Bati Bleki Buzz, Weekly Recap July 2nd, 2017

Beach Cleaning Rincon

We met up at Boca Grandi for a post oil spill Beach Cleaning on Sunday 7am.

Of course you remember that on April 23, over 300 barrels of the black crude leaked into the Gulf of Paria from Petrotrin’s Pointe-a-Pierre refinery. It drifted and arrived here at the end of May. We had a month to prepare, but nothing happened, then the oil balls hit the beach, luckily, on the wild side, spreading gook on the beaches from Santana Cacho to Cap, located just before Andicuri.

In reality the island tourist-beaches dodged the bullet, they were spared, we were very lucky.

Parke Arikok Park announced 6 cleaning actions, and we signed up for the last one, yesterday. I posted a message to recruit volunteers and we had a great response, for two-three solid hours the beach had dozens of people cleaning, and we made a difference.

Carl Quant, from Parke Arikok coordinated the effort. He brought some of the rangers along, Jentje and Acuario, two big sweethearts. They were well organized, getting us to park one place and shuttling us to the area we were assigned to, Rincon.

Rincon is a most gorgeous stretch of white beach, at the end of Grapefield beach, half way between KIA and the Windmills.

Two things I learned:

  1. We will have to go out there regularly. More comes in everyday, and a lot got buried by the incoming sand carried on the wings of wind. If you sit by the water and dig, the tar balls make an appearance. At first I thought that some of those black lumps were just black stones, the tar balls masquerade as natural pebbles, it is sometimes hard to tell which is which, and I had to question every single one to reveal its true identity. One of our volunteers started digging in the sand and the lump surfaces, soft and gooey!
  2. When and if you go, do yourself a favor, and take a bucket along, the plastic bags are a nuisance! My spaghetti colanders were also useful. Get soft gloves, not garden gloves,

PLASTIC NATION: We live in an incredible gorgeous place and the plastic on the wild side is appalling. It’s not always our mess, but it needs to be cleaned up. My suggestion is KIA. I think we can get some volunteers among the prisoners. Spend 3 hours cleaning the beach, the outing itself is enjoyable, and the fresh sea air intoxicating. This is not a humiliating task. And I think it is a good idea, to use that man power behind walls – at least the well-behaved portion of the prison population!

Thank you Carl, Jentje and Acuario, for an excellent job. Imagine Carl started working for the park the day the oil balls hit the shore, and he hasn’t stopped cleaning since.

Thank you Shoco Beer for providing delicious cold ones for the crew. Long Legged Lager and Blood Orange Blond taste incredible at 10am, after three hours of bending. We also stopped at Kamini’s for lunch, which complemented the Sunday morning experience.

A new kind of leadership: Tai Foo Benoit Lee

A few days ago I had coffee with Tai Foo Benoit Lee, of Raiz, a new political party, but we left politics out, it was a private conversation.

Towards the end of the week, he said,  his group will be hosting a press conference, introducing its members and its platform to the public, meanwhile RAIZ has an official FB page with many followers where they post on various subjects creating awareness with potential voters about the political movement and relevant issues such as: Citizen participation, community building, equal rights for all, the protection of nature and the environment, and the reinstitution of the island’s traditional norms and values, just to name a few.

Tai Foo is a well known contributor to FB here, I follow his intelligent writing frequently, and I welcome him now into the political arena, idealistic, I don’t want to say naïve so I say fresh, and on fire; he loves his island and he wants to bring some positive change about.

In his personal life Tai Foo has been the general manager of a chain of sandwich shops for the past 6 years. He says it was an excellent school where he was taught by 103 of his employees about life on the island. “Over the past years,” he says, “I watched my people struggle, confront challenges, and cope with the stress of making a living and raising a family here, and I tried to help wherever I could, as a leader-servant,” he adds.

“When you have 103 multi-cultural employees,” he states, “you see and hear everything, I am totally prepared for the big picture, I recognize the issues, and it is time for us to come up with workable solutions.”

The way he sees it, he was in the trenches for 6 years, learning all he needed to learn in the microcosm, to be a future leader for his people, in the macrocosm.

Another story he told me which I liked is his recent failed business venture. Last year Tai Foo confidently opened a most charming café — it was great in many ways – he invested blood, sweat and tears, in a difficult location, and did not see success. “The experience of TAN’DẺ humbled me,” he comments, “I needed it, it taught me humility, and that life’s greatest riches are spiritual.”

“There is no coincidence,” he remarks. After closing the café he joined the local Tao society, exploring its system of belief, attitudes and practices, where he now enjoys the mentoring of some more experience Tao friends and practices austerity in his lifestyle. “Tao,” he explains, “is about flowing with life, with care, and that is what we fellow-islanders need in order to genuinely connect with each other and with nature.”

I had two coffees, he had water. And he became a bit emotional when he spoke about his family members which he loves and admires. If anything, he is a family man.

Earlier in the week he wrote to me: “I can also assure you of this, we are here to make a difference in the local traditional way of handling politics, and how it is experienced. We wish to elevate the level of discourse so as to create a society of citizens who demand a higher performance level of their public servants. We will work to the best of our abilities and with good intentions to enhance the quality of life of all Arubans with no personal interest at stake and most importantly without bashing of trashing our political adversaries present or past. Because I now belong to a group of people decisions must be taken by consulting the group first. Loyalty, is an important value to me, one which must be respected at all times so as to create understanding and trust.

My kind of man, principles above personalities; please invite me to one of your political gatherings; I need to learn about Raiz.

Our finances

It took me some time to read the Dutch language document, plus I had to interview a million friends about the subject. On June 7th, CAFT, the Dutch financial supervisory body overseeing our finances published their interesting quarterly paper, with their findings regarding our economy.

So in June they wrote about the first quarter and most probably in September, they will be reporting on our second quarter that is now coming to an end. If they do not see improvements, they declared, by the second quarter report, they will recommend financial measures to compensate for the probable national deficit. But then the elections will take place and whoever is in government in October, will have to deal with the consequences of overspending and under-earning.

The document makes us look bad and for the benefit of those who have not seen it, this is just a small summary: CAFT believes that the figures for the first quarter of 2017 give cause for concern. The deficit of Aruba is significantly higher than predicted. Several larger amounts of money that were supposed to alleviate the distress did not materialize. For example? The income from the refinery, and the sale of an asset, Fuels Marketing & Supply Aruba, FMSA for 40M. Some other returns fell short of the budget, in particular the income of payroll tax and BBO, and the estimated revenue from improved compliance efforts. There was apparently the goal of an annual saving of 5% on staff costs, but that was not accomplished, and it seems the number of employees in service, is on the rise again. In addition, CAFT expects that, on the basis of the estimates of AZV, the balance will deteriorate over the course of the year, even further. Based on their findings, CAFT has serious doubts as to whether the agreed upon deficit level will be achieved.

So basically GOA’s debt rose to Awg 4.086 million at the end of March which is 84% of the most recent GDP for 2017.

(If we stand to earn Awg 1,000 this year, we already owe Awg 840!)

Buy the way, the MinFin denies rising number of employees, but I think most probably manpower was recruited in honor of the coming elections.

The overall message of the report is that GOA isn’t showing any discipline and continues doing what it does best, spending more of our money, and reporting late on its spending.

In reality, CAFT is just there to prepare a report and in the spirit of “You can lead the horse to the water but you can’t make it drink,” cannot really do anything to change our spending habits.

One of my learned friends pointed out that the report only gives The Hague Holland arguments to refuse the securing of capital on international markets against lower interest rates under the Dutch AAA credit rating … which means our interest rates will be much higher.

He also points out that the original protocol signed between Aruba and CAFT/Holland was to make STRUCTURAL changes, and in lieu they found some cosmetic changes, Trickonomics, the sale of an asset which artificially dressed the budget up and some windfall gains from a new profit tax law that was bulldoze through parliament to pull profit tax revenues into the 2015 fiscal year. These profit taxes would otherwise have been collected in 2016. Also in 2015 the Social Security Bank, SVB, granted a debt pardon to GOA for 51 million… so this alleviated GOA’s balance sheet. Just Temporarily.

You could say that based on the report, the refinery was the one supposed to save us, but as you know, nothing is happening there, so there will be no choice but to tighten the belts after September.

Real Estate is the Government’s cash cow so why are the dragging their heels?

AAR was established in May of 2012 in order to lay the foundation for a professional realtors’ association in accordance with the Dutch model.

After AAR had been established, all active local realtors were invited to become members. Some did, some did not.

This week at La Garage, Renaissance Marketplace the association celebrated five years of success, over cocktails and hors d’oeuvres.

So what do the realtors say?

This year is considerably better than last. Americans, Canadians, and a handful of Venezuelans are buying homes and condos but alas, government agencies do everything they can to delay the process and make it as cumbersome as possible.

When a seller and a buyer shake hands on a deal, an agreement is signed, then a 10% deposit is made.

In principle within 6 weeks, the docs should shuttle between government agencies and the notary’s office; then when the 90% balance is paid, the deed should be finalized.

Nowadays that process takes at least three months and sometime much more, up to two years in the case of a premier realtor who sold 22 lots in a new development waiting for a government agency to complete measuring and assigning lot numbers for taxation purposes. The mythical spiltizing takes forever, they say.

The biggest hurdle? Legger waarde en inzage, that takes too long. Basically it means that if a home is sold for two dollar, the government may assess it for two dollars for tax purposes. But they take long to hum and haw, and shuffle the papers from the inbox to the outbox. Buyers’ remorse often sets in, before the transaction is completed. Those who patiently wait, are rewarded with a big fat tax bill which must be paid immediately.

The realtors state that it is in the interest of the government to expedite docs, and it remains a mystery why the system is so sluggish.

The more structured they are, the more money comes in, so why are they dragging their heels?

Another hurdle? Professional rivalry among four notary offices. The decision which notary to employ is at the hands of the buyer, and when a transaction is assigned to a rival, monumental heel-dragging ensues!

On the upside, all realtors are now using the same uniform agreement, and the mutual collaboration between AAR members is much improved.

This week the central bank invited the realtor for a talk, asking them to do the bank’s job and report on suspicious transaction, besides reporting it to the Office for the Disclosure of Unusual Transactions.

Question: If everything is funneled through the central bank, anyway, why do they require another set of papers regarding that same exact deal?

It is obvious that they are making it more complex, instead of digitalizing, and centralizing all reports.

Mama Mio

A reader writes: On Friday, June 30, 2017 Mio Aruba license gets revoked, seriously affecting free market enterprise, consumer choices, infrastructure for the digital economy also known as kenniseconomie. This is a violation of freedom of speech according to the European Convention on Human Rights.

And apparently this is OK with all political parties participating in upcoming September elections.

Free enterprise? How can the government charge MIO the same license fees as SETAR which has thousands more clients, so they can spread the costs over more accounts, and furthermore MIO doesn’t even have a GSM mobile network!

MIO is CDMA technology which SETAR used to have for their first Primo cellular phones!

(Wikipedia: CDMA, Code-Division Multiple Access, refers to any of several protocols used in second-generation (2G) and third-generation (3G) wireless communications).

So how can the government charge MIO the same license fee as SETAR?

Here is how:  Under the guise of free enterprise, and the so-called even-playing field, GOA puts MIO into such a high license fee category that MIO cannot meet its obligation, and then MIO is forced to fold… SETAR recovers its monopoly, and hundreds of MIO customers are forced back into the fold, destined to pay much higher phone rates.

In other countries, the government charges license fees in proportion to the number of customers … so why not in Aruba??

When we insisted on a reaction/response from MIO, they said:

Good Afternoon,

Over the last seven years, Mio has done everything in its power to provide extraordinary service at an affordable price. As a company born from U.S. investments, we have considered ourselves guests in Aruba, and take the hospitality we have been shown by the Aruban people into careful consideration. As a result, we have chosen to remain respectfully quiet during this time of political tension, despite any public statements made regarding our organization.

We may, of course, be forced to speak publicly if and when the government of Aruba decides to take actions against a communications network relied upon by over six thousand customers. In the meantime, we will offer no other comments on the recent saber rattling including threatened actions that would be both unprecedented but, if taken at face value, potentially leave customers without critical communications, including emergency communications.

We hope that our position of restraint and respect for the political process in a foreign country can be respected by the media. Until forced otherwise, Mio will continue serving the people of Aruba to the best of our abilities, and provide the fairest rates available on the island.

Thank You,

Benjamin Allen

(+297) 600-9970

I imagine that is the desired result, as MIO shuts up and ships out.

The MinEcon came out with a statement that MIO is in arrears for fee, but he conveniently left out the reason for the dispute. He talked about a level playing field, but that reminds us of the mouse and the elephant joke…

Our question: How can you charge MIO the same fee as SETAR who has thousands of more clients …

How can you charge the mouse and elephant a fixed price for dinner?

Beach walk from Calbas and a perfect Sunday Happy Hour

We walked a charming downhill trail from the top of the ridge in Calbas, to the other wild side of the island, first down then up, a total of 50 minutes.

It was Sunday afternoon, we started at 5pm, then at 6pm, we headed to Mi Dudu, on the Moko road for sunset happy hour.

That’s a perfect combo.

Driving instructions?

From the Moko road, past the colorful Calbas Residence, take a left up the hill to the top, where you find the water well. The road takes a sharp right to Jaburibari, but you should turn left. The road meanders a bit. Make the first right, reach a sand road, roll a bit further and stop at the abandoned horse ranch with a drop dead gorgeous local stone wall.

The walk downhill is easy, the trail is clearly marked, then you get to a fork in the road, both options are good, we took one down, the other up.

The path leads to the edge of Wariruri Bay, but it doesn‘t have a specific name on the map. There is a clapboard rancho on the beach, and the area is squeaky clean.

What sets this place apart is the mysterious owner/occupant of the rancho.

As you know, our ‘wild side’ is dotted with ranchos built from reclaimed wood. Those ranchos serve families for beach picnics and camping purposes, some are very elaborate and count a number of rooms, including sleeping bunks, a kitchen and a make-shift toilet.

I have no doubt that the mysterious owner/occupant of that rancho we visited on Sunday is a neat freak. He outlined all trails leading down to “his” beach with stones and driftwood, and created a series of totem poles made with plastic junk and debris. As you walk down the hill, you may admire his tall cactus sculpture garden. We took pictures along the way, some are super striking!

Arriving at the beach we were invited to look around. There were a few people in the Rancho on that afternoon, just chatting, hanging, no domino, no drinking, perhaps their families left early.

The place is swept clean, and organized, and while you cannot swim in the boca, you can wriggle your grateful toes in the water.

Then we went up the hill back to our cars. More pictures of artistic cactus totem poles, and two huffing and puffing mountain bike riders, we met on the way.

I had two almost frozen Polar beers at Mi Dudu, and some conch croquettes. This is living!


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July 02, 2017
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