Bati Bleki Buzz Weekly Recap, May 17th, 2020

Farewell Friends

By Mariza Garcia

Imagine yourself in a foreign country, with hardly any money left at the end of your vacation, with no return date to your homeland because every country in the world has shut down… and the only items in your possession are your beach flip flops and worn vacation clothes.

Does that sound like fun?!

You may not even know, but for the last fifty days, we’ve had thirty stranded Argentine tourists on the island, abandoned by the airlines, and left to their devices due to pandemic confusion, inefficiency or just lack of kindness…

After the initial shock and disbelief, that they really couldn’t leave at the end of their fantastic March vacation, they faced the challenged of finding accommodations, as hotels, and apartments were closing. Some of them even imagined themselves sleeping on the beach, with their suitcases as pillows under their heads.

A few members of the group were very lucky, accepting the generosity of strangers, and securing free lodging, but most were greeted with a mix of solidarity, which was good, and impatience, which was difficult. Many locals just couldn’t wrap their heads around the notion that indeed these people were stuck, and they were NOT to blame.

Luckily, the chorus chanting “We Are All in The Same Boat,” drowned out the sound of the people who did not understand. One compassionate high-rise hotelier hosted a couple with their three-year-old daughter, while his hotel was shut down with just a skeleton crew left on duty. They frequently left food for the family and toys for the little one…

Two young couples, one who spent their honeymoon here, were offered a free apartment by two local families, who also shared their food with them.

The owners of Sasaki Apartments told a family of four, that included a fifteen-year-old teenager, that they could stay at the property, past their reservation dates. He hosted them for 40 days not charging them one dime.

Others found places to stay which charged the minimum possible, allowing for more and more discounts as the days passed and the uncertainty grew.

A local MD helped refill medicine prescriptions for the oldest visitor, and Balashi Brewery sent a gift of soft drinks and Chill Beer, on a number of occasions.

As the days drew long, locals would stop to give the stranded visitors rides when they saw them walking back from the supermarket, and in return, two Argentinians provided some college students with computers so they could attend online classes.

A lady working at Botica Santa Ana, took an older couple under her wing, crying with them when they experienced a bad day, bringing food to their apartment, to show her solidarity in many ways. Her name is Judith, and she is a woman of great compassion.

As a whole, the group presented a random mélange of old and young, with just one common denominator: They all came here on vacation, had a great time, then couldn’t leave, as the border closed.

WhatsApp and Zoom, came in handy to keep the team spirit high, and finally the apps helped the group find its voice, which they used to ask for help…   

A special mention of gratitude goes to Claudia Ponson that was the motor behind finding them a way out…first she spent two days calling all her friends and contacts in Brazil, to see if she could organize a private charter and then she sat with the group and the Argentinian authorities to pressure those in charge into action.

It was not easy, there is no Argentinian consulate in Aruba…and strangely, the one in charge is the Argentinian Embassy in Venezuela. And that all together is another complication.  

After numerous forms and dozens of pleas, the permissions from the Airport authorities was granted. It was a long process but it came to a happy ending.

The delighted and relieved group left last Saturday on a special flight that also collected 11 stranded Argentinians in Curacao and 6 in Bonaire.

ATA coordinated the pickup with De Palm Tours, for complimentary transport from their different accommodations to the airport, and provided some farewell souvenirs.

The stranded Argentinians, now safe and sound in their homes, are grateful for the unselfish and generous assistance and offers for assistance from: Anselmo Pontilius, Romina Martinez, Alex Cybul, Ricardo and Susana Gogorza, Julie Partosemito, Luciano Mazzeo, Lisette Geerman Gomes, Fernando and Carina Molina, Daniel Allende,  Daniela Fernandez, Fernando of Mi Estancia Apartments, Natalia Koolman, Claudio Martinez, Romeo Penacino,  Myriam and Dante Leandi, Glennie Tromp, Cecilia and Aleco Molina, Cecilia and Marianina Leone,  Carole Rivard Beeney, Paula Nupieri, Adelita Tromp, Jimena Molina,  Mirta and Carlos Sonensein, Lise Heeneman, Hans Mulder, Peter Meyer, Marcela Millan, Luis Villegas, Daniela Emery in Miami and everyone who cared and helped during the crisis!

The greatest danger in times of turbulence, is not turbulence itself but to act with yesterday’s logic.

Big question?

Will GOA show leadership in endorsing the tripartite committee’s recommendation to make the 20/20% easier for employees to accept, by NOT making it mandatory for companies but by INCORPORATING it into law?

A week has gone by and not a peep from GOA on this burning issue.

GOA is refusing to change. Let’s do nothing to really help companies and the economy. Let’s put the burden of the 40% on companies who are making NO money and have to rely on employees’ consent, to drop their pay?

What are you smoking?

Consent?!

See how far you got with your unions, and you will understand that in MANY CASES employees just wouldn’t sign, and if they don’t, the business CANNOT accept the wage subsidy because…. all it takes is one unreasonable employee, one ambulance-chasing lawyer, and one socialist judge, to rule against the employer and side for the employee for lost wages, he is so-called ENTITLED to.

Because, the existing law does not cover pandemic, and there is no jurisprudence, no precedence by which employers might be protected. What’s gonna happen if courts approve a wages request?

Our labor laws already allow the inmates to run the prison, and now in this time of crisis they are also running the treasury.

Yes, there are ways around it, but they are time consuming and layered with bureaucracy because you’re dealing with a pseudo-union called The Labor Department.

Just another example of GOA’s failure on the economic and labor fronts.

This is a plea for help: If the 20/20% is not anchored by law, and labor laws weren’t changed to allow companies flexibility with their hiring, as long as MinSAL, Glenbert Croes, maintains his hero stance, there will be no recovery.

As it stands, companies are unable to obtain their employees’ consent, they cannot accept the wage subsidy for fear of being sued down the road, and GOA is unmovable.

EMPLOYERS: Let your employees become former-employees and stay on FASE. Do not assume that the 20/20% is etched in stone, as agreed by the “Dialogo Social Laboral Tripartite”, which included the government, private sector, and union representatives. GOA did not create a legal framework for that arrangement and you cannot easily reduce work hours and corresponding pay on a unilateral basis, without it. For lack of legislation, employers are exposed.

And as we said before, the only ones to benefit from the crisis are the accountants and the legal eagles.

Under the current arrangement it indeed seems that the wage subsidy will only prolong the death of our business community, forced to keep employees and pay them, under threat by the Labor Department.

And remember, employers must retain some cash reserves, in order to sustain their business’ reopening.

But if they must mortgage themselves, bankruptcy is a viable option, especially if you don’t owe the tax man much. If you owe the tax man, you’d better keep that company alive otherwise you are liable for all debts personally!

But if you’re debt-free at the tax department, freeze your corporation, use your resources to sustain yourself, and try to start again later, or in case of bankruptcy establish under another shelf corporation, that’s the free advice by my LEGAL EAGLE FRIENDS.   

Even CAft chairman Raymond Gradus, complains how GOA does not accept recommendation, and refuses to change, do things differently, until when?

What needs to happen for GOA to see the light?

Voluntary Repatriation.

I spoke to a Legal Eagle friend, and to a Human Right Advocate about Voluntary Repatriation. Both confirmed it is a legal option, and whether the migrant is legal or illegal, a return trip should be available to all those who wish to go back to their country of original, because it is within their human rights.

On the subject of it being voluntary: It doesn’t matter. Those repatriated and / or deported will both be blacklisted, unable to return here between 9 months to 4 years, depending on how long they overstayed as undocumented residents here.  

DIMAS added a form to its website recently and the option for voluntary repatriation starts there, open to legal workers, illegals, refugees, and economic migrants, and it is the responsibility of the international community and / or the state, to facilitate it.

We were just told today that Venezuela refused to clear humanitarian flights, for now.

With the volatile situation there it is hard to determine for sure, if people escaped from violence, gangs, hunger, or political persecution.

But they are certainly running away from something, to find a better life on the island. Alas, Covid19 got in the way of their plan, many were fired, and will be unable to find work, because most of them operated in the gray economy.

However, hungry, destitute, jobless, no one can be forced to leave especially, refugees or asylum seekers are protected, but in the case of migrant workers there is some room for the government to turn people back.

How?

Those with first, second or third work permit may expect DIMAS to turn their petition for an extension down, so they should be prepared, says my Legal Eagle friend.

If you have three work permits and are married to a Dutch passport-holder, you are safe. If you have five work permits and are eligible to apply for a Dutch passport, you are safe, the rest of work-permit holders depend on GOA’s policy, if the Labor Department decides to negate all requests then we should expect an exodus of people, back to their countries of origin, in both south America and Europe.

But, as long as they are here, GOA has an obligation to take care of them and allow them access to lifesaving measures, including Covid19 testing and treatment.

Our illegal communities rely on their internal networks for support, and so far have been able to sustain themselves with the help of grassroots feeding organizations, and their fellow countrymen. No FASE for those who have been undocumented. They have mostly been paid under the table, and their prospect of being employed again is iffy. But Aruba probably presents an improvement over Venezuela!

There is a polemic lately about Western Union and similar MoneyGram operations. Many are in dismay over the FASE money, supposed to circulate in our economy, sent overseas, to other countries, because our international community supports family members on all four corners of the globe.

You cannot tell people how to spend their money, and if indeed FASE money has to remain here, because it is money we BORROWED, we’d better exchanged the cash for food coupons.

True, there will be an immediate a black coupon market and the vouchers would be exchangeable against a lesser amount of money, at the mini markets, but then one cannot regulate everything, the human race is resilient and creative, and people will find a way.

In conversation with Economist Rendell de Kort

According to de Kort one of the issues behind the handouts and subsidies is productivity. While it is true that people don’t have enough income, and hence the need for aid, we cannot stop there. We also have to create value, and employ people in a new way, that will help them feel good about themselves.

While FASE will contribute to the economy, locals can contribute too, via especially created programs using their labor capacity, for many things, on farms, in environmental projects, if the country pays them to sit around, they have to reciprocate.

Put someone in charge of this – perhaps the ever-complaining former Minister of Justice, now a member of the opposition –  could head that initiative, under the Man Na Obra slogan, and get us all working on neglected community projects?!

Another important aspect of creating value, according to de Kort is the Green Stimulus. Those who are enjoying GOA’s handouts should plant trees, clean beaches, maintain Parke Arikok, work for Directie Milieu, and in general spearhead beautification projects.

Their self-esteem will improve while picking cucumbers in the sun, because they got paid, but they are doing an honest day’s work, at the same time.

I am not sure this will work in Aruba, I said. You must try, he answered, because we should not just TALK about baranca stima, we must demonstrate it. “If we pay you money we borrowed, you can work on projects that help the island recover.”

The Labor Department, the Department of Infrastructure, should oversee, they know what’s needed and can start the ball rolling.

That way we keep FASE for a few months, people get paid for their work, and have an incentive to move out of the program, when they get a job that pays better. Try it for three months, and then evaluate.

AgriTourism, that involves any agriculturally based operation or activity that brings visitors to a farm or ranch, may also be helpful, suppling the hotels with a more resilient product, contributing to GDP, and creating a niche market for visitors.

De Kort sees good potential in agriculture, and Aruba needs to move in that direction and incentivize farmers.

The biggest hurdle, de Kort agrees, is flexibility in the labor market. From the Chamber of Commerce to the IMF, they are all talking about it, about the need for a flexible labor market, it’s not just a social value, it is the secret to success; inflexible labor markets are not good for overall employment and it is basically unfair to lay the burden on the private sector.

The burden consisting of the personnel cost of the public sector, a self-inflicted difficulty.

De Kort doesn’t endorse the wage-subsidy, because he doesn’t think it is a good idea to incentivize businesses to keep people they don’t need on the payroll. In light of the fact that we don’t know what the new normal will look like, and how many tourists we will serve, why burden the private sector with something that hurts them in the long run, they must be able to hire and fire seasonally.

If companies have no income, why worsen their balance sheet, on behalf of the country?

De Kort urges companies to move in the direction of social enterprise, instead of aiming to maximize shareholders’ profits he thinks we should move to operate social enterprises, where ALL stakeholders are properly taken into consideration.

If anything, this crisis caused the realization that we need a holistic approach, with social responsibility as a core value, not as an occasional token of appreciation. Aruba should do business but with specific social objectives that serve as its primary purpose. As a social enterprise we should seek to maximize profits while maximizing benefits to society and the environment.

In his view, we all have a limited capacity in dealing with the pandemic, a crisis of unprecedented magnitude, and that is why a united front behind just one leader is required. He calls for everyone to support the decisions taken, no matter the sins of the past, roll up their sleeves, and truly work for the good of the country, united behind just one leader, keeping all criticism productive and supportive. 

The Central Bank, he reiterates, has a super-difficult task now, providing financial and price stability. Much of the world’s events are not in our hands, and our own dynamic changed, we’re not getting any money in, so the Central Bank’s job at preventing the bleeding of foreign exchange, maintaining things in balance, decreasing what’s flowing out, and exercising control, is more important than ever, and in the name of that control, we shouldn’t allow the FASE money leave the country via Western Union, and MoneyGram, because it must stay within our struggling economy.

What we now need are leaders at the top of their game, making the right decisions, innovations, creativity and common sense. 

About Subsidies, FASE

Fase was announced early in the pandemic, Awg 950 in aid, for all who lost their jobs; the MinSAL, Social Affairs, Labor, wanted to look like a hero and invented this NEW instrument that could/should/would have been smoothly handled by SVB, but never mind, water under the bridge.

Over time, the rules were made clear, ZZP, the self-employed solo operators, not registered at SVB added, and a crew of 30 people hired, a committee set up, then slow processing began.

You have to understand that SVB has all names, numbers, dates and amounts on file, ready at the press of a button.

But, no!

FASE had to solicit applications, enter the data, including bank account information, tax ID number, and an employer business plan, in order to create the NEW redundant thing.

According to my sources about 12,200 FASE requests were made, many of them by people working in the grey economy which couldn’t present letters from their employers, had no pay slips, filing incomplete applications, destined for rejection.

That’s what they get for being tax-evaders, all these years.

Until Tuesday this week, 4,800 FASE subsidies were released. They are being paid every two days, at a random order. When received, inspected, and approved, they go to a committee which hands them down for execution to SVB. Efficiency has never been our strong suit.

My info is from May 12th, and we’re talking about April’s subsidy.

May & June are supposed to go smoother. Then the program will be evaluated.

FASE is hopeful to conclude its April round #1 payments, by the end of this week.  

If you receive a wage-subsidy in May, you will be dropped from FASE. Pensioners are not eligible.   

WAGE Subsidy

The famous Aruba salary subsidy, supposed to arrive in April, was discussed at the “Dialogo Social Laboral Tripartite,” at the beginning of May. The gathering included GOA, the private sector, and union representatives. In that meeting it was clearly agreed that the subsidy given to employers, and in turn handed out to employees, in lieu of lost wages, will be 60% of their pay, and not 80% as dictated at first.

Local businesses couldn’t pitch in with the original 20% during a zero income period, and after a great effort at persuasion, and lobbying, the Dialogo Social Laboral Tripartite was convened and the decision amended.

YET GOA DID NOT TELL ANYONE, and did not create a legal framework to enforce it, leaving the employers no choice but attempt to convince their staffers to sign letters of agreement, which would protect them down the road from possible lawsuits.

As a result of GOA’s intentional silence, employers are unable to easily reduce work hours and corresponding pay on a unilateral basis.

GOA is obviously talking out of both sides of its mouth here.

On one hand meeting employers’ needs.

On the other not telling a soul, so that potential voters won’t hang their 40% loss of income on the government.

Legal advice reiterates that the current law and jurisprudence does not give any space to business owners to make “reasonable” decisions on work hours and pay in an unprecedented crisis such as this one, depending on each company’s situation. 

Thus, it is still advisable to reach an agreement with the employees.

GOA could have made it easier, because it was agreed that “minimum payment of 60% of salary,” is a basis of the subsidy program. GOA was asked to publicly announce it. It was also asked for a legal framework, but nada.

All the business community has is an official letter from GOA and SVB outlining the subsidy conditions and the intent for a minimum of 60% of salaries to be paid.

And that sums up the tools available, at this time.

More work for accountants and lawyers, to make unique calculations and draw up agreements.

“Never let a good crisis go to waste,” Winston Churchill.

The media announced this week that Aruba’s abandoned Drive-In Movie Theater is making a comeback.

It first opened in 1969 with a big-budget blockbuster the Guns of Navarone, a 1961 British-American epic adventure war film with three of the era’s hottest stars: Gregory Peck, David Niven and Anthony Quinn, fighting against the Germans on a fictitious Greek island.

The drive in finally closed in the new Millennial.

In between is sold a lot of delicious, greasy, skinny French fries for Afl 3.25 and hotdogs for Afl 4.25 from the brightly lit concession stand.

I remember driving around testing the speakers on poles, to see which one worked, though towards the end the sound improved and was transmitted via the car radio.

Eduardo de Veer says that DJ Korso recently called him suggesting the re-opening of the Drive-In Movie Theater. He called insistently a number of times, and de Veer brushed the idea off, until he realized that this was exactly what his people were planning, the revival of the retro, nostalgic movie experience, befitting the new social-distancing norms.

The drive-in asphalt is being cleared, right as we speak, and the wilderness that took over in the past years is being weeded.

The reemerging Drive-In Movie Theater will accommodate 420 cars, and the charge is per car, so no need to smuggle people in, covered in a blanket in the trunk or on the back seat.

The screen, a giant 40ft x 80ft remained the same. The movies will be projected with the new I-Max projector, already on island. It was supposed to go into the I-Max theater, now delayed till October. The tremendous sound will be broadcast on an FM frequency through the car radio.

The seats? You’re in charge, old chalupas and hot, new rides are equally welcome.

The ATCO crew has been busy, repairing and fixing, putting a roof over the cafeteria, some old time employees will be returning to the cafeteria so that the fondly-remember French fries taste the same.

The Drive-In will show popular movies at a fast rotation, since there are no new movie releases at the moment, the cinema will rely on its own resources, and will change the selection frequently.

Pa Bien Meta Corp, it’s true that you never let a good crisis go to waste.

FIRE

As one of my friends pointed out, when the home of a former minister, in an affluent neighborhood goes up in smoke, it is bound to receive wide news coverage anywhere in the world.

But what the incident brought to light, again, is the in-your-face style of coverage, fueled by a total lack of respect for privacy and people’s emotional state of mind, as they stand powerless against the flames, in the street, watching disaster unfold.

Media sensationalism in this case victimizes the victim, again.

This particular scuffle however, where a reporter got decked by the former minister’s side-kick, has many deep layers of animosity, I don’t even remember details any more, but it certainly includes the Bubali Plas, and a case of ter beschikking.   

The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, Spock in The Wrath of Khan

Solo di Pueblo ran an article: Agencia grandi di cuminda y bebida ta corta personal cu 50%; 60 trahador ta perde trabao, so I called, to find out more.

It is indeed a fact that one of the largest agencies on the island made a utilitarian choice: We are reacting to the reality in the market, we lost 65% of our sales, we paid full salaries for March & April, 100% pay, but in May in order to save the company we must let people go, management reports.

It is a realistic move, that spokesperson continues, we don’t like it; we love and appreciate our people, have coffee with them every day but it is better to let some people go, instead of killing the business altogether.

The company, opted not to take the wage loan subsidy, because it will not help it, in a long run, to be burdened by an unsustainable payroll.

We met with each and every one of our people, the spokesperson explains, we reached agreements, it will cost the company, but we are doing it the old fashion way, one on one, and some of our people will come back on an hourly basis, later, when business recovers a bit.

As a general statement, GOA has milked the food & beverage distribution import businesses and burdened them with heavy taxes for the past year and a half to the tune of 1.5M a month, each. “We told them, the burden is too heavy,” the spokesperson declares, “but they did not listen. So the virus showed up, and now everyone is hearing.”

Overall the company considers itself fortunate to only have lost 65% of its business and not 90% – 100% for example, some car-rental companies are stuck with hundreds of cars and no income, but with a diverse portfolio some of the company’s products are still moving, providing a much smaller, but still steady income.

The restructuring is painful, concludes the spokesperson, but the company experienced crises before, and will figure it out.

Cashless Society

One of my learned-friends suggested to convert Aruba into a Cashless Society. This will make all the issues of our giant gray economy disappear, he says, when cash is no longer a player, plastic is king.

And to get a debit/credit card, and own a bank account, you must comply with a number of requirements, which will weed out a certain population, the unbanked, most of them undocumented immigrants. Singapore has been moving towards the goal of becoming a cashless society, as part of being a ‘smart nation,’ where all financial transactions are conducted through the transfer of digital information, electronically.

And cashless transactions, are now possible, thanks to technology, they are fast, safe, they reduce criminal activity, they prevent the proliferation of counterfeit bills, they allow for good collection of data, they prevent disease, viruses transmitted by touching dirty money, and they force the gray economy out of business, and into main stream.

Millionaire migration

In search of alternative sources of income one of my learned-friends sent me an article outlining the top 10 countries to retire in, this year. Those countries are high on the International Living’s Retirement Index, including Vietnam, Mexico, Costa Rica, France, Spain, Malaysia, Ecuador, Colombia, Costa Rica, Panama, with Portugal as the best.

Why not Aruba?

The International Living’s Retirement Index measures the country’s position on the chart by looking at cost of living, quality of life, weather, healthcare, lifestyle, medical care, safety, and an overall sense of well-being.

My learned-friend suggests to Invite 5,000 retirees with a $5m plus net worth, to settle here, paying for their own health care insurance annually, and contributing to the economy, with no added pressure on police, schools, or even health care, since they pay their own way.

Invite 5,000 millionaires to live here, and give the economy a shot in the arm, he says.  

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May 17, 2020
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