipated Carnival 65.

And that’s where my inspiration came to a halt, I was saddened by the young cyclist, 21, who lost his life in an unfortunate accident with an undocumented, uninsured, uninspected car with a ‘borrowed’ license plate.

I just couldn’t make myself go through the trivial aspects of our life, in light of the tragedy. In talking to one of my friends, she suggested we need real bike lanes. Yes, we do, and it is just one of the aspects of our lives, worth re-visiting.

This morning I asked the Marriott Aruba Resort & Stellaris Casino about the timetable for their traditional pagara and was told:  

We’ve decided not to have a pagara this year as we are continuously looking for opportunities to reduce year after year our environmental footprints by sustainably managing our energy, water use, reducing our waste and carbon emissions and increasing the use of renewable energy. Through employing various sustainable initiatives such as these, and by partnering with local Non-Governmental Organizations, we aim to mitigate climate-related risks, benefiting our business and the community of Aruba in which we operate.

Hats off to them!

Thank-you readers, 13,993 that I reached this week and 3,664 that engaged. A writer without readers doesn’t amount to much. Thank you for your time, and support, and may you enjoy a healthy and prosperous new year, big on joy, light on heartache!

 

The Economics of Fireworks

Happy New Year

Aruba enjoyed a spectacular night with big firework shows everywhere.

The last one at 4am in my neighborhood, practically over my bed.

In the morning, the house was covered with a blanket of shredded bit of brown paper, then it rained, and the porous craft material turned to paste.

Ahhhh, the joys of NYE!  

The joys of cleanup.

Ok, the morning after is not that great, but the party was fantastic!

Again, Caribbean Fireworks was the big winner, I tried to talk to the company’s chief fireworks detonator, but he was sleepy, having blown up my street at dawn.

I didn’t sleep in two days, he said to me, missing out on a nice PR opportunity, to tout his own horn in my ears.

From what I gathered from friends, the fastest, easiest way to burn through your hard-earned cash is, you guessed, putting on a firework show.

A proposal circulated among the hotels and the island’s large businesses for an 8, 10- or 12-minute show, and just to give you an idea, the average minute according to my unconfirmed sources costs about $4,000 to 5,000, depending on the size of the shells.

You hand Caribbean Fireworks a budget and they do it all. Whatever there is to do, barge on the water as a launch pad, insurance, computer firing sequence, intermittent big bangs, and small bangs, all nicely orchestrated pyrotechnics, to light up the night sky.

I was in a crowd, standing on the beach at the Hilton Aruba Caribbean Resort & Casino, and the show unfolded in front of our eyes. It was very artistic and colorful, with shooting comets and bursting stars, flowers and cascading fountains of light, a marriage of art and science, warding off evil spirits, ushering in health and prosperity.

Gotta burn money to make money.

Then and today, the Chinese are responsible for all that artillery, designing, packing and shipping the shells, enjoyed at festivities all over the globe, since the 7th century.

 The pagaras? The million shell ones? Their price tag is about $1,500 to $2,000.

The Oranjestad merchants blew a great number of those up yesterday. We watched as Zara and later Renaissance helped ring in the new year.

Is this the last year for the downtown pagara, I asked? Will Renaissance follow in the footsteps of the Marriott Aruba Resort & Stellaris Casino and give up this noisy tradition in favor of a more environmentally responsible footprint?

No, said the General Manager, we will continue to blow up a pagara, every year, for as long as I am around. It’s a valued tradition.

 

Nos Barranca Stima

Last week, when the Natural Pool experienced some winds and waves, tour operators opted to invade Malmok and bring dozens of ATVs to Tres Trapi, right on the barranca.

The big attraction was to drive on the rocks, abandon the vehicles on the cliff and jump into the ocean, leaving behind cans of beverages, tire marks and broken coral.

This invasion went on for a few days, leaving the tiny Malmok cove, and the neighborhood tarnished, polluted, and over-run.

Then in our Preserva Malmok neighborhood chat, one of the neighbors pointed out that the rocks, the barranca, is not protected from motor vehicles under the law, only the beaches, are.

(Later corrected: According to the Landbesluit Openbare Wateren en Stranden driving on the baranca within 25 m of the water edge is not allowed. Unfortunately, there is a total lack of public understanding of this regulation and lack of enforcement.)

But shouldn’t the barranca, which is a form of beach, also be included in the protected zone?

The barranca, a limestone terrace, is as fragile and as endangered as the beach. You all remember what happened to our pride and joy, our Natural Bridge, that hung in there until it could hold the stress no more, caving in on itself, in 2005, and depriving us of the only legitimate natural wonder.

That is the nature of limestone, here today, gone tomorrow.

I asked my geography/geology expert school principle Gershwin Lee:

Limestone, he said, is rock produced from the remains of living organisms such as coral polyps. This means that limestone is created under water. It is porous and allows water to seep through.
It also dissolves in carbonated water, both seawater and rainwater.  This process is generally called chemical weathering, but in limestone we refer to it as karst phenomenon. It is the slow process of chemical dissolution of the rock, as it slowly disappears.
On Aruba there are many examples of karst phenomena in limestone. We find stalagmites, stalactites, drapperien and drupsteenzuilen in caves and the karrenvelden or skerpi on the coast – forgive Gershwin, Dutch is his language of topography, but we get his drift. Fossil shells, he adds, are often found in limestone, because it was formed underwater.

Aruba’s Lime Terraces:

We have three types of terraces in the high, medium and low categories.

The low terraces can be found almost everywhere and form a large part our coastal landscape.
– Because limestone is relatively fragile (weak) it breaks down quickly in comparison with other (volcanic) rocks.
– The process of breaking down is mainly because the rock is sensitive to water. When in contact with water, the rock breaks down piece by piece.
– Because of this breakup, the barranca weakens, allowing cracks to appear
– Waves also contribute to the breakdown of the limestone terrace. The waves hollow out the rock from underneath. As the waves roll in, they create surf niches, which are sometimes visible when standing on a terrace. These dug out niches are the weakest part of the low terraces.
– The terraces also erode on land, due to rainwater. This is easy to observe in areas where a rooi enters the ocean. This process is slower in comparison to the effect of sea waves on the sea side, because rain is relatively scarce on the island.

Consequences for Nature and People:
Locals and fishermen in particular, park their vehicles on the low terrace. The weight of a vehicle can accelerate the process of rock degradation. Additionally, vibrations caused by vehicles such as ATVs and quad racers may speed up the destruction of the rock.
As you park on the barranca at the edge of the water, you should remember that the face of the rock has been hollowed out from underneath, and that it may cave in at any moment. Parts of the terrace may even collapse with people standing on the rocks. Several years back the walls of Shark Bay collapsed, with surfers standing on top.

Bottom line: Vehicles on the barranca accelerate the natural process of weathering, and break down the terrace, at a faster pace, as the weight of the vehicles, and its vibrations, stress out the fragile structure.

Will all those who care step forward, please.

 

The big clean up on January 2nd, 2018

One of my neighbors suggested an impromptu clean up yesterday afternoon in view of the fact that the Malmok barranca was graced with fireworks debris and empty bottles.

As you know, Malmok welcomed many people with their fireworks and coolers on New Year Eve, they partied and had a good time, and when they left, they turned their backs on burned out shells, bottle caps, cigarette butts, and occasional empties and plastic cups.

Just like that.

I have come to believe that many people think bottle caps and cigarette butts stand in a category of their own, a non-trash classification, and as such may deliberately be left behind, after all they are non-trash, and small by nature, they can blend into the landscape.

Not.

So, we cleaned up. The most offensive were these trays of fireworks, that once wasted disintegrate into toxic black power and charred clay cylinders. Very difficult to clean!

The smashed red tubes are challenging too.

We’ll be back there today, 4:30pm to continue our mission to reclaim the hood, if you’d like to come along, you are invited, bring a bucket and gloves.

Just as I got back home, one of the neighbors, a barranca fisherman, sent in a message: Invading ATVS and quad racers, too many to count!

Indeed. Fofoti Tours, ABC tours, and AGW tours, barfed a great number of visitors on the rocks, at sunset.

The Fofoti vehicles were all over the small Tres Trappi parking lot, double parked.

ABC TOURS, right on the barranca, practically in the ocean.

AGW, ignoring the designated area for cars, they rolled right onto the limestone platform.  

I took pictures, I called the Police, and I spoke to the AGW drivers. They dutifully moved the vehicles to the parking area, and promised not to offend again. Nice

Bottom line: YOU CANNOT PARK JUST ABOUT ANYWHERE. THIS IS GOVERNMENT LAND, AND YOU HAVE TO PARK IN DESIGNATED AREAS. Plus, THE AREA OF 25 METERS FROM THE WATER, IS PROTECTED, SAND, OR LIMESTONE, YOU HAVE TO STAY AWAY.

Beach Police Eric Soemers, whose motto I found out is: May you be proud of the work you do and the person you are and the difference you make, promised to refresh everyone’s memory about the rule of law in this country.

 

Cigarettes? Booze? Give’em up!

 The latest news regarding cost increases related to Aruba’s recently implemented tax reform. 

The government published a decree that increases certain excise duties, as of January 1st, 2019. These are the “sin taxes” the MinPres referred to, intended to increase government revenue while simultaneously encourage us to consume LESS alcohol and cigarettes.

Of course, these will affect costs for the import of products sold to visitors as well. 

AHATA did the homework for me and checked which products the codes in the decree refer to, and concluded that the excise duty increases are as follows:

Wine and Vermouth (made of grapes): Increase of 8%.

Cider (pear, apple, pineapple, honey): Increase of 333%.

Other ciders: Increase of 188%.

Tobacco products: Change from 57% to Awg 211.50 per kg.

Distilled alcohol products: Increase of 44%.

Of course, we have to see how this translates at the cash register, but as far as cigarette go, I say, give them up!

My accountant friends are warning, this considerable increase will trigger inflation, which we previously avoided, then soon labor unions will be demanding salary increases.

Well, it is a fact, accountants aren’t funny!

The full text of the Dutch decree, in English courtesy of Google Translate

COUNCIL DECISION, containing general measures, of 20 December 2018 to implement articles 6, first paragraph, of the National Ordinance, regarding the rate of import duties (AB 2002 no. 120) and article 7a, first paragraph, of the National Ordinance excise duty on spirits (AB 1991 no. GT 27) (adjustment of import duties wine, tobacco and spirits)

Published, December 21, 2018, The Minister of Justice, Security and Integration, A.C.G. Bikker

Page 2 Official Gazette of Aruba 2018 No. 78

IN THE NAME OF THE KING!

THE GOVERNOR of Aruba, having considered: that it is desirable to implement the recommendation of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in its September 2018 report to increase the levy on wine, tobacco and spirits, consumer goods the use of which should be discouraged from a point of view of public health. Having regard to:

Article 6, first paragraph, of the National Ordinance rate of import duties (AB 2002 No. 120);

Article 7a, first paragraph, of the National Ordinance on excise duty on spirits (AB 1991 no. GT 27);

Having heard the Advisory Board, decided:

Article I

In the appendix of the National Ordinance tariff of import duties (AB 2002 no. 120), the following changes are made:

Page 3 Official Gazette of Aruba 2018 No. 78

A in tariff headings 2204.1090, 2204.2100, 2204.2900, 2204.3000, 2205.1000 and 2205.9000 the amount “Awg 400, -” each time replaced by: Awg 433, -;

B in tariff item 2206.0010 the amount “Awg 100, -” shall be replaced by: Awg 433, -;

C in tariff item 2206.0090 the amount “Awg 150, -” shall be replaced by: Awg 433, -;

D in tariff heading 2403, “57%” is replaced by: Awg 211.50 per kg;

Article II

In Article 7, first paragraph, of the National Ordinance on excise duty on spirits (AB 1991 no. GT 27) the amount of “Awg 1.844, -” is replaced by: Awg 2.653, -;

Article III

This national decree will take effect on 1 January 2019.

Given at Oranjestad, December 20, 2018, by the Governor of Aruba J.A. Boekhoudt

The Minister of Finance, Economic Affairs and Culture, X.J. Ruiz-Maduro;

The Minister of Justice, Security and Integration, A.C.G. Bikker

 

KPMG, a less than perfect odyssey comes to an end

KPMG Aruba just expired on December 31st 2018, and when we woke up slightly hung over on January 1st, 2019, the brand had morphed into KDC interim.

Insiders are hopeful the whole kit and kaboodle will be absorbed by EY, but the later will probably cherry-pick and only recruit top talent, the rest of the bean counters will have to fend for themselves.

There are also ongoing discussions with another firm, BDO from Curacao, to salvage the remains; the KPMG Meijburg tax people, that left earlier, now operate as DC tax; one of their more fortunate senior partners jumped ship to EY.

Why am I telling you all that? Because there is story there.     

In Aruba, the Audit and Advisory practice did not have a local face for many years. It was originally established under the local leadership of Tico Croes, the accountant, and Erwin Croes, but when they moved on the company plugged away, with Dutch-born leadership at the helm.

They did some work here for the government, they were involved with the new DIMAS software, the one that misplaces all documents, they serviced some local clients, nothing as exciting as Curacao

This week, Ronald van Raak published an interesting piece in koninkrijksrelaties.nu, I stuck it into Google Translate and edited a bit.

Van Raak is Kingdom Relations spokesperson for the Lower House fraction of the Socialist Party in the Netherlands.

The title of his article was: Stop Hiring KPMG.

This is what he said:

It went very fast and there was little publicity given, but since January 1st the name KPMG in the Caribbean disappeared. This is big news, because KPMG was involved in almost all government activities on Curaçao and Sint Maarten.

In recent years, there have been many cases of fraud on the islands and all too often KPMG was involved. I have often asked for clarification about these abuses, also at KPMG Netherlands, but it fell on deaf ears. Then silently, KPMG took a drastic measure: The international brand decided to close its Caribbean branch.

The extent of fraud and corruption was apparent, for example, when former prime minister Gerrit Schotte of Curaçao was sentenced to three years in jail, because he took bribes from Mafia boss Francesco Corallo, who actually ran things on the island. Corallo’s books were done by KPMG. That same Mafia boss is now in Italy, in trouble again for bribing leading politicians. They funneled the cash via Fortis Bank, where KPMG Nederland’s audited the books. KPMG was also involved in illegal gambling on Curaçao, where billions in drug money, were probably laundered.

In the Netherlands, such abuses are often dismissed as ‘Antillean folly.’ But van Raak thinks KPMG’s culture lacked structure, and consequently the firm was banned by the South African government, in addition to getting involved in large-scale fraud and corruption, around the Gupta family, an Indian business empire with dirty ties to President Zuma.

In the United Kingdom, the central bank audited KPMG critically, after it became clear that they were involved in wide-ranging corruption.

KPMG is a multinational and one of the four major international accountants (besides EY, PwC and Deloitte). The head office of KPMG is in the Netherlands where they had also been involved in a long series of corruption scandals that seem embedded in the company’s DNA.  

The article goes on to lament the fact that KPMG keeps earning millions as a government consultant in the Netherlands despite the tarnished reputation and the long history of fiascos linked to it.

Why are we so dependent on a corrupt company, he asks?! And vows to obtain the information regarding how many jobs KPMG had been entrusted with over the past ten years, from all ministries, and how much did that cost and what were the results.

Then perhaps it will become clear how much damage these KPMG consultants cause.

The Netherlands must now also stop hiring KPMG, he concludes.

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