Dear Editor,

I have taken note of the response to my article in the media regarding the telecommunications situation in Statia by Gerald Berkel of GEM Enterprises. It is very unfortunate that the impression is given that it is meant as an attack on this local company and his agency for UTS/Chippy.

After re-reading it, I have come to the conclusion that I could have chosen my words more carefully. I hereby sincerely apologize for this. It should be known that I have always held Berkel in high esteem, and have supported him as governor until the very end. I do applaud his entrepreneurial spirit and his courage to start his own enterprise.

The aim of my article was to address the manner in which our government, in my opinion, is dealing with the interest of the people of Statia, and that of our local telephone company EUTEL. I believe that as an island council member, it is my duty to do so. The way government is handling the matter is depriving our people and our businesses from better quality Internet, mobile and cable services, and the possibility of paying less for these services.

It is also depriving our island from new opportunities for economic development that are so much needed. And at the same time, it has resulted in a decline of revenue for our local telephone company, which may even endanger its existence. Berkel rightfully points out the 7 jobs he has created with his initiative, and he stands to protect these jobs. The same, however, also counts for EUTEL, where there are also 7 jobs at stake.

As an island council member, it is my duty to stand up for those jobs as well. Berkel rightfully stands up for the interest of GEM Enterprises. As an island council member, it is my duty to stand up for local initiative, but also for our local government-owned company EUTEL.

Koos Sneek

Dear Editor,
St. Maarten needs change. This week Parliament has been debating the budget and going back and forth on the same issues previous Parliaments and governments did not solve. The financial situation is dire and requires a conservative budget. However, without a plan for economic growth, falling national income will soon reach a tipping point. This means further deterioration of basic public services, the loss of our earnings potential and eventually our fiscal autonomy. While we still have a fighting chance to improve our economy, Parliament should take control immediately.
“How much do we make in profit tax?” was one of the questions raised in Parliament. The answer is so little that we should be asking “How much do we lose because of our profit tax?” To collect a meagre NAf. 24 million we get top marks in rankings of undesirable investment destinations. Our rate of 34.5% is one of the highest in the world and makes us the biggest fool in our Kingdom. The rate in the Netherlands and Aruba is 25%, in Curacao 22% and for the BES-islands a cool 0%. In Gibraltar, which is comparable in size and constitutional make up, a 10% profit tax rate has propelled economic growth (12%) per year!
In other words, our profit tax is damaging our existing businesses and preventing foreign companies and investors from setting up shop here. Our profit tax is so high that most local business owners admit they do not want to make profit in St. Maarten. Next to that our firm has seen numerous potential investors backing away from St. Maarten because of the tax rate. Noting that Tortola is open for business and levying no profit tax at all. This means that no new jobs were created, no new opportunities were given and no new tax revenues were generated. To be blunt ... it means that we are the least savvy of the lot.
The global consensus is that a low profit tax is good for business, for growth and tax revenues. Our rate is 245% higher than Gibraltar’s.
Lowering the profit tax to 10% will increase the revenue to NAf. 45 million due an incentive to run a profit and even more if new investments are made. This would change St. Maarten’s international appeal overnight. However, if our politicians can’t stomach a big bet, the rate should be lowered to the level of Curacao (22%). We expect this to be budget neutral while still beneficial to our investment climate.
In June, after a presentation to Parliament we (BERMAN Consultancy Legal & Trust) noticed broad support for a lower profit tax; in Parliament and the community. However, the government didn’t address the issue in the budget. Parliament has the legislative power to amend the budget to include a lower profit tax rate. No further legislation is needed; it could be fixed before the end of the year. It’s time for Parliament to take control and budget for growth.

Lucas G.J. Berman
BERMAN Consultancy Legal & Trust

In memory of the Late Henri (aka Maurice) Cannegieter (1943-2016)

Dear Editor,

In his smooth and insightful introduction to the Hamilton White House performance on March 14, 2016, President Obama stated: “Hamilton is not just for people who can score a ticket to a pricey Broadway show. It is a story for all of us and about all of us.”

The President was addressing folks in the United States. We must take him at his word for most of us have not seen, will not see the show on Broadway but the reviews have been very positive, in keeping with the President’s assessment. Fortunately, there are recordings of the show and more importantly, there is the book that inspired it. It is therefore truly regrettable that this show has elicited, is eliciting, such a crass display of partisanship in commentary online.

Having recently read the book that inspired the musical I venture that it would not have received the kind of attention it deserves and is getting were it not for the show. I, for one, would not have read this biography published in 2004 were it not for the commotion surrounding the musical. The book is about the vital role played by Alexander Hamilton, a young West Indian genius, in the founding of the United States. It is about Caribbean history as it relates to Hamilton’s indispensable contribution. No wonder young Lin-Manuel Miranda (of Puerto Rican descent) was so moved by this biography.

Chernow’s peers are unanimous: his book is a magisterial reassessment of Hamilton’s legacy. Indeed it is a brilliant accounting of a past that, like all pasts, never passes completely, even when one tries to repress it, to suppress it or to rub it out completely. “Violence was commonplace in Nevis, as in all the slave-ridden sugar islands [...] All of the horror was mingled incongruously with the natural beauty of turquoise waters, flaming sunsets and languid palm fronds” (Chernow, 2005:19). Instructive and edifying accounts: true stories about us and others, and about us as others.

This biography and the musical it inspired, though separated in time, are inextricably linked. The book was published in 2004. Eleven years later, in 2015, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hip-hop musical opened off Broadway. But before this providential twosome, there was the young man from St. Kitts and Nevis and St. Croix; with family roots in Europe, and all over the Caribbean. The book tells the story of the young clerk who sailed away from the islands for the North American Colonies; away from a past that would never really past. Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton is an awesome garden, sad and splendid, full of gut-wrenching flowers; his scholarship and writing are the envy of all scribblers like us.

In New York, he got a first class education “partly underwritten by sugarcane harvested by slaves” (p.41). He toiled, loved, fought and feuded. He made it big, very big, but he could not fit in tout à fait, completely; he was too different. “He had expressed an unwavering belief in the genetic equality of blacks and whites – unlike Jefferson, for instance, who regarded blacks as innately inferior – that was enlightened for his day. And he knew this from his from his personal boyhood experience” (p. 210).

Hamilton is about all of us because of his race – because of the human chattel of his ancestors: “No less than in Nevis, slavery was all-pervasive on St. Croix – it was ‘the source from which every citizen obtains his daily bread and his wealth,’ [...] – with 12 blacks for every white [...] So extensive was the sexual contact between whites and blacks [on St. Croix] that local church registers were thickly sprinkled with entries for illegitimate mulatto children” (p.23). These accounts sound very much like the history of Saint Martin (French and Dutch), but we don’t write or talk about ours much, and that may not be healthy.

In a chapter entitled “Hurricane,” the disaster that struck St. Croix and other islands in August 1772, I came upon a name I recognized from the writings of Senator Will Johnson of Saba. Here is that gem in Chernow’s book: “Ordained by [Aaron] Burr in 1755, [Rev. Hugh] Knox decided to propagate the gospel and was sent to Saba in the Dutch West Indies [...] Knox left a bleak picture of the heedless sinners he was assigned to save” (p.35). The “picture” of those “keepers of negro wenches” is bleak indeed! I will refrain from quoting Knox’s description of that flock of unheeding sinners he left behind in “the Bottom,” rather I will suggest that the United States of America is, forever, deeply indebted to Sabans!

According to Chernow, the Rev. Knox was more than happy to climb up and out of “The Bottom,” when he moved on to St. Croix. There, he tutored young Hamilton and played a key role in the life of one of the future revolutionaries and Founding Fathers of the USA.

As for the Aaron Burr who had ordained Hugh Knox before he left for Saba, that gentleman was none other than the president of the College of New Jersey (later Princeton): the father of the Aaron Burr who would mortally wound Hamilton in a duel on July 11, 1804.

I could go on for hours clipping flowers in Mr. Chernow’s awesome garden: yellow bells and hibiscuses; tropical lilies and Bougainville flowers; orchids of all colours; and lots, lots of arrows: the arrows of sugarcane that aim at the Heavens as if to reproach them of something. I could go on snipping lots of other handsome flowers to try and persuade my reader of the treasure-trove in Chernow’s magnificent garden; all in an effort to convey a sense of adventure; of discovery; of commonality, community and identity.

Gérard M. Hunt

Dear Editor,
Do allow me the space to respond to the article of Mr. Sneek published in The Daily Herald, dated December 5, 2016. To begin with, Mr. Sneek, I must acknowledge that you developed the game of “pointing finger” into an art, forgetting that the other three fingers are pointing squarely back at you.
When I took office in July 2013, in your archive you left behind, I found the final proposal between the then administration and KPN, spearheaded by you as the Commissioner of Telecommunication. It is the same document I dealt with since governing is continuation.
I rejected the proposal in the meeting with KPN for the following reasons, namely:
1. KPN would take over Eutel NV without any interference and input of the local authority, and
2. The right to go over to downsizing personnel to reduce the personnel costs. These conditions were unacceptable to me and I am proud to say that on behalf of the people of Statia, I rejected those conditions.
Mr. Sneek, this was your proposal and it was ready for signing at least three months before you were voted out of office. Seeing that the document was finalized, why did you not encourage the Executive Council to sign off on it? On the other hand, without any hesitation, you insinuated that there was self-interest on the part of the then governor on this matter. One would wonder to what extent your self-interest as a businessman played in delaying the signing of the document.
Seeing the fire with which you are trying to convince the people of Statia whose fault it is that UTS is in Statia, tell the people why you did not finalize this agreement with KPN. By the way, 4G streaming was not part of the package, but understandably you needed to balance out your frivolous argument.
Mr. Sneek, since you are coming out of a culture that developed over the centuries from grabbing and milking others through overpowering, hence the attitude of KPN, I must assume that you never had the privilege to develop the sense of self worthiness. l can fully understand that words as patrimony, self-respect and cultural heritage are meaningless concepts in your mind. We on the other hand, brought up by the village, were exposed time and time again to these fabrics of community/society togetherness and for that I am thankful for the ability of perception to value my fellow man over the years.
KPN, not a dominant telecommunication company in Europe, was only interested in dealing with Statia for their bigger plan, namely, getting a foot in the door to the Caribbean for expansion. This policy development was in line with the just landed and finalized fibre optic cable, the gateway to the Caribbean. So if KPN really wanted to provide our people with all the goodies as you so eloquently put forward, why the need for full control?
Mr. Sneek, I rather do with less than have more and be at the will of a third party, and that is what I meant with “I will never sell Statia’s patrimony,” something that you will never come to understand in this life time.

Reginald C. Zaandam

Dear Editor,

Kindly allow me to respond to the article of Mr. Koos Sneek which was placed in The Daily Herald of December 5, 2016 with regard to the mobile phone companies on St. Eustatius.

I find it highly unfortunate and disappointing that our elected official, in what seems an attempt solely for political purposes, would choose to present misleading information which would only serve to stir up more confusion in what is an already complicated situation. As a small island community, the public expects our officials to be uplifting and when needed constructively critical. However, this seems to be a case of criticism taking a malicious tone that only seeks to divide us as a community by creating unsubstantiated rumours. As a rule I generally try not to go back and forth in the newspaper, however, councilman Sneek’s comments leave me no choice but to respond, if for no other reason than to state the facts.

Mr. Sneek incorrectly stated that Eutel had two concessions, one which they use for each mobile carrier partner, which is not correct. Each mobile operator is issued one mobile concession, which it uses to provide service to its clients. Mr. Sneek also states that the Island Government issued a business licence to a second mobile operator, erroneously implying that the Island Government somehow did this with the intent to destroy Eutel.

Mr. Sneek, who has been involved for many years with the Business Association and Chamber of Commerce, and also served as Commissioner in the Executive Council, knows that a legitimate request of any business for a business licence must be honoured by the Island Government unless there are very significant supporting arguments to the contrary. A point he argued in the interest of several businesses over the past years.

Mr. Sneek also seems to object to the presence of Windward Island Cellular WICC (a subsidiary of UTS and the licenced mobile concession holder) who is a legally established business registered in the local Chamber of Commerce, which he also referred to as a foreign business. Mr. Sneek forgot to mention that this company, through its local partnership, has been providing the leading mobile services to its Statia Chippie clients for the last decade.

However, he does seem to want to welcome a legitimate foreign company, namely KPN under the conditions that he specifies in his article. In addition to all of this, he also fails to mention/realise that the company which he refers to as “foreign” through its partnership with Gem Enterprises, is providing employment to five “local” staff directly, and income to several other “locals” who provide services to them.

On the issue of Gem Enterprises NV (our family-owned business) for which Mr. Sneek implies that I misused my position within Government to somehow cause them to do business at the Mazinga complex. I shall not dignify these comments and insinuations with a response, as again these go to the lowest level or rumour and other false implications not expected from any responsible citizen let alone an elected member of our island council.

I assume that Mr. Sneek, who is also a business owner, is implying here that anyone serving or having served in Government should close down all business interests once in public office such as to not have any conflict of interest.

Here again he fails to inform the public that this is not the case as I am sure he is aware, more than most citizens, that there are checks and balances in place and requirements of all public officials to register and make known all business and financial activities of their own to the kingdom representative before assuming office and again when leaving office. But that aside, I welcome any inquiry in this regard should there be any doubt regarding my activities before, during or after my tenure in public service.

Any vibrant economy thrives on competition. We have seen for years the result of monopolistic companies and the effect on service to our little island. In the short time the two separate mobile operators have been engaged on Statia, we have already seen the service offering to the people of Statia improve and quality of service offering increase. I am sure this trend that will continue in the future.

The community of Statia deserves, just like any other, the right to choose. And at least with regard to mobile service now they have that choice. I think this is a moment Statian’s at home and abroad should be proud that as a small economy our people, like all others, will have the right to choose. And the spirit of competition will bring about increased service both in quality and quantity. Anyone choosing to see this as negative would leave one to wonder what their real motive and agenda is.

We look forward to be of service to the people of Statia for many years to come. We hope that the same way we were inspired by other local entrepreneurs, others will be inspired as well to start their business and provide quality products and services to the people of Statia because our community needs us all.

On behalf of Staff, Management and Clients of Gem Enterprises NV

Gerald Berkel

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