Bati Bleki Buzz, Weekly Recap, October 27th, 2019

Raided by a special combo of law enforcement teams, eleven addresses in a case called Ostrich, or avestrus, in Papiamento

I was away early October and missed the hoopla as caso avestrus unfurled on October 2nd.

You never wrote about the Ostrich, urged one of my readers, do it, it’s not an old story, it’s ongoing, see what you can find out, your readers want to know.

So dear readers: What we have been hoping for, not for spite but in the name of good governance, happened.

There were plenty of stories in circulation about the former MinInfra granting terrain for hotels, condominiums and apartments by his mere signature, 2009-2017, while totally paralyzing and neutralizing all government procedures. There were also plenty of stories in circulation about middle-men/women out of enrich themselves by selling that terrain.  

We realized that a very efficient source of land was available, for the charm of a check while the legitimate apparatus was kaput.

Frustrated we waited as the MinInfra, after 8 years of pilfering became an opposition parliamentarian, blabbering at press conference, getting aired, getting paid, while our strong suspicions of malfeasance were never addressed.

Then on October 2nd from 6:30am, an operation with surgical precision, orchestrated by top forensic and cyber security specialists from the Netherlands, the islands and Aruba raided ELEVEN locations.

You should know that in order to initiate these legal home and business raids, the team must have been in possession of good, sustainable intelligence.

And subsequently we read that their initial findings ranged from terrible to horrific, including falsification, unlawful self-enrichment, the illegal sale of national patrimony, several charges of corruption, and abuse of power, etc.

The detective, a prosecutor and the RST agents, a special police taskforce, worked a full day visiting The Village Mall on Palm Beach, and the home of Karim & Maurice Neme, developers of several condo project in prime locations; the home and abandoned office of the former minister; the headquarters of Fast Delivery, owned by an inner-circle confidant of several ministers; the home of radio personality Leoncita Arends, a strong supporter and the mouth-piece of the outgoing political party; and the home of Gaby Werleman whose wife was involved with another unfortunate case, IBIS, focusing on a former minister, Paul Croes. They also visited the home of Freddy Every, who was part of the allegedly corrupt operators at the land department.

I never heard the name of F. Abath mentioned, perhaps digging in his dirty laundry basket would have been redundant.

Overseas, agents visited Angel Gomez Osorio, in Curacao, a tax guy and the uncle of the wife of Gaby Werleman, so now you know that somehow, somewhere, the Ibis and the Ostrich are related. Perhaps birds of a feather flock together.

The team also gained access to records at DIP, Directie Infrastructura en Planning, though all players had time to clean up their act, purge, shred, burn, delete and erase records, I hope government servers have solid memories and security systems, capable of withstanding tampering.

Does this make me happy? No. I would love to have honest people at the helm. But now that they are seriously investigating, people will go to jail, though there is no real satisfaction in that.

I fear for Aruba. One rotten apple, contaminated the whole basket.

About fiber optic internet, and the future of broadband

Once upon a time, 2016, Digicel had asked GOA for a license to bring fiber optic internet, the future of broadband, into homes in Aruba.

Two court decisions later, and the Mincom has not made a decision yet.

Only this time he has until November 7th, 2019, which is practically tomorrow. He must get off the pot, and decide, is he, or isn’t he going to give us a responsible alternative, one that will usher us into the 5G era, or will he continue to favor a Setar holy-cow monopoly.

Once upon a time, fifteen years ago, following a long five-year period of litigation Digicel entered the cellular market here. Prices, dropped, service improved, we had choices, we learned about new products.

Competition is good.

You should all email the minister that you insist on opening the market, enough with indecision, indecision about Aruparking, indecision about the urgently-needed ATV/UTV regulations, indecision about RH vs LH drive, the minister reportedly continues to travel and leave crucial decisions on hold.

Back in 2016, when Digicel volunteered to lay down a backbone network, digging and/or hanging fiber optics, it was a 50million project. But due to a slowmo decision making processes, it should be much costlier right now.

And you should know something about communication.

When it fails, our life as we know it is over. Hospital, airport, banks, kaput.

Wouldn’t you like to have a plan B? A second communication provider.

Most importantly. When you talk about innovation. It is guaranteed NOT to come if you can only offer low-speed broadband.

With high-speed, 100 times faster, the juices start flowing, and sexy, crazy, much-needed ideas start crystalizing to finally give Aruba an alternative source of income.

Everything depends on that advanced technology: The internet of things, the promise of interrelated computing devices, mechanical and digital machines, objects, animals or people, able to transfer data over a network without requiring human-to-human or human-to-computer interaction.

And there is no turning back, so don’t tell me you don’t want it, or don’t need it.

Once upon a time, what ushered in the new age were 4 submarine cables, 3 installed in 1999, one in 2004, they guaranteed 20 years of up-to-date communications between North American and the Caribbean. The system will have to be replaced in the near future, with fiber optics instead of the copper network.

Think about it, as long as Setar is making money hand-over-fist by forcing us to lump cable, telephone and cell plans, and overcharging us, they will NOT be motivated to innovate because they are already very liquid!

My total Setar bill is over Awg 500 each month, and I watch TV and see the same thing is available in the USA, for a family of four, for $69, across many devices.

If Mincom remains indecisive, there will a daily penalty, in the thousands, for that.

In the name of Good Governance

BonDia had an interesting news item, worth pondering. It reported a few days ago that the STA union read through the annual report of its pension-fund, APFA, and found some interesting deviations.

I was surprised. Usually, annual reports are designed to be intimidating and unapproachable, so no one reads them. But in this case STA HIRED an expert to go through the document.

Just to prove that point I remember reading that ENRON Corporation, managed to hang on from 1985 to 2001, committing systematic accounting fraud because its annual reports were so complex, and ginormous, that not a single person, assigned to read and control, ever managed to get thru them.

I paid attention to APFA, when it published a double-spread of company results in Awemainta on July 29th, 2019. The headline of that spread declared that after a difficult financial year in 2018, the fund is recuperating in the first two-quarters of 2019. I thought it would be a good topic for an article. I tried to get an interview with the director but she was on vacay, and then my short attention span wandered.

4,096 pensioners, 961 former participants, 7,100 active participants, 100% coverage, Awg 2,639 million pension obligations, and Awg 2.918 million in capital.

The STA union listed a number of good points, it raised the issue that pension-fund directors get favorable mortgage rates, 3.25%, versus 6% granted to members. The union also found some substantial borrowed amounts buried in the report that did not divulge the interest rate at all.

While you perhaps are not sure how you feel about it — don’t folks closer to the dish eat more — the rules of Good Governance cover this issue, and all fund-members, directors, employee, members, must be treated EQUALLY.

They all generated the capital together, and must similarly enjoy the fruit of their sacrifices.

The union also raised the issue of director salaries – 20 times the rate of the island’s minimum salary, and while we believe that people in top positions should be compensated handsomely in order to prevent fraud and motivate them to perform, the Dutch capped salaries at the level of the Prime Minister and according to my source, APFA directors earn more than our diligent MinPres.

Moreover, directors enjoyed a 14% salary increase when employees received 3%. It’s good to remember that most regular GOA salaries have been frozen since 1986, except for an occasional, marginal cost of living increase.

National entities such as the Central Bank the Pension Funds should be holier-than-the-Pope, and stick to the rules of Good Governance. Why? Because we all follow their lead.      

The Holiday Inn Celebrates 50th anniversary

After much preparation the day has finally arrived and the Holiday Inn got to throw the BIG party in honor of its 50th birthday.

The party set itself apart by being short on speeches and long on festivities. In the absence of a resort general manager the Regional Director of Sales, Fernando Rosado, thanked a long list of very-deserving individuals, including repeat guests, who have been coming back to Aruba to the Holiday Inn for thirty- forty- and fifty years, he also warmly thanked loyal employees and got off stage to allow the band to do what it does best. NBO was an excellent musical choice, the dance floor filled up instantly, and kept jumping throughout.

Then 8:30pm fireworks painted the clear night-sky in incredible colors.

Compliments on the understated yet impactful décor. The pool deck was beautifully lit, and set up with high tops emblazoned with the 50th anniversary logo.

Kudos: Out of environmental considerations guests were given a commemorative cup at the entrance, beer or wine, according to their preference, eliminating the challenge of discarded single-use plastic cups!

The MinTour mingled and posed, he wasn’t asked to speak, and did not really prepare to, he explained, but was very visible in photos, making himself accessible for selfies and group shots.

I understand that GM Kevin Anderson just left the week before. He served the hotel in Aruba for five years and his desire to relocate and embark on a new phase of his career overshadowed his desire to stay for the much-anticipated party. The new GM a handsome Italian will come on board in December.

Best feature? All resort guests were invited. Yes, the invite included them all, and all employees, and a small contingent of dignitaries including the Aruba Tourism Authority’s CEO, Ronella Tjin Asjoe-Croes and the AHATA CEO Tisa LaSorte.

That was a great mix!

Our Holiday Inn has maintained a steady presence here for five decades, same name, same logo, while other hotels rebranded over time, and the chain standing for “America, Motherhood & Apple Pie,” remained a constant on our tourism landscape.

According to Luigi Wix, with 590 room, the resort now has the most diverse array of offers, that means a mix of all inclusive, and EP, in a great number of categories, in many markets, with something for everyone, maintaining a sold 3 star PLUS rating, and an enviable average daily rate, in comparison to the chain’s other regional properties, many of them in countries in South America where turmoil hit hard.

The Holiday Inn in Aruba maintain a 30% return visitor rate and keeps upgrading and improving says Harmen Gieske, who oversees a great number of restaurants, some of them he says, are Best Kept Secrets, including a daily pop-up, and a spectacular weekly Carnival show with a real brass band!

Congratulations to my friends at the resort Marketing & PR Director Eva Ruiz, Associate Director of Sales Luigi Wix, and Director of Food & Beverage Harmen Gieske, Danny Fernandes, Catering & Sales Manager and Rene Croes, Sales Assistant.

Hadrey Gallery at the Holiday Inn lobby remains on view depicting images from with three photo installation, two featuring nostalgic images of the resort over the years and one wall featuring professionally taken photographs of the resort’s loyal veteran employees, including Irma Romney, who has been working uninterruptedly for 46 years.

It’s here: The 2020 Donkey Sanctuary Gift Calendar

The first 2020 Donkey Sanctuary calendar was presented to me just recently, in gratitude for being a donkey advocate. Not that I remember any particular incident in which I was especially pro-donkey, but it is true that I am generally very pro-donkey.

The love-affair between Aruba and its donkeys is FOUR centuries old. In the old days, donkeys were partners in industry, then with the arrival of the machine, their light dimmed.

They wandered in the wilderness, they were hit by cars, in walks Desiree Eldering, in 1997, and their life starts to improve.

The first sanctuary, in Ayo, on land loaned to the foundation by a generous member of our community was quickly nailed together, and served the donkeys well until it became too small and too difficult for visitors to find.

Finally, Desiree ran circles around the moon and the sanctuary moved, with 120 four-legged residents to lovely Brigamosa.

De Palm Tour generously offered to build a visitors’ center, and since then, the sanctuary makes effort to remain self-sustaining, welcoming tours, big and small, operating a souvenir store, soliciting donations AND selling an annual gift calendar.

This is where you come in.

Please buy a calendar at Superfood, Awg 25. The photos feature the donkeys in their habitat and were taken by a number of great volunteer local photographers.

Columnist Nico van der Zee presented the first Calendar to me on behalf of Eeyore & friends, then we had cake with slagroom, and nice Dutch coffee.

I picked up some carrots at the Chinese grocers on the way in and as soon as I entered, some astute members of the flock caught a whiff, and showed up to collect a treat, cracking my carrots with their impressive incisors –  donkeys have anywhere between 16-44 teeth depending on age, and gender.

From what I understand all male donkeys at the sanctuary are neutered, which prevents over-population, most females are intact. The only free-to-procreate group of Jacks and Jennys lives at Seroe Colorado, but with hotel construction there they will have to be trapped – not easy – and transported to Bringamosa.

The sanctuary relies on volunteers. I met a 12-year-old working, he was pushing a wheelbarrow, and expertly distributing ‘dinner.’ He told me he comes once a week with his parents, feeding, cleaning, and loves it. He introduced me to two old ladies, in a private stable on their own, where they continue to age undisturbed by the younger, rude crowd.

Desiree told me she hopes to construct two small units on top of the visitors’ center, designed to accommodate working volunteers on vacation so she could advertise the open positions on global websites offering do-good experiences in exchange for work: Together for Good, or Go Voluntouring, for example.

She is also considering a male donkey exchange with other islands, in order to introduce a controlled breeding program, so that donkeys don’t just die off on Aruba, but produce a new promising generation, with improved DNA borrowed from neighbors.

That will eliminate some of the in-breeding challenges such as ear infections, overbite, or under-bite, which affect donkeys’ ability to feed themselves and live long.      

It costs about $1,000 a year to support just one donkey, so sign up as a donor and your name will go up on the wall on a Delft-Blue tile.

FYI: 27.000 of the island’s visitors dropped by the donkey sanctuary last year.

Show your appreciation of Aruba’s donkeys with a donation:

https://www.thedonkeysanctuary.org.uk/support-us

Jack – young male donkey / Jenny – young female donkey

Feb 2019, according to ATA

After experiencing significant challenges in extracting the info from the Immigration computers, ATA just released the detailed February 2019 results, gleaned from the airport’s collected data.

It was a good month with 734,222 nights spent on the island, a 9% growth.

Kudos. Aruba is popular. We’re blessed.

234,360 nights were spent in the high-rises.

56,579 were spent in the low-rises.

206,894 nights were spent in timeshares.

And

236,390 nights were spent in the ‘Other Accommodations,’ condos and apartments, a whopping 32.8% increase.

(Another column should one day be dedicated to the consequent change in visitors’ profile.)

This segment of the market has been growing in leaps and bounds in recent years and while a few years ago we estimated the inventory at 3,000 units some educated guessers claim we’re up to 12.000 vacation rental on the island. Who knows. Maybe more.

An extensive inventory is required and once the real numbers are available, we can then speak about compliance.

Are they paying 9.5% tourist tax

How about the $3 a day environmental fee?

I know a number of operators are honorable and hand their pound of flesh over to GOA, but I bet many don’t.  

“My sources tell me that there is a high amount of uncollected taxes, with an estimated 60% compliance rate on island. It is not correct to increase the burden of the responsible individuals and companies that comply, without first achieving higher compliance of at least 80%,” says a recent AHATA publication.

So here we are. I have been writing about this subject, since the 90s, saying all those who benefit from tourism should be taxed, so that they participate in the promotion of the island, and all ‘Other Accommodations,’ SHOULD BE HELD RESPONSIBLE for the 9.5% tax +$3/day environmental fee.  Period.

How much ADDITIONAL money will that bring into ATA’s coffers?

Get a calculator: Conservatively, $10 a day in taxes x 12.000 units, x 236.390 nights? 28 million?!

After promoting tourism lavishly, I bet there will be some surplus left, going into GOA.

So instead of raising taxes, guess what you have to do??

ALSO worth paying attention to: From that same report on guest satisfaction: “With increasing costs, the tourism product is becoming more expensive to the visitor. Perception studies done by the Aruba Tourism Authority have already shown that tourists are starting to rank Aruba lower in “value” due to increased costs.”

The following is what visitors are saying and MINTOUR should read:

“Beaches are to crowed at the hotel areas.”

“Too much traffic in Oranjestad.”

“Taxes are out of control.”

“Please stop with all the new constructions of hotels.”

“Prices are too high.”

“Too touristy, I want a more authentic.”

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October 27, 2019
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Bati Bleki by Rona Coster
Bati Bleki by Rona Coster
Bati Bleki by Rona Coster
Bati Bleki by Rona Coster
Bati Bleki by Rona Coster
Bati Bleki by Rona Coster
Bati Bleki by Rona Coster
Bati Bleki by Rona Coster
Bati Bleki by Rona Coster
Bati Bleki by Rona Coster