Bati Bleki Weekly Recap, May 29th, 2016

A painful subject: The nonpayment of bills

Detective Roy Hodge from the Detective Unit of the Aruba Police called me to inform me that if I do not take my Monday’s column down, there will be an official complaint coming my way.

I wrote about the nonpayment of bills by spa operators Ma Li, of the Caribbean Palm Village Resort Palm Li spa, and she got pissed and called the Police to complain. The truth always hurts.

And I said: With pleasure, Mr Hodge, your time is valuable, and I am happy to make your job easier, because the column did its job already, it got the non-payer, publicity, it didn’t get me paid, that is still outstanding, but it served its purpose!

So, the column is gone, RIP, the pen is more powerful than the sword!

TIME OUT, KID!

Children, go to your room, you’re getting time out.

In a recent newspaper I noticed on page 8 & 9 a double spread, paid for by the MinTour countering all of the Aruba Hotel & Tourism Association concerns regarding the new law designed to change the way hotels are licensed.

On page 16 & 17 of that same newspaper, a double spread paid for by the Aruba Hotel & Tourism Association, proved the MinTour’s various assumptions as wishful thinking, and biased.

Yesterday, the newspaper was cluttered with one pro argument against every con argument, a total of six pages. Today? Same thing.

Really, is that how you’re going to talk to each other, off the pages of the newspapers, and via paid advertising?

I am suggesting a time out. A cooling off period. A hiatus.

During that hiatus, you’re all going to go back to work to make sure our summer season delivers a healthy number of tourists, because it has been super disappointing up till now, with the overall average daily rate down by 14.9%, from last year, and as a result of lower average occupancies and a lower average daily rate, the revenue per occupied room fell by 17.2% in April 2016.

“Going Back to Work” also means that the MinPres will refrain from travelling all over the globe, and instead show some long-overdue and much-needed interest in the work of his ministers, to curb some of their over-active agendas, and to encourage the formulation of sustainable solutions to all our environmental, educational and health care challenges.

I would like to see some progress in environmental protection, and in the upgrade of education. The improvement in health care, is urgent, there have been a number of serious screw-ups in health care in my close circle, which for privacy reasons cannot be discussed, and  I would love to see some of the passion demonstrated in the back and forth between AHATA and the Government, poured into other areas of great need.

Of course, Customs Officers will give up striking, and promise to behave.

Locals will stop breeding their dogs for cash and/or dumped unwanted puppies to die in the wilderness.

The refinery will remain shut, and the dream of reopening it, dead!

The economy will enjoy great diversification, as the ministers liberated from the burden of CITGO/PDVSA, become super creative and actually come up with doable alternative industries, finding viable employment for all those twiddling their thumbs in government offices and great new jobs for the 44 former Aura casino employees who will never get hired back by whoever picks this now-much-smaller casino up!

Education, who needs one?

I was invited to the graduation of the International School of Aruba next week, and I am sure my eyes will be welling with tears when I see our graduate receiving her diploma. I always cry at graduations. They are milestones. They are the reward for many sacrifices, of parents and students, and they are moments of pure joy and elation, celebrating a great achievement, mixed with anxiety and uncertainty, about the future, and what’s next.

I am already looking forward to that emotional roller coaster.

Education. That’s today’s topic.

One of my friends, a key player in the SKOA school system, Stichting Katholiek Onderwijs Aruba, the network of Catholic schools here, with 48 of them from kindergarten through high school recently poured his heart out, how broke the system is and how difficult to navigate.

Apparently, the air-conditioning in classrooms has been turned off due to lack of funds. The government has not come forth with the money for the electric bills, and the parents refused to pay for it. Kids have no books, period. And while some teachers find it hard to proceed without, some appreciate the freedom it allows, and create their own school materials.

The famous sentence of July 8th last year was NOT a positive development. It created a lot of convenient confusion, when the court of first instance ruled, that the school couldn’t RAISE fees without a “just” cause. Some parents viewed the verdict as an excuse to stop paying all together. THEY DID NOT EVEN PAY THE CUSTOMARY ANNUAL AWG 75. Can you imagine???

True, last year SKOA attempted to raise the ridiculously low amount from Awg 75 to Awg 125. Then a group headed by an active politician that does not even have children in a SKOA schools, took SKOA to court.

How is that possible that parents view an increase from Awg 75 to Awg 125, mind you, a one time annual fee, as TOO MUCH??

How is it possible that a politician uses a school system as a political vehicle and an instrument for self-promotion?

The judge’s verdict was that SKOA could not raise the school fee without “just cause,” and that put the increase on hold, until the “bodem” procedure was heard. What ensued was that parents did not pay. They did not even pay the original Awg 75 fee.

Just for comparison, parents with children at Colegio Arubano pay anywhere from Awg 800 to Awg 1,500 a year for tuition and books. The Schakel and the International School tuitions are much higher.

It is a fact that we pay very high personal taxes, up to 58.95%, the highest income tax rates in the world, and the government is supposed to provide us with free education, but the measly amount of Awg 125 per annum, surely every parent can cough that amount up to help pay the high costs of utilities here.

Anyway, the schools are broke, the money has not been collected last year and this year, and will probably not be collected next year, the issue is hanging in indecision, and the SKOA brass is ducking the confrontation, investigation this or the other. I hear some key people were sent on long term “vacations,” until the dust settles, but basically SKOA’s management is dragging its heels, and the system is quagmired.

Are you a foodie? then read on….

Expect Amuse Seaside Restaurant in July

The popular French bistro, streetside at Playa Linda Beach Resort, will be moving to a waterfront location, taking Arubaville’s place, on the lovely pier between Barcadera and the airport.

Chef proprietor Patrick van der Donk and his wife Ivette will be taking their special brand of hospitality to a charming spot and serving their specialties on Bucutiweg. Why? Patrick says he always felt that his signature dishes deserve a more relaxed and elegant spot. Playa Linda has been good to them, but his desire to create a fine dining destination restaurant took over, and the decision to relocate was made.

Three serious contenders are already competing for the Playa Linda spot, so there will be someone buying the lease of Amuse on the Palm Beach strip’s most densely populated sidewalk, and meanwhile Patrick set the goal of opening in the new address in July. Patrick says the commute doesn’t scare him, after all he was the Flying Fishbone chef for 8 years and his car effortlessly made the trip twice a day, in those days.

Patrick & Ivette were blessed with triplets, as in three most-adorable kids, fourteen months ago, and Patrick wants them to grow up on the water around his new restaurant. He already has a career path lined up for them, dish washing first, then cold kitchen then sauces, then the grill…

As Amuse moves to its new destination, the entire kitchen brigade and the dining room staff are following. The new location features a lovely bar with bar top dining possibilities and Ivette is going to use her experience in mixology to create a stellar bar menu, with their award winning bartender.

Prepare for a palate-pleasing experience in a spectacular spot, on the waterfront, between Barcadera and the airport, sooooon.

Piccolo is making a comeback

The Hyatt Regency is bringing back its super popular Piccolo restaurant. The Italian eatery will occupy the right wing of the restaurant, with fountain and garden views, next to the stone pizza oven. Ruinas del Mar will remain the neighbor on the left. Piccolo, a cozy Italian Bistro, is making a comeback due to guests’ requests. The restaurant will be taking care of dinner while Palms Restaurant remains in charge of seaside lunch.

An unforgettable night at Papillon Restaurant

From the very beginning, Papillon restaurant started serving tastings to friends and family members so that they could enjoy the cuisine and wine selections, in small portions, over the course of an entire evening. Not surprisingly, all diners came back for more, requesting seasonal changing tasting adventures.

Then for Papillon’s 5th anniversary, the restaurant celebrated with a 5-course tasting menu with 5 wines for $50 dollars.

Then on the 6th anniversary, you can already guess what took place.

And recently we tried the 7th anniversary dinner, with 7 courses and 7 wines for $70 Dollars. It was an excellent deal, and the restaurant intends to go on like that until its 10th anniversary!

So what did we have?

A flue of champagne combined nicely with the Ceviche al Habana, as a starter.

We stuck to our bubbly when paired with the Crispy Goat Cheese Bake drizzled with truffled honey. Then we switched to Partager Sauvignon Blanc for the Garlic Sautéed Escargots with wakame, lime vinaigrette, and arugula garnish. We also enjoyed our Sauvignon Blanc with the Pan-fried Salmon on a bed of sundried tomato risotto, with pesto and saffron sauce.

We transitioned to delicious Partager Rose when the Beef Pastrami with truffled goose liver pate combined with balsamic syrup was served. We also enjoyed it with the Lamb 2-ways, herb crusted rack of lamb and filet of lamb with sweet potato mash and passion fruit sauce.

The wow dessert combined with a sweet Moscato Wine, featured a home-made dark chocolate mousse with baileys and fresh berries!

The wines were paired by the sommeliers of the Aruba Trading Company. Next month’s list of specialties will be coordinated between the chef and Romar Trading.

Our intention is to give diners a nice and relaxing experience at a reasonable price, says restaurant manager Tina van Mal, and her mission is perfectly accomplished.

Dig in your heels, AHATA

The latest round of talks between the MinTour and AHATA, and the latest loud newspaper articles really polarized opinions on the island.

Is all inclusive good or bad for us? That was the question on every one’s mind.

Are you pro MinTour or pro AHATA?

Skkkkkid. Stop.

That is not the issue on hand.

That is only what the PR machine says the issue is.

The issue is about control. And the deep rooted desire of the MinTour to look like a popular hero, saving the country from the big bad wolf.

But, the country doesn’t require saving. And the wolf ain’t bad. It’s the biggest employer on the island.

I believe we all need to go back to work and stop arguing.

I understand that at the end of a highly-charged meeting this week, the MinTour expressed impatiently that he ran out of time and wanted AHATA to tell him specifically what it wanted changed in the upcoming legislation proposal, designed to change the way hotel licenses are granted.

Skkkkkkid. Stop.

If AHATA files in changes and makes requests/alterations, it means that in principle, it agrees to the legislation proposal, so dig in your heels AHATA, you don’t have to come up with alternatives or options, because you totally disagree with the proposal in the first place.

Dig in your heels AHATA that there is no compelling reason to change what ain’t broke. It has been working fine for 60 years.

Dig in your heels AHATA so that no government may change the economic rules mid game.

Dig in your heels AHATA because the investment is yours and no government can tell you how to run your business profitably.

Passive resistance is powerful, just go about your business of marketing the island and servicing guests, because this hoopla is enormous, and the MinTour invested his political future into that single piece of legislation that is holding the government in a chokehold.

I wish he would devote his amazing energy to other weak links of our existence; he could be such a positive game changer.

So yes, this is a big fight, big guns are no good, passive resistance could be powerful.

Dear readers: All inclusive is not bad for the island, it’s a fad in travel, it’s chic and stylish for the moment, it will get weaker, then stronger; it will never go away completely, because it has always been here.

A reputable tour company confirmed to me that all inclusive clients tour and shop. They spend money on activities.

A reputable chain operating a number of all inclusives confirmed to me that the company buys 80% of their goods on the island.

And one-before-last, thought to consider: There is a market demand for the all inclusive product. Just ask yourself how come the Sheraton, the Americana, the Concorde/Westin, and the Divi Divi and Tamarjin, were unsuccessful as EP hotels and as soon as they converted into all inclusives they became considerable successes? Could it be because of growing market demand??!!

Last thought to consider: Look at Venezuela and see what happens when a government becomes populist, and decides to run the economy.

Encounter: Justice in Practice

MinJust and the KPA chief Adolfo Richardson hosted a recent event at the Marriott Ballroom in which they showed a well prepared presentation to a general forum and a special repeat performance in a shorter format to the media.

Apparently KPA conducts regular meetings with its partners, ATIA, AHATA, and shares information about its activities with the general public via FB: https://www.facebook.com/korpspolitiearuba/?fref=ts

You should visit the page, because it contains reports about their activities, for example on May 23rd, they conducted a session with senior citizens in Noord, and posted five images of a congenial powwow with the elderly. Then they posted 219 pictures of a two-day National Traffic Control, it looked like two all-nighters, in which they stopped and controlled a great number of vehicles, 300 on Friday, 400 on Saturday, and arrested a number of people, 12 on Friday, and 8 on Saturday, including one woman.

One unlucky and rushed driver unintentionally rear-ended a police car; I imagine he was among those arrested. Anyway, the control looked professional and intense, and will certainly discouraged people from driving without a license, 1,080 cases in 2015, and/or driving under the influence, 324 cases in 2015. The FB images depict KPA opening car trunks, inspecting papers, conducting breath alcohol tests and looking sharp, well equipped and well groomed!

The official report cites they also handed out a number of boots and revoked some driving licenses. We like it like that; it makes us all feel secure.

At the gathering the police described a number of their new initiatives among them the creation of special task forces for what they called ‘high impact crimes;’ they reported increased preventive measures and the tweaking of policies; more surveillance in conjunction of other entities such as the military and the marines. They have been paying attention to the application of laws and policies, they said, and worked closely with newly formed Community Watches to involve the residents of this island in active crime prevention. This new phenomenon of Community Watches received compliments from KPA. They also revealed that an ambitious camera project is wrapping up soon, you already see them at intersections, and that a rapid response team has been put in place to deal among others with any local drug issue. Other initiatives include the K9 patrols in tourist areas, combined with bike patrols, and a joint initiative of Coastal Surveillance. The KPA reported that they have been targeting groups such as school kids and seniors and are making rounds in schools and community centers to exchange views with the public and to connect with their clients young and old. They have also revamped their intelligence department, so that information comes in on a regular basis.

The MinJust was pleased to report a significant reduction in burglaries, 33% less in 2015, thanks to more arrests, better intelligence and more community involvement and a significant reduction of car thefts and car break ins, 11% less in 2015, thanks to more arrests, joint operations with other entities, and intelligence-led investigations. He also wanted his public to remember that the number of solved cases is important, for example that fact that from among 22 robberies since January 2016, 16 were completely solved, which is 72% success, one of the highest percentages in the region.

The MinJust did point out that he did not think there was a need to close the border with Venezuela as yet, because crime statistics show that while some Venezuelans are involved, they are supported by the locals, and the KPA is monitoring the situation and watching the statistics for trends and patterns and will react if the situation calls for it.

Wow, that was a mouthful. Well done minister! Your public wants to hear from you. While the MinTour over-communicates, you under-communicate, so the encounter at the Marriott Ballroom was a step in the right direction.

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May 29, 2016
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Bati Bleki by Rona Coster
Bati Bleki by Rona Coster
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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