Bati Bleki Buzz, Weekly Recap, Nov 17th, 2019

Why is it that the overtime allowances at the executive services – Police, Fire Brigade etc. – are so high and how can they be reduced?

The story goes the following: Aruba and the Netherlands struck an agreement in 2018, then again in 2019 including 2021, that set the budget DEFICIT for GOA for the financial year 2019 at a maximum of 0.5% of the gross domestic product – GDP. Then for 2020, GOA was supposed to show a surplus of at least 0.5% of GDP, followed by a surplus of at least 1.0% of GDP from 2021 and on.

How do you turn finances around to create a surplus?

It’s elementary, my dear Watson, public expenditure must be controlled.

But, over the past decade, GOA spent 1/3 of its budget on staffing, with a substantial amount of that on OVERTIME.

So the Aruba Financial Supervision College, CAFT, decided to EXAMINE the issue. The Dutch are thorough, and meticulous and last week they presented a 24-page report to GOA, answering the million-dollar question: Why is it that the overtime allowances at the executive services are so high and how can they be reduced?

They investigated the Aruba Police Force, Customs, the Prison service, and the Fire Brigade, combing GOA’s data files, and interviewing stakeholders.

Under the guidance of General Audit Chamber of Aruba, ARA, a number of other entities were scanned, with a possible in-depth investigation to follow.

The results showed a remarkable picture: In all services investigated a STRUCTURAL overtime system exists, that for many employees now forms a substantial part of their monthly payment.

With a sense of entitlement attached.

Imagine, many executive services’ employees work overtime on average 30-hours a week or more, IN ADDITION to the regular 40-hour working week.

Of course, such a workload may result is serious health risks, burnout and compromised job performance, diminished safety.

ANOTHER worrying trend is the flip-side of overtime, namely absenteeism, which within the ENTIRE civil service is very high, far above 8%.

Does absenteeism lead to overtime? Does overtime lead to absenteeism?

The analysis shows these two are related.

And while current legislation and regulations offer sufficient tools to prevent overtime, these are not being used.

We are blessed by concrete measures to combat high absenteeism, but we don’t apply them.

In its conclusion-portion, the report states that it IS CRUCIAL that steps be taken to enforce concrete government-wide management measures to help us achieve a CULTURAL CHANGE.

We must pay close attention and develop a government-wide sickness absence policy, including the review of the available sanctions, which CAN be a first meaningful step in reducing sick leave.

Needless to say that reducing overtime requires unpopular measures, but they pay off in the long term.

The report ends with three unpopular words: monthly monitoring and accountability.  

Talking about TOASTMASTERS

A GOA press release reported that there will be an international TOASTMASTER conference in Aruba, in the foreseeable future, but my recent visit to the ‘First Things First’ TOASTMASTERS Meeting was unrelated.

One of my friends invited, and I went. It was a good experience and to think that a grass-root organization exists for the sole purpose of helping its members practice public speaking, improving their communication and building leadership skills, is astounding.

The meeting of ORUA TOASTMASTERS Club took place at the campus of EPI in Oranjestad.

First thought: It is heart-warming to see how many young adults studiously attend classes in the evening hours.

Second thought: It is quite shocking to see that with all that muscle-power attending school during the day and evening hours, none is used to pull the weeds that are threatening to swallow the complex. Why can’t some students volunteer, or get paid, to simply maintain this place. What are we teaching the kids, if weeding in NOT on the curriculum? Whose job it is to pull them?

As is, the campus looks unloved.

I digressed. Back to TOASTMASTERS.

The meeting’s impeccable agenda listed ‘First Things First’ as the theme, and lined up 6 speakers. The two first ones, perhaps more senior in TOASTMASTERS proficiency, dealt with interesting topics: Dynamic Leadership and Motivational Strategies. Those were structured to last 5 to 7 minutes.

The other 4 speeches were ‘ice breakers,’ 4 to 6-minutes of more personal accounts, introductions of sort. Then the 6 speeches were critiqued by fellow TOASTMASTER Evaluators, and the Evaluators in turn, were also critiqued by the general membership.

What a system.

Our first speaker talked about aviation, and the four forces of flight, thrust, drag, gravity and lift but he was really talking about the Forces of Life, delivering a compact, friendly, concise and understandable mini lecture. Wow. Impressive. I later found out he was among more senior members. No wonder. He must have had plenty of practice.

He certainly displayed form AND substance.

The speeches that followed were personal and some touching, some high on form, low on substance; some high on substance low on form.

But you could palpably sense progress in members.

Those who have been around for a while were polished, charismatic speakers. And those at the beginning of their journey spoke from the heart, determined to also master the cadence, the body language, the intellectual depth, the use of space and eye contact that great public-speakers master.   

The group meets every 1st and 3rd Thursday of the month from 7:30, to 9:30, and guests can attend by invitation only.

Michele Brooks served as General Evaluator, lending the meeting its gravitas, its high seriousness and formality, hand shake before and after.

I can see why any young professional should join, this incubator hones great skills, no school can develop.

Disgraced Carnival Queen

Two days ago everywhere I went, people were glued to the radio as a local drama unfolded.

Which proved radio is still very popular in Aruba and that Aruba loves a juicy scandal.

The story revolved around a classic swindle, the reigning Mrs. Carnival had promised to secure seats to a recent popular concert, she worked out a deal with the promoter she explained, allowing her to run a lay-away program for VIP tickets to the Marco Antonio Solís performance, a Mexican heartthrob singer.

At the end about 100 people who paid their money dutifully were turned away, they never received their tickets, and the straight-forward promoter explained he had no dealings with the swindler, though she begged for his mercy and promised to pay Awg 60.000 back, in installments.

The story she told about the disappearing funds varied. She said the tax collector froze her bank account, and in another version she blamed a fictional accountant for withholding the money.

The disappointment among low-income victims of the swindle was loud, and bitter. Gullible, and vulnerable, about 100 people trusted an untrustworthy character, after all, she was Mrs. Carnival, and a public figure, how can she be anything but honest.

As a species we are wired to default to trust, we believe, we want to believe, and the desire to attend the concert, propelled many into a payment plan, June to November, hard earned money that was most probably gambled away, or indeed seized by the tax man to cover previous debts.

I recently read that the reason why we are successful as a species is that we default to trust, we automatically believe what is being told to us, but sometimes it works against us.

If it’s too good to be true, it’s too good to be true.

Roadside Cleaning

The director of DOW, our department of public works reportedly discontinued working with small contractors who couldn’t get organized enough to prove they were monthly tax payers.

Without proper administration, he said, we can no longer work with you!

While DOW is not always right, I think I support his decision, this time.

These small contractors consist of 3 or 4 often retired individuals, equipped with a broom and a plastic trash bin. They stop at the sides of roads to clip and rake, on designated portions of roads and highways.

They are called PLOEGs, from the Dutch word teams, and in the past these semi-official government jobs were assigned as political paybacks to loyal voters, a modest source of income for campaign runners.

They work on their own, at their own pace, and turn to DOW for a monthly stipend. As the recent uproar proves, they often disregarding the tax man, which propelled the DOW director, to discontinue their services.

I think it’s time to take a more comprehensive look at that old fashioned system, that is inefficient and unsupervised, and cost TPEF an arm and a leg.  

FACT: DOW doesn’t pay the PLOEGS, a great number of them are financed by TPEF, our Tourism Product Enhancement Fund, to the tune of Awg 1.1million a year. They are all supposed to wear TPEF vests, but rarely do.

So it’s time DOW puts that 1.1 million of tourism money into better, more efficient use.

She’s had it!

The issue is not the issue, is one of my favorite sayings.

And It applies to member of Parliament Daphne Lejuez’ recent decision to become an independent staten members.

Good for her. I imagine is was hugely frustrating to sit in Parliament without being heard. Perhaps she had big plans, great ideas, but they were probably relegated to the bottom of the drawer under the current set up.

So at 3:30pm, Wednesday, a press conference was called in which Lejuez delivered the news, but since Amigoe di Aruba had already printed an editorial about the subject by 5:30pm, chances are their PR was circulated in advance. They got the scoop first.

When reporting on Lejuez’ bold move, the local media quoted a ‘lack of communication’ in parliament AND most importantly, her strong opposition to the looming Serlimar law, which only served the MinInfra, not the people. She talked very well about it.

As I said, the issue is not the issue, she is an intelligent woman and she wanted her voice to be heard. When it wasn’t, she left.

No doubt, her voice will be heard for a while, but not forever because our experience shows that when a member of Parliament goes rogue, it doesn’t necessarily pay and we’ve seen it before with Marisol Tromp, Otmar Oduber & Wyatt Ras. It looks good on the resume, it’s heroic, but by the time the local media and GOA finish dishing out degrading insinuations and nonsense allegations, Lejuez will lose the appetite to serve.

A radiant, color coordinated MinPres immediately posed for a ‘United Front’ snapshot with her coalition partners, stating ‘business as usual,’ the tri-way coalition still has 11 seats out of 21. No doubt a majority, until RED goes rogue.

What does business as usual mean?

The dump is still open and burning.

Serlimar is as inefficient as ever.

ZERO national efforts to reduce, reuse and recycle.

Zero preoccupation with climate change.

Private sector companies in the recycling business are vilified, their business strategies and code of conduct tarnished.

Goa’s PR machine spreads ridiculous, untrue claims:

Children: Instead of bickering and playing politics you should all come together to try and reduce the incidence of cancer on the island, by finding a way to agree on the handling of trash.    

Should we worry about WEB?

In principle we should worry about everything.

Then again it’s a mission impossible.

I watched a video interview last week where one of WEB NV’s professionals was sounding the alarm, he was preoccupied with WEB’s future ability to pay upcoming bills in 2020, stating that the company’s financial merge with its sisters Elmar & Utilities NV was taking too long.

I just couldn’t buy his reasons for crying wolf. What does he care? He is an employee. I hear they get paid well at WEB. So he might be functioning as a mouth-piece for some agenda, but who knows.

So, I asked.

From what I gathered our juice providers – WEB, ELMAR, managed under the umbrella of Utilities NV – are trying to strike a comprehensive JOINT financial deal for the three companies together, at more favorable terms. In the past those companies shopped for the financing of projects individually.

This time, thinking ahead, wishing to transition from burning dirty oil to using clean gas, the three entities have been negotiating with Finance Quest, a consolidated arrangement that would allow them to venture into the future with new equipment, in aspiration to LOWER the prices of electricity and water here.

The suggested deal involves up to ten banks and various financial institutions brought together by Finance Quest, a local company that already assisted in shaping AAA’s future, by financing the airport and its ambition expansion plans.

With the paperwork finalized and the partners waiting for the Central Bank’s license, the opposition reared its head. Of course, there is always opposition.

Which is understandable, BUT I hope these naysayers will not torpedo our future, the way the suggested Serlimar law just did, as the people representing us could not see eye to eye how to handle trash.

Apparently, the opposition wants to go the traditional route. Asking another, much-respected local institution, AIB, to do the job.

The Aruba Investment bank can also pull the deal together, with the help of local commercial banks, probably at less favorable conditions.

 So what’s my point: Why did you have to scare us half to death crying wolf?

When money is concerned you compare, conditions, requirements, interest, collateral, penalty, and obligations.

Then you do what’s right for the country.

Ribbon Cutting at the Boardwalk Boutique Hotel

While I am not going to say anything about the cornerstone laying ceremony of November 14th at Seroe Colorado, there is a lot to say about the Ribbon Cutting at the Boardwalk Boutique Hotel on Malmok, November 15th, 2019.

Under a perfect blue sky, owners, twin-sisters Kimberly and Stephanie Rooijakkers flanked by a number of our tourism officials cut the blue shiny ribbon strung across the freeform pool into confetti, snip, snip, and the Boardwalk Boutique Hotel was open for business.

What started in 1989, when Julia de Ruiter and Geert v/d Berg transformed Plantage Tromp into a custom surfboard workshop with economic beach accommodations, is today a property like no other on the island.

Even the construction-team, at the Wrap-Up BBQ declared it to be the most beautiful project ever built in Aruba, and they should know, they are insiders.

What makes it so unusual, is the fully grown landscaping on opening day, which we rarely see. The sisters had the trees set aside years before construction started.

According to me, two principle guided the creation of the project: Aesthetics and Ethics.

Unafraid of maintenance and wear and tear, or our notorious salt air, they created beauty everywhere, throwing caution to the wind.

A tree grows in the lobby, under a skylight, and every guest must walk around it, to transverse the cathedral-ceiling lobby.

Every wall, window, gingerbread trim, light fixture and gate, are painted another bold, fantastic color.

More practical souls would never have planted a tree inside where it might shed a frond or two, and no hired-hand could keep track of the many paint numbers on the Pantone color chart, when re-touch is needed.

An ordinary developer would say: Trees, plant them outside, encased in easy-to-clean concrete, and let’s paint the whole thing white, it’s more practical that way.

At the Boardwalk Boutique Hotel, I saw zero practicality, just immense beauty, and pure design.

As for ethics. The building carry 25cm of foam insulation, and are made of the latest environmentally-friendly materials, no money spared.

Best of all, the bankers called it their Signature Project. They were proud.

The accountant who helped create the business plan called it his Signature Project, as it came in right on the dollar.  

Compliments to the Female Power driving this unusual undertaking. The formidable twins. Their mentor and girlfriend Karin Swiers, designer Claudia Ruiz-Vasquez who helped create the unique Boardwalk Boutique Hotel concept and design, since 2011. A female architect from the Dominican Republic who drew the plans. Coburg’s construction supervisor Joanna Mei, who with focus and patience, set the pace, in an ordinarily male-dominated environment.

I hear the beds are heavenly, the showers super luxurious, the hammocks large enough for two, and that a boutique, light food concept is coming!  



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November 17, 2019
Rona Coster