Bati Bleki Weekly Recap, April 16th, 2017

The massacre at Frenchmen’s Pass

I’m back

I stayed quiet for a short while.

I am rested now, and full of honey-laced piss and vinegar!

Those who suspected I was away doing something cool, were right. I went to a country where people worship trees. Japan. In fact they idolize their sherry blossoms, having created a complete festival season around the short-lived blooming phenomenon.

And they never tire of taking pictures of the flowers and/or picnicking in the shade; it’s called “Hanami,” and it’s an old practice, of just hanging out sipping tea and munching on sweets, under the sakura canopy, in every park, on every river bank.

Sakura represents beauty. Not the ever-lasting kind, but the short, fleeting and fragile, intense and momentary variety.

And that’s when I learned about the massacre of Frenchmen’s Pass canopy. How is that possible that one nation worships the living breathing beauty of nature and the other has zero regard for its place in the universe?

I know exactly what happened there, because it reminded me of an old story, from my first years on the island.

The center piece of my front-yard landscaping was a giant frangipani. Old, with a gnarled trunk, it must have been at least 20 years old, a blooming fragrant wonder. But then following a period of drought and wetness it was attacked by some mite/parasite/fungus, who knows, and required a good spraying. It was clear to me that all this magnificent tree needed was some insecticide. And on my way out the door I asked the gardener who came weekly to care for the garden, to “take care of it.”

What would you do if I told you to “take care of it?”

Would you cut the tree down?

And that’s exactly what happened. I came home to a huge hole in the heart of the garden my flowing giant was gone, chopped to pieces, the gardener indeed “took care of it.”

I learned since then, after crying my heart out, that taking care of a challenge means different things to different people. You gotta be specific. So, I lost the tree but not the lesson.

The fat and lazy DOW department-head sent his people to take care of Frenchmen’s Pass overgrown greens without reviewing their plans and without stating his expectations.

He never moved off his chair, to assess and oversee the work in the field.

One of my friends wrote: I don’t get it. Most these people don’t work, sit at a desk if they are not AO, listen to the radio, get paid for doing very little, and cannot get fired. They are ambtenaren with a job for life.

Japan makes a killing off these sakura trees with millions of tourists making pilgrimages from all over the world to view and admire the pink sensations, and here we just kill the trees.  It is a question of culture, or rather, lack of culture.

Thank you Fantastic Gardena for offering to remedy the situation, over time.  I don’t believe Frenchmen’s Pass would recover in my lifetime.

The NEW ATA supervisory board

It was about seven years ago that the Aruba Tourism Authority reorganized under a Sui Generis status that turned it from a government agency to a unique independent entity within the public sphere, liberated from bureaucratic shackles and restraints.

During those recent years, ATA worked successfully, functioning like a private sector entity, with a supervisory board. The board consisted of 3 public-sector and 3 private-sector directors, under the leadership of an independent chairperson.

The new entity was given access to the so-called ATA bank, all tax money collected from the hotels which is directly funneled into a Marketing Fund.

That fund was a source of envy of all government ministers because the MINTOUR was the only one with full access to cash.  All other ministers had to stand in line waiting for handouts at the Ministry of Finance.

Basically, the fact that the MinTour enjoyed the freedom to spend every cent at his whim was the reason he was unpopular among his peers.

Sure, he had a supervisory board, but basically he was the boss, often spending on projects not even remotely related to tourism.

One clear day, the 3 private-sector board-members went home in protest.

Shortly thereafter that MinTour resigned, to run a new party.

Upon government request, 3 new private-sector board-members were suggested.

Then an interim MinTour was appointed, just until the upcoming elections.

And that temporary MinTour fired all new private-sector board-members: We’re still asking why he wouldn’t let then resign, AND wondering if it was within his legal rights.

TADA: We were told this week that ATA introduced new board-members, entrusted with the supervisory task of OVER 100 million florins. That’s how much money the ATA bank collects each year.

The new board members Lisette Malmberg, Jeanine Huistra and Alex Nieuwmeyer, are good candidates with solid careers. They are expected to maintain the ship on course, and do their best to keep ATA accountable.

That’s all that‘s needed.

Lisette, a tourism executive and a senior pastor for the New Life Tabernacle Church & Ministries, brings god into the equation, which delivers added value.

Jeanine has vast marketing and sales experience and Alex knows just about anything about project development and budgeting.

On behalf of the government the 3 public-sector candidates are super qualified too. Ronny van Trigt with a finance and business background, Naomi Chan, and James Fazzio, who successfully runs the Reina Beatrix airport.

As for the chairperson of that happy-go-lucky group the MinTour appointed his senior advisor, Marieta Ras.

Marieta was my diligent colleague at the Alhambra Casino in the marketing department, a few decades ago. Over the years she accumulated experience in finance and resort operations, and in her last job as the general manager of Gold Coast Residence, put all her assets to work.

Recently I found out she was appointed senior advisor to the MinTour, and now she also serves as the chairperson of the ATA board.

Does that sound right to you?

I thought it was supposed to be an independent candidate, an impartial person, with board experience, qualified to negotiate and navigate both the private and the public sector needs and wishes?!

Anyway, at the very least Marieta understands tourism, and owns a good head.

Development on Eagle Beach

Some concerned owners of Oceania Residence wanted to see me just recently sharing their misgivings about the development of a mega resort next door, on the plot of land previously known as the SANDS.

Apparently, the adjacent failed Morgan’s Island water-park was also purchased by that same developer, The Palm Aruba Group, see below for information about them, and the combined area is big enough for a mega resort.

According to their story, under the leadership of the Victor Acosta, the junky water park equipment was dismantled and sold down the river, then Palm Aruba Group annexed the land, filed in construction plans with GOA and started talking to Princess Resort about operating a 600 room hotel.

(GOA, Government of Aruba)

The Oceania Residence owners, long time repeat guests to the island, are sounding the alarm this week, stating that Eagle Beach is in danger of overdevelopment, with an all-inclusive coming into the space between La Quinta and Oceania Residence.

The Oceania Residence owners explained they are not opposed to development, they would like to see something rise on the adjacent land, a condo, 100 to 125 units perhaps, occupied at 40% over the year, with solid quiet owners who mind their own business, come and go as they please.

Three stories please, no six, nor eight.

So I sent the following message around to hoteliers and developers in the area:  Dear developer, I wanted to hear your feedback about the concerns that Oceania members shared with me about what’s coming up in the adjacent area, where Sands/Morgan Island was built, they are saying a 600 room all-inclusive resort is in the pipeline. True, not true?! Let me know

Answers:

Rona, we can talk off the record because what happens there affects all of us, if they are allowed to build 6 to 8 floors, we would be interested as well. The project by the developers of Palm Aruba Condos, is in conversation with Princess Hotels but GOA, has not approved it yet. We feel that an all inclusive resort on Eagle Beach goes against ATA’s strategy and will not be good for the area. We also do not understand why Otmar Oduber’ notorious all-inclusive law/regulation, was not enacted, although it was approved by Parliament, a while ago.

Rona, I have two reactions: One: GOA said no more hotels, so not to worry. The other reaction: We should worry because this development would be the end of Eagle Beach. There is mention of a development of 600 rooms with the water park as their back-of-the-house. Let’s pray this does not happen. Mention was that part of this development would be all-inclusive.

Info from Nov. 2014:

ABOUT PALMARUBA GROUP.

Partners Antonio Onorato, Agostino Onorato, Guido Riccio, Juan Jose Fernandez and Victor Acosta, spearhead the investment in two companies: Corporacion Palm Beach 17A V.B.A. and Inversiones Palm Beach.

Antonio Onoratto and Agostino Onoratto are members of well known families with numerous businesses in Venezuela, of Italian descent. One of the businesses is Grupo Colorado which consists of Frigorifico Industrial Los Andes, with more than 40 years of experience, it is the largest cattle breeding farm in Venezuela.

Victor Acosta is the Executive Director of the project development group and is in charge of the operation of all real estate projects. Victor Acosta has over 20 years’ experience in real estate. He has  brought to successful conclusion major key projects in Aruba such as the Oceania Residence, Aruba Palma Real, Ponton Plaza, Calbas Plaza, Montana Plaza, Palm Beach Plaza, Casa del Mar and many more.

From another column, written a while ago:

This question “why we are doing this” was recently answered by economist Arjen Alberts whom has dedicated an extensive study towards economic development in Aruba and St. Maarten with the question how well have we prospered from tourism? His conclusion was published in an article that headlined in Amigo di Aruba, and that in a nutshell said: ”The fact that each year more tourists are coming to Aruba does not signify that the prosperity is on the rise”. To the contrary, the average prosperity has been the same during the last 25 years. Our GDP rises each year but that does not mean that the prosperity is on the rise as well according to Alberts. His shocking conclusions are that Aruba has not prospered in tourism these past 25 years. When our GDP grew so did our population and it was mostly foreign labor that went on to fill in vacancies created by new hotel development. The cake as he explains indeed got bigger but so did the cutting of the cake in lots more pieces. According to Alberts it is even possible that our prosperity will be reduced in the future, or will stay the same. The bottle neck according to him is the lack of space. The island is filing up. We ran hard but did not advance. The only solution according to the economist who lives in St. Maarten is to focus on the experience of the tourists. Attract fewer tourists, who spend more.

That brings us to the question: Where is the famous moratorium? Albert’s conclusions do not seem like rocket science and I would vote for a politician who announces it is not about the numbers and the awards, but about Quality of Life. And I would welcome the opposition that would chill, and actually oppose the urge to break more records, focusing instead on quality and better spending.

As an island we lack a product that is fully satisfying to our affluent customers, and with all this new development in the pipe line, Aruba will soon be host to 150,000 inhabitants with an infrastructure that cannot handle this densely populated situation. The solution: a moratorium or a move to another island. With elections this year moving to another island may not be such a bad option after all.

Core Campana

Last month I read on social media that a TV personality headquartered in Santa Cruz was furious about a letter circulated in her barrio, signed by the MinPres, offering help, a general term which covers anything from a job to asphalt and street lights, to any Santa Cruz resident who takes the matters into his hands and contacts one of the following seven people: Suzette Kock, Ichelle Simon, Atan Lee Sr. Tyson Lopez, Oscar Bislip, Curt Croeze and Andres Werleman, all government employees or so-called coordinators in the MinPres stable.

She was furious that the MinPres dares go fishing in her barrio, traditionally populated by members of the opposition.

And I was furious because the propaganda letter was printed at the expense of the tax-payer, delivered at the expense of the tax-payer, and all these people now jumping at the wishes of Santa Cruz residents, get paid with tax-payer money, Core Campagna, running the election campaign of the incumbent MinPres.

In other words, his election campaign in funded by the people of this island.

On Monday, we took a small island Tour, destination San Nicholas, to visit the artwork and have lunch at O’Neil’s Caribbean Kitchen. We were 50% successful. The artwork was there, photogenic and fun, but O’Neil’s was closed. So we ended up at Amuse Sunset Bistro and enjoyed an amazing early evening experience, with unrivaled sea views and gracious service.

But the road to San Nicholas, via Paradera, Santa Cruz, Sabana Basora and Savaneta was treacherous, with every sidewalk and every road under repair!

It’s definitely election time in Aruba. The residents have made their lists, fix this, fix that, and handed them it to their hopeful politician, hoping to be reelected on the wings of barrio repairs and personal favors.

One of my girlfriends writes: They have been walking the neighborhoods for 8 years now, with an entourage of government representative in tow, DIP, DOW, Social Affairs, taking orders from residents. So our people ‘learned’ that everything is a ‘favor.’ They don’t go to the government departments anymore, because it is easier to request service off the MinPres menu.

It goes like the following: During a home visit, the MinPres solicits needs and wants, and hands the list  to his entourage for handling.

Once given the instructions, the member of the entourage will secure a house, a place at a specific school, a job, a piece of land, unemployment stipend, or freshly paved sidewalks. Raoul Gravenstijn, for example, a nice guy, who works for Social Affairs, has been walking the barrios for years, making sure the barrios get light, and that unemployment stipend are paid, courtesy of the MinPres. He is no longer at his desk, because he only follows up on the ‘ter beschikking’  requests, translated to ministerial orders. So government employees only follow up on the ‘ter beschikking’ cases, only on cases referred to them by the MinPres or other ministers. Consequently, they practically abandon the jobs they were hired to do, and relocate to the bestuurskantoor, our government offices, for special projects, as personal assistants to their minister, and after the 4 years are over, they would go back to their regular jobs. Roaul, for example, now works full time for the MinPres in the barrios.

Yesterday driving by the government offices I noticed two dozen people hanging outside the doors, they were waiting for this minister or the other with their list in hand.

It’s election time in Aruba.

Aruba Beach Club – 40 years of hospitality success

The way Raymond Maduro tells it, it began with a post-card. A businessman friend dropped him a line from Puerto Rico telling him about a revolutionary new concept in hospitality, and Raymond answered the call.

It’s that simple, Raymond was ready for a breakthrough and followed a lead from a friend who owned a home in Aruba.

He decided to take a trip to Puerto Rico and see for himself how revolutionary this new timeshare concept is.

He took two friends along, businessman Tito Muyale, and architect Dan Oduber.

The minute they laid eyes on that resort that is still operational, the genius of the concept hit them. It represented an affordable, reasonable solution to the challenge of owning a home in Aruba.

You own a fraction.

And you can tell your friends back home, that you own a place on the island.

Raymond believes that timeshare was the most innovative concept in the history of hospitality in the last four decades. And it is still going strong. Our very own Bettina Gonzalez is now setting up a big timeshare operation in Florida, for the Marriott Corporation.

Aruba Beach Club was the #8 timeshare in the world and the first outside US territory. Farida Mansur is the GM at the helm. She’s been there for thirty years, starting at the accounting department and transitioning into the executive office. With 85 employees and 3,000 members the ABC is still going strong, enjoying a multi-generational guest profile; some have been vacationing at the resort, every year, since infancy.

And employees are as loyal as guests, says Farida. The ABC enjoys a stable and reliable workforce that is emotionally attached to the property and very familiar with its guests. The laundry manager, Farida fondly states, has been working for ABC for 39 years.

Farida recalls she was hired into the accounting department serving five different companies, including the Aruba Beach Club, Casa del Mar and the respective holding and management companies. Today the resort is run by a co-op of owners, and since the split with Casa Del Mar in the year 2000, it is a self sustainable, independent, full service entity, sharing the beach with Casa del Mar but otherwise completely separate.

Imagine a resort without a marketing budget. It’s true. Farida admits her resort sells itself and doesn’t require any booking engines, nor travel sites. The members show up every year and when they are indisposed they send their friends and the resort enjoys high occupancy, year round. Get ready for a modest 40 year celebration for the staff and for dignitaries, with Raymond Maduro as the keynote speaker.

 

Otmar Oduber on politics

I had coffee with Otmar Oduber the leader of POR and the former MinTour at the Plaza Café this week, under the watchful eye of owner/businessman/supporter Harry Koeman.

Why don’t you write nicely about Oduber, Harry wanted to know.

I sipped my cappuccino. There is nothing I enjoy more than telling the government to do less. Stick to education, infrastructure repair and construction, health care and trash collection and I would be very happy!

Glenbert Croes, on the MEP list, was seated inside the café in the air-conditioning, with some of his collaborators. At some point Glenbert stopped at our table to chit chat. Apparently, the plan is to forge a coalition, immediately after the upcoming elections, with Evelyn Croes as the leader of the MEP party, and Otmar Oduber at the helm of POR.

I greatly appreciated the invitation to chat with Oduber, in spite of my frequent needling of his time in government. Our conversation was a testimony to his considerable gift as a politician, tolerating criticism and remaining both friendly and inviting.

What did we talk about?! Plenty of topics which will be revealed over time. One conversation was especially poignant. When I rolled my eyes at the mention of his PR machine, documenting his every move he explained, and I am paraphrasing:

All ministers have the power to give — a home, a piece of terrain, a job at KIA, or a trip to the doctor overseas — to their loyal voters, asphalt, streetlights, a water sports license, you name it, favoritism is a form of government.

The ministers in Aruba reward their voters BUT as the MinTour I couldn’t do any of that, I had nothing to give, but hard work. I am a fighter, a pusher, a doer, and I document my activities for my voters, so that they hear/see how much I go to war on their behalf, every day. I have nothing but my brand, my sweat, to give to the people supporting me.

He later outlined his plans to privatize as much government as he can, so that departments may work independently, breaking the chain of ministerial dependency, empowering department-heads to make decisions instead of waiting for the ministers. He cited the airport reorganization, how he pushed for ANSA, the private sector entity created to replace the government as the employer at Reina Beatrix.

Interesting conversation. To be continued.

Share on:

April 16, 2017
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
Bati Bleki by Rona Coster
Bati Bleki by Rona Coster