Bati Bleki Buzz Weekly Recap, May 31st, 2020

Aruba Food & Beverage Association, AF&BA, conducts restaurant survey

The Aruba Food & Beverage Association recently conducted a survey among restaurants focusing on Convid19 and how it affected the restaurant sector. Thirty-six (12%) restaurants responded to the survey.

The first question “Did you apply for wage-subsidy?” 61.1% responded having applied, while 38.8% did not. Conclusions may be drawn that restaurants were hesitant to apply for the wage-subsidy because they were uncertain about their ability to re-open and preferred the more temporary FASE subsidy.

On the second question “How would you describe your business?” 83.3% responded to be closed for business with ZERO INCOME. 11. % reported they retained 25% of sales; and 5.56% claimed to have retained 50%. We may conclude that the F&B sector suffered a tremendous blow due to Convid19 and the corresponding lock down.

“Would you re-open serving on your outside terrace from May 25th?” Was the next question and 36.1% confirmed they would open with a terrace and 63.89% said they won’t.

Question number four, “How much of your staff you think you can retain 3 months from now?” 61.1% responded they thought they would be able to retain 100% of their staff through the month of July; 16.67% responded being able to retain 75%; 11.1% thought they could retain 50% and 11.1% responded they could retain just 25%. The response reflects optimism possibly based on the recently received wage-subsidy and the hope that this subsidy will carry the sector through the month of July 2020. Based on this question it is estimated, however, that 1,000 employees will lose their job in the restaurant sector.

The fifth question “How much of your staff do you think you can retain 6 months from now?” 47.2% responded being able to retain 100% of their staff through the month of October; 25% responded being able to retain just 75%; 22.2% responded being able to retain 50%, and 5.56% responded to be able to retain 25%. In the fall, the number of restaurant that claimed they could retain all their staffers dropped by 15%, due to the minimal number of tourists expected on the island. That drop from 61.1% to 47.2%, reflects the decline in the number of visitors. This also implies that many restaurants will not be able to survive without the wage-subsidy or another type of financial aid.

“When do you think it would be safe and sustainable to open your restaurant” was question number 6 and 13.89% answered to be able to open their restaurant in June; 5.56% are thinking about opening in July; 8.33% in August and 13.89% somewhere in September, 13.89% set their opening day in to 5 – 6 months down the road.

Moreover, 27.7% will open when GOA authorizes it while the majority, 30.56%, is not sure. Some analysis here may guide us to a projection of 200 restaurants which would consider opening 6 months from now. An AHATA projection of 30% occupancy would justify 100 open restaurants which will force the sector into a regretful ‘Survival of the Fittest’ mode, if indeed 200 restaurants plan to be open.

On the last question “Do you consider closing your restaurant?” 8.33% thought they will close their restaurant while 83.3% thought they would remain operational; another 8.33% is not sure yet.

In general, gratitude was expressed on the wage-subsidy grant that was successfully administered by SVB and managed by GOA. 

AF&BA plans to have another survey next month with questions pertaining to the opening of terraces, and the required Aruba Health & Happiness Code. The second survey will repeat some of the questions here, to study trends of future re-openings.

Considering the many challenges ahead, AF&BA recommends restaurant operators to reach consensus on shorter working hours and fewer days with staffers now that hotel occupancy is low, and insufficient to sustain 100% of staff at 30 – 40% guests.  

ACCORDING TO AF&BA, flexibility of labor laws will be key for our restaurant sector survival. AF&BA urges GOA to start moving in that direction, FAST.

For additional information you may write to: [email protected]

Mustard After the Meal

Our curfew days are over. On Thursday, the stringent Toque de Queda will be done and over with.

I believe we had 58 days of that medicine over the past weeks and overall most people complied with the restrictive measure. The Police reports 552 violators, fined Awg 1,000 each. Only 30 settled their bill, the rest will have to explain to the judge why they were on the street, under a calamity state of emergency.

Ten businesses were also fined for violation of the curfew hours, and two individuals were cited for breaking quarantine.

We all understood the reason for enforcing TDQ, basically, to get people off the street to lower the rate of infection, and to prevent the clogging of the Intensive Care Unit at the hospital with accident victims, fighting for their lives.

We also knew that the authorities were aiming at crime prevention, though I don’t remember it openly discussed, besides the general demand to behave and respect.

Having crashed the curve, last week, GOA announced its intention to lift 2 out of 3 restrictions, no more shelter in place, no more ban on gathering, but TDQ remains because curfew has contributed to a reduction in crime.

As soon that that was made public lawyer Ronny Wix under the umbrella of the Aruba Bar Association, announced that the Order is concerned with the legality, proportionality and subsidiarity of the curfew.

The educated legal brief published by Wix, the Dean of the Order, pronounced that “Crime does not currently constitute a calamity within the meaning of the Calamity Ordinance, because there is nothing to indicate that there is (well-founded fear of) a huge increase in crime. Crime prevention therefore does not provide a legal basis for maintaining the curfew, at least not at this time.”

The letter focused on the deprivation of our liberty and the consequential fining of individuals for having left home.

Mustard after the meal.

A day late and a dollar short.

Now you come up with this??

Because as it turned out TDQ will be lifted this coming Thursday, probably totally unrelated to the protest letter, but of course Wix who doesn’t shy away from publicity would like to claim the credit.

My insider friends tell me that the members at large of the Aruba Bar Association were pretty shocked at the publication, airing without prior association approval, and Wix’s unabashed explanation that he published for fear no consensus will ever be reached. He said he won’t do it again.

We are all second-guessing ourselves these days.

Was it all worth it?

Why didn’t we act like Sweden?

Why did we act like China? They can afford it, we can’t.

Why did we crash the world economy if now, no one cares about hand-washing or social-distancing, anymore?

In Aruba and across the world, citizens are congregating, in total defiance of science and/or common sense. We have seen pictures of crammed beaches and swimming pools, not to mention our own supermarkets.

Social distancing? Apparently no one cares. People had enough of government interference. They are tired of preventive measures.

So what’s left?

We are all responsible for our own health and well-being and on a personal note I will continue to respect and follow recommendations, and I hope everyone around me does too.   

There was a suggestion, at the end of Wix’s letter, and it basically says, ditch curfew: It would be more sensible not to sell drinks between 11pm and 5am in bars, restaurants and OTHER establishments, and that way the police will be able to check all citizens and tourists for compliance with a restrictive measure when the borders open up again for tourism.

 The MinEdu Explained

I took it upon myself to listen to the Minister of Education in Parliament yesterday. He talked for a long time, I liked everything he said.

He is working on a multitude of programs, creating a smart organization, nurturing learning, not just education, making structural changes, reducing staffers by one third, digitalizing the system, merging schools to achieve efficiency and opening new schools where needed, also remembering children of special needs. He is working on the availability of regional options in education, also determined to alleviate student debt.

He described a long list of challenges, and solutions, and seemed to be passionately forging ahead into a new era of enlightenment.

I talked to some insiders.

He is the best education minister to date, I heard, because he himself is educated, an intellectual, befitting a former clergyman. He was given a task, and he marches on, perhaps unaware that as a leader his job is to do absolutely nothing, but to move his people.

He is a worker bee on a mission, and he is busy, bursting with projects, which keeps him from managing the hive. And the hive is buzzing restlessly.

But according to the minister in his parliament address his hive has been brained-washed by AVP fake news items, blinded by a storm of misinformation, and instigated by a propaganda-machine that he likened to that of Nazi Germany and the Russian KGB.

He lost me there, but ok, we already said he was passionate, a man with super-strong convictions, preventing him from putting the shoe on the other foot, to hear what the others have to say.

He grew up as an adult, in a strict church hierarchy, a holy order in which everyone knows their place, and authority is unquestioned. It did not prepare him to deal with Simar, Skoa, Smoa and the likes, protectionist labor union, leery of change and suspicious of innovation.

The church is a Man’s World. Education is mostly the domain of women. And the leaders of the Labor Unions in Aruba are especially strong-minded and feminist.

“Houston, we have a problem.”

The minister explained in parliament yesterday that in the name of Good Governance his office should retain oversight, in charge of checks and balances, and as such it cannot be asked to also manage the public school system. He has been working on creating a separate entity to govern the public schools, and that way his office can maintain a supervisory role and comply with the norms of solid Good Governance.

Sounds good, but it does entail moving people around, rattling their confidence, evoking stress necessitating the laying of careful, effective groundwork, to EASE changes in.  

These people management skills require expertise. Alas, our Minister of Education has little of that. Perhaps someone else in his office should be entrusted with that?

Moreover, the man is humble and often rumpled. No wonder. He rides his bike from Jamanota, to work in town, modeling the new norm in the name of austerity, and even speaks to the press with his silly yellow helmet on.

Hardly a power-dresser.

And that is another issue too.

When you dress like an authority, people treat you with respect. But our minister does not dress for success, he is totally oblivious of the power of fashion.

Perhaps his rumpled suit is interpreted as weakness, a man easy to railroad, push, and intimidate, in the power-struggle over education.

Education has power-struggles built in. I don’t know why. Probably because people FEEL so strongly about it.

Let’s break it down: Little experience negotiating with women, a novice at navigating a democratic, broad system, naïve in his approach to change, eager to accomplish his vision regardless of circumstances, socially awkward, idealistic, and on a personal level modest, and frugal.

I don’t know why I launched into psycho-babble, but he needs to be explained. He brings added-value to his job, and some of his inner glow, integrity and morality should rub off on the other ministers.

I was never a fan. But now that I explained him to myself, I empathize.

The Jack Sparrow character is in Jail

Many visitors were outraged at a beach bum stuffing puppies in the trunk of his car, caught on video by a timeshare member filming the disgrace from a distance, on December 14th, 2019. At the time we were all frustrated. The guy has been walking the beaches with a gaggle of unleashed dogs of all ages, reportedly selling both dogs and drugs to visitors, apparently Teflon-coated and untouchable.

As a result of the outrage local dog owners were forbidden to walk their leashed dogs on the beach, which we deemed unfair because it was a collective punishment and did not penalize the chief offender.

Good news

The Police raided a home at the heart of town — the place looks like a junkyard with a jumble of boats and cars in various stages of disrepair — and arrested Richard Rasmijn, Casmar Rasmijn and a young woman, Niurca Ramirez. The Police entered the home in the early morning hours, and was rewarded with a stash of money, drugs and arms, and also confiscated a number of cars and other items, following a lengthy investigation. The suspects will be held for two days, then appear in court for further legal procedures.

Justice is perhaps slow in Aruba, but it is decisive.

Sustainability maintained nationally

I wrote about MinEdu just in time, the day the useless members of the opposition party decided to enter a motion of non-confidence, calling for his resignation and/or replacement.

That same day my blog was met with much support, and I was happy about the timing.  

MinEdu is working on making our education system more efficient which is a good thing.

And we should get out of his way.

All the peripheral disgruntled voices are the proof that he is moving mountains, and getting somewhere. And in light of the MinPres declaration that 60% of kids were not getting an education during CoVid19, we welcome the reopening of schools, and pray for the best.

Good luck teaching kids to social distance.  

So, education is improving, BUT, the opportunity for improvement here is much larger.

We spend 5 million florins a day to keep GOA running, but somehow there are many families and kids who live near or in poverty. This while we spend 5 million florins a day on the public sector.

Last week I drove around the Seroe Patrichi government housing project with Ajudo na Aruba, handing out boxes of basic groceries to people on the list.

Ajudo na Aruba has been operating since mid-March, and is supported by the local community via donations in cash and in products. They are incredibly organized, moving around the neighborhoods armed with excel sheets with addresses and distributing aid in uniformed teams.

They go out every Monday & Tuesday to the barrios with lists of poor households and deliver customizes boxes, adult diapers here, baby formula there; they know, they have been doing it for weeks.

I visited a shack where an 18-year-old twin was taking care of his handicapped wheel-chair bound brother. Thank you for the adult diapers.

A hovel housing a woman with a new born and two toddlers, she worked at a snack bar before, is proud of her firma libre, and hopeful to find employment again. The five-year-old helped carry two lunch boxes home as if they were gold.

A man who has been here for 13 years, working in construction, told me one more box please, next week, after that he will no longer need it, because he will be working, he announced with a broad grin. I wanted to hug him. He was so gracious and well-spoken.

They say that a country’s level of civility is judged by how it treats its elderly, sick and poor.

And I have been talking about the poor this whole week. What is keeping us from providing the poor with honorable housing, work and income?

Seroe Patrichi is a neglected compound. Where is the neighborhood organizer? Where is the playground?

Why can’t we provide the kids I saw hanging idle in front yards a proper education to break the cycle of poverty?

Why don’t we focus on raising the sustainable wellness of our people?

It should be the sole goal of our collective effort. 

It will prevent higher corrective medical expenses, corrective judicial expenses, lost opportunities for employers/employees and most of all wasted efforts on wrong solutions.

We need to strengthen Aruba by supporting the weakest link in the chain. It really does not cost that much. Not more than we are already paying for a defunct, oversize GOA apparatus.

Why hasn’t it happened before?

With our local political system flip flopping and reversing whatever the previous GOA set up we could hardly ever avoid severe waste of inertia and investments made in the name of sustainability. 

Since up till this covid19 reset there was zero effective oversight and no real corrective action, we were set up for failure from the birth of Status Aparte.

It is an expensive lesson; more than 10 billion hard-earned dollars have been wasted by our dysfunctional, corrupt and inept country management. Not just on political agendas but more often by private agendas behind these political ones.

This loss could have been put to productive use, educating our citizens, digitizing GOA, advancing education, improving community service, all paid for by top of the line tourist services.

Why does nobody here complain about this lost opportunity caused be the system we ourselves put and kept in place? Why is it that only Knops sees it?

At times i wonder whether we could ever have a sustainable economy here in Aruba. Keeping in mind that sustainability means a long term motion maintained nationally.

Herd Immunity Welcome

Herd Immunity Welcome

Why is everyone in such as rush to praise the Lord for us being” Rona Free”, you should say, “zero active cases,” because we are NOT Covid19 free.

And the MinPres in her Friday press conference corrected the glorifying press release published by the MinTour, claiming the credit for slaying the beast.

In reality, we must wait until June 6th when those in quarantine from Colombia, which some aren’t respecting, finish their 14-day captivity.

What if someone tests positive among them within the next few days?

But the MinTour is in a rush, push, push, critical economic situation requires pushing the borders open.

Please don’t.

It will be reckless and irresponsible if after slowing the virus down and killing the economy and SAVING LIVES, you will be throwing it all away, for the charm of the dollar.

I totally agree that the economy is critical, but you must pay attention to what science and healthcare are saying.

No active cases is a function of testing.

No testing = no new active cases.

I bet if you continued to test aggressively, you’d find asymptomatic individuals, up to 30% of our population.

The fact that you have no active cases means you are not testing enough.

I used to resent the busy-bodies in the supermarket paying no attention to where the arrows were pointing. I really wanted them to help slow the spread so that our health system doesn’t get overrun.

Now, I say, bless you, go ahead, get the virus, you fool, hug, kiss, congregate, our health system is ready to receive the next wave, and we will get to HERD IMMUNITY faster, thanks to your carelessness.

But really, it is not advisable. Covi19 is a mysterious disease, a serious one, with lots of complications and many unanswered questions.

In order to reach the coveted herd immunity, we need at least 60%-70% of our population immune, blessed with antibodies, having in the past contracted the virus, with or without symptoms.

With 60%-70% of Arubans who have developed immunity because of prior infection, the virus will still be able to circulate among those with weakened immune systems, but most of the population will be protected.

We cannot wait for a vaccine. SARS and MERS both respiratory syndrome-related coronaviruses are still without one, so safety measures are called for, and by now you know what they are.

Older adults, people with health conditions such as diabetes, chronic lung disease, or cancer, and people with weakened immune systems, must be super careful.

The young ones? Let them hug.

Herd Immunity will follow.

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May 31, 2020
Rona Coster