In The Spotlight
BARCELONA-- Samsung Electronics and Sony Ericsson unveiled their new top smartphone models on Sunday, both hoping to improve their positions in the more lucrative part of the phone market.
Samsung, the world No 2 handset maker, unveiled its flagship smartphone model Wave -- using a new touch screen technology and the first phone to use its bada operating system.
"Samsung's commitment to Bada is underlined by the fact that it is using it to power its flagship product for the show but it's going to be an uphill struggle to get the developer community on board," said Ben Wood, research director at CCS Insight.
Earlier this month Samsung unveiled a plan to treble smartphone shipments in 2010 and promote its own bada software platform.
Analysts, however, have been doubtful of Samsung's efforts to belatedly build a new open platform. With limited volume, phones using bada will have difficulty attracting application developers or operator support.
Samsung said it plans to launch five to seven phone models using bada software in 2010.
Samsung and Sony Ericsson have seen consumers seeking Web and other PC-like functions increasingly turning away from their feature phones to computer-like smartphones from top vendors Nokia, Apple and Research In Motion.
Samsung's smartphones market was just 3.3 percent last year, compared to around 20 percent stake it has of overall handset market. Sony Ericsson's share of the smartphone market is even smaller.
ZURICH-- European offshore centres are seeking ways to ward off relentless foreign pressure on bank secrecy that is threatening their role as financial hubs, but appeared after talks in Luxembourg to lack a concrete strategy.
Swiss Finance Minister Hans-Rudolf Merz met ministers from Luxembourg and Austria, the only two European Union states that still retain bank secrecy, and the prime minister of formerly black-listed tax haven Liechtenstein during closed-door talks in the heavily-guarded castle of Senningen.
They were joined for the first time by German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, whose determination to hunt down tax cheats even by purchasing stolen data has rattled the multi-trillion dollar offshore banking industry.
"The meeting was definitely a step in the right direction," a person familiar with the talks told Reuters. "But there were no concrete political results," the person said as ministers sat for a dinner of salmon and beef after hours-long discussions.
A spokesman for Luxembourg minister Luc Frieden, who hosted the meeting, declined to comment on the talks.
A Swiss finance ministry spokeswoman said the atmosphere had been friendly despite recent tensions between Switzerland and Germany over Berlin's decision to pursue a stolen CD-rom containing data of Swiss bank clients.
European offshore centres agreed last March to relax their strict bank secrecy laws and help foreign tax authorities to hunt down tax evaders to avoid appearing on an international black list drafted by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development that was backed by the G20.
Switzerland, the main target of an international crackdown against tax dodgers, suffered at the same time a major blow as it emerged that its banking flagship UBS had helped rich Americans to hide money in secret Swiss accounts.
But despite their concessions, offshore centres continue to face pressure to open up and allow cash-strapped nations to replenish their tax coffers after the financial crisis.
Switzerland, which manages an estimated $1.8 trillion of foreign wealth and is the main target of attacks by countries such as the United States and Germany, will hold a government meeting on Feb. 24 to discuss its future strategy.
Its largest wealth manager UBS has put at 140 billion Swiss francs ($131 billion) its estimated share of potentially untaxed money held by clients from major EU countries. Credit Suisse said this was around 100 billion francs for the bank.
The Swiss banking lobby has suggested expanding an anonymous withholding tax system on clients' earnings to guard privacy while addressing foreign countries' tax-collecting needs.
But Swiss media said on Sunday the government, divided until a few days ago on how to fend off foreign pressures, may seek to secure a sufficiently long transition period so to allow tax cheats to come clean or leave the country.
This strategy is in line with the approach so far followed by Liechtenstein, an opaque principality that made a U-turn last year to avoid the collapse of tis financial services industry.
Switzerland agreed in March to drop an artificial distinction between serious tax fraud and minor tax evasion offences, thus weakening its centuries-long secrecy laws.
But senior Swiss officials have expressed concern that Switzerland could lose access to the vast EU financial market place if it does not align to best tax cooperation practices.
While 62 percent of Swiss oppose the abolition of bank secrecy, a poll carried out by two Swiss newspapers showed on Sunday, the mood in the country is changing.
According to the poll, 67 percent of Swiss favour helping foreign countries chase tax evaders in Switzerland and 55 percent would do away with the distinction between tax evasion and tax fraud still in force for Swiss residents.
Meanwhile Luxembourg, whose banking secrecy laws have help it become Europe's biggest funds centre, is in the line of fire at EU level because the embracing of so-called OECD tax standards by Switzerland and by other offshore centres forces it to share tax data with other EU nations given previous EU agreements.
The same would be true for Austria, also an EU member.
"There has to be a negotiated solution to this issue and you only get that if you start talking with all the interested parties," the person familiar with the talks said.
ORLANDO, Fla.-- Toyota Motor Corp is considering increased incentives and an extended warranty program to combat consumer concerns about a deepening product safety crisis, a source briefed on still-developing plans said on Sunday.
Toyota, reeling from its largest recall in history, is discussing a range of options with its U.S. dealers to support sales, including $1,000 in addition to the current $1,000 in cash incentives to returning Toyota customers, the source told Reuters.
Toyota's current $1,000 in "loyalty" bonus matches incentives offered by General Motors Co, Ford Motor Co, Chrysler and Hyundai Motor Co to lure Toyota customers.
Other options Toyota is considering include a free maintenance program -- such as oil changes and regular mile services -- and a new warranty program that at least matches Hyundai's market-leading 10-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty, the source said.
Toyota currently offers a five-year powertrain warranty, or 60,000 miles, according to its website. It also offers a three-year basic coverage warranty for "all components other than normal wear and maintenance items."
The source declined to be identified because the plan has not been made public and has yet to be finalized.
Toyota spokeswoman Celeste Migliore said the company reviews many options to remain competitive for each month, but declined to comment on details.
Don Esmond, senior vice president of Toyota Motor Sales, told Reuters in an interview on Saturday that Toyota will consider "competitive incentives" to attract consumers and take steps to reinforce the brand.
Toyota's U.S. sales dropped 16 percent in January to the lowest level in more than a decade, after it suspended sales of top-selling vehicles subject to safety recalls, including the Camry and Corolla sedans.
AutoNation CEO Mike Jackson said on Saturday that by April, Toyota's sales would return to near-normal levels. Jackson said that for the full year, Toyota's U.S. market share will drop 1 percentage point, from 17 percent in 2009.
AutoNation handles about 3 percent of Toyota's U.S. sales and is the biggest dealer group in the country. About 20 percent of its overall sales are Toyota vehicles.
Esmond said Toyota met with its dealer advertising committee this past week to come up with ideas to bring in more customers.
"We're going to need something to reinforce the brand. I think we'll look at anything and everything," he told Reuters. "We are going to provide the appropriate incentives."
The automaker will also pay for the inventory financing costs its dealers have suffered during the suspension of sales, Esmond said.
WASHINGTON-- U.S. consumer confidence slipped in February, but a stronger than expected rise in retail sales last month suggested households were feeling a bit more comfortable to spend and sustain the economic recovery.
The Commerce Department said on Friday total retail sales increased 0.5 percent. In addition, December and November were both revised to show stronger spending.
December sales were revised to down only 0.1 percent, compared with the previously reported fall of 0.3 percent, while November sales were revised to up 2 percent from up 1.8 percent.
Analysts polled by Reuters had forecast retail sales increasing 0.3 percent last month. Compared to January last year, sales were up 4.7 percent.
Worries over high unemployment eroded consumer sentiment early this month. The Reuters/University of Michigan Surveys of Consumers said its preliminary index of sentiment for February was 73.7, down from 74.4 in late January but up from 56.3 a year ago. That was below analysts' expectation of 75.0.
However, analysts were comforted by the strong sales report.
"It's a nice surprise for the economy, it suggests that the consumer is willing to spend a little. It tells us that retail sales are in a clear recovery," said Kathleen Stephansen, chief economist at Aladdin Capital Holdings in Stamford, Connecticut.
U.S. stock indexes trended lower as investors worried that China's surprise move to raise bank reserve requirements could hurt global recovery. The U.S. dollar trimmed gains versus the euro on the consumer sentiment report.
"I wouldn't be surprised to see (consumer sentiment) ... fall further with unemployment still high and consumers still out of pocket, said Alan Lancz, president, Alan B. Lancz & Associates Inc in Toledo, Ohio.
Retail sales are being closely watched for signs whether consumers are healthy enough to sustain the economy's recovery once government stimulus and the boost from restocking by businesses wanes.
The economy grew at a 5.7 percent annual rate in the fourth quarter, the fastest clip in six years. The economy has grown for two straight quarters following the worst downturn since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
While the recovery in the United States is gaining momentum, Europe has stagnated. Gross domestic product in the 16-country euro-currency zone rose only 0.1 percent in the fourth quarter from the prior quarter, below the 0.3 percent forecast and well short of the 0.4 rise that lifted it from recession in the third quarter. For details see:
In another report, the Commerce Department said U.S. business inventories slipped 0.2 percent after rising by a revised 0.5 percent in November. Economists polled by Reuters had expected a 0.2 percent rise in December inventories.
High unemployment in the United States has sapped consumers' appetite for shopping, but improving labor market conditions may support future sales and help to nurse the broader economic recovery.
"It is easy to paint a negative picture about the household sector given the weak labor market and the large losses of wealth over the last couple of years, but the spending data still looks pretty good," said Zach Pandl, U.S. economist at Nomura Securities in New York.
Motor vehicle and parts purchases were flat last month, after rising 0.1 percent in December.
Excluding motor vehicles and parts, retail sales rose 0.6 percent in January after slipping 0.2 percent the prior month. Economists had expected a 0.5 percent gain. Sales were boosted by electronics and appliance stores, where sales rose 1.2 percent after declining 3.5 percent in December. Sporting goods, hobby and book sales rose 1 percent last month, adding to December's 1.9 percent increase.
Sales at general merchandise stores rose 1.5 percent in January, the biggest gain since February 2009.
Core retail sales, which exclude autos, gasoline and building materials, rose 0.8 percent after falling 0.3 percent in December. Core sales correspond most closely with the consumer spending component of the government's GDP accounts.
PARATY, Brazil-- Near one of Brazil's most traditional colonial towns, a bizarre Carnival craze erupts each year -- a "parade" in which the only costume required is layers of thick, dark, sticky mud.
"I feel very primitive. You feel like running through the woods and doing war chants," said 23-year-old Chris White, a tree surgeon from New Zealand who was covered in the earth-scented goo from head to toe.
He was one of hundreds of foreign tourists and Brazilians who flocked to a beach near the picturesque town of Paraty on Saturday to frolic in the soft blue-black mud which is said to have been used by indigenous Indians for medicinal purposes.
Young couples in swim suits decorate one another with the mud, writing their names or the names of their favorite football teams across their chest. The more creative make skirts or crowns out of leaves and the romantic use flowers to add a splash of color. "Warriors" covered in bush carrying sticks also make an entry on top of mud-covered horses.
While revelers in Rio de Janeiro, some 155 miles (250 km) to the northeast, dress up in elaborate costumes for street parties known as "blocos" and watch dazzling samba parades, partiers here prefer to celebrate more simply with Mother Nature.
"It feels really nice. I keep touching it. I love getting messy," 29-year-old Briton Sally Fordham said with a cheeky smile.
And messy it certainly is. The mangrove area lies flat and still in a smooth and glittery glow in the morning sunlight but looks more like a well trampled pigsty by sunset.
To a background of music ranging from electronic to tribal, revelers dive and splash in the thick dough-like mass, throwing it at those too shy to take part. One enthusiast embodied the primitive spirit with such gusto that he even had a taste of it.
The mud craze dates back to 1986 when friends smeared the stuff on their bodies to stave off insects as they caught crabs in the swampy area. They dared each other to run covered in mud around Paraty's historic center, which at more sober times hosts an annual international literary festival.
"It's a totally different thing, lots of people getting dirty and each year they incorporate more things -- algae, bull skulls, red smoke," Amaury Barbosa, Paraty's secretary of tourism and culture said.
"It has been growing."
A cross between an electronic rave and a hippy festival, the event culminates in a group parade up and down Jabaquara beach as revelers chant "uga uga ha ha" as red smoke billows.
Some locals say that the mud parade has helped keep real estate construction away from the beach by calling attention to the eco-system.
"We have done talks with children speaking about the importance of the mangrove," said 44-year-old teacher Marcelo de Assis one of the original crab-catchers.
"That area is well preserved because the bloco is calling attention to it."
But development in the popular tourist areas could still come at a pace that risks jeopardizing the region's lush and rich eco-system, critics say.
"The objective of the bloco is to bring attention to nature but that doesn't work because people with money get their way," said 32-year-old Warley Costa, who has worked as a street artist in Paraty for 10 years.
BERLIN-- Banksy, the secretive British artist whose work has appeared on city streets around the world, said on Sunday he hoped his documentary film "Exit Through The Gift Shop" will raise the standing of urban art.
But the anonymous graffiti artist with a cult following said in a shadowy video message to audiences at the Berlin Film Festival on Sunday before the screening of his film that it was possible it could have the complete opposite effect.
"I guess my ambition was to make a film that would do for graffiti art what 'The Karate Kid' did for martial arts -- a film that would get every schoolkid in the world picking up a spray can and having a go," Banksy said of his first film.
"As it turns out, I think we might have a film that does for street art what 'Jaws' did for waterskiing."
Banksy's voice was altered and his face concealed, as in the documentary. His film is the story of urban art as told by an earlier associate, Frenchman Thierry Guetta, who tapes artists in action.
Banksy has become world famous for illegal outdoor graffiti, including painting the West Bank barrier and leaving a life-size figure of a Guantanamo Bay detainee at the California theme park Disneyland -- both documented in the film.
He uses satire in his works, tackling politics and culture.
Banksy, who has the directing credit for the 87-minute film, allows the Frenchman to film him working provided he shows only his hands and his back. Some footage of Banksy is in the film, including the artist's Disneyland episode and narrow escape.
"'Exit Through The Gift Shop' is one of the most honest films you will ever see," Banksy said in his video to the festival.
"There was no plan, there was no script and we didn't even realise we were making a film until halfway through. I think it's a good film as long as you've got very low expectations."
From a small-time graffiti artist to a global star, Banksy's work has become so valuable that several of his street works have been salvaged and sold, including a painting on a London wall in London that fetched 208,100 pounds ($340,000) in 2008.
Banksy, from the western English city of Bristol, has had four exhibitions in Britain and the United States that attracted a total of over 550,000 visitors.
It was unclear whether the artist was in Berlin for the premiere. Berlin festival director Dieter Kosslick said he would be in town. "He'll be here but no one will see him," he said.
A press conference was at one point scheduled but cancelled.
"There wouldn't have been anyone to give any answers," a festival spokeswoman said. She added organisers assumed Banksy would at some point leave a tangible sign of his presence.
LOS ANGELES-- The star-studded comedy "Valentine's Day" shot to the top of North American box office charts during the long U.S. President's day weekend, which is poised to land in the record books for ticket sales.
The Warner Bros. romance starring Ashton Kutcher, Jennifer Garner, Taylor Lautner and others on Hollywood's hot list wooed moviegoers to the tune of $52.4 million by Sunday on a long holiday weekend in the United States.
The three-day total for all movies stood at $193 million, eclipsing last year's $188 million mark, according to studio estimates on Sunday. In 2009, the President's day weekend total stood at $220 million by the end of its final day on Monday.
Women accounted for nearly 70 percent of the audience for "Valentine's Day" and more than 80 percent of the audience for romantic drama "Dear John," which topped the box office charts last week, said Paul Dergarabedian, president of the box office division at Hollywood.com.
"Without women, over the past two weekends, (ticket sales) might not have fared so well," he said.
"Percy Jackson & The Olympians" was No. 2 over the three-day frame with a take of $31.1 million, and Universal Pictures' "The Wolfman" came in at No. 3 at $30.6 million.
"Avatar" continued its slide away from the box office throne, settling at No. 4 with $22 million by Sunday. The overall tally for the top-selling film of all time now stands at $659.6 million. "Avatar" and "Percy Jackson" were released by News Corp unit 20th Century Fox.
"Dear John," released by Sony Corp unit Screen Gems, fell to No. 5 with a gross of $15.3 million.
BERLIN-- Shah Rukh Khan, arguably Bollywood's biggest star, said on Friday he was "scared" and "hurt" by hardline Hindu party Shiv Sena's reaction to recent remarks he made in support of Pakistani cricketers.
The 44-year-old heartthrob, in Berlin to present his latest movie "My Name is Khan", also told reporters that he wanted to see the row settled quickly.
"I really want everybody to be happy ... and I'll make sure that by the time I get back to India that everybody is happy," said Khan.
"I don't want any aggression, any problem. I get very, very disturbed and scared and emotionally hurt when things like this happen."
He was referring to protests by Shiv Sena after he criticised the fact that no Pakistani cricketers had been picked for the Indian Premier League.
Earlier this week more than a thousand Shiv Sena workers were taken into preventive custody by police and security was beefed up at cinemas in Mumbai on Friday as the group targeted the opening of My Name is Khan in India.
Some theatres were initially reluctant to screen the movie for fear of violence, raising concerns among some analysts that Mumbai's image as a cosmopolitan business hub could suffer and that the city was being undermined by parochial politics.
Shiv Sena, which runs the Mumbai municipality, draws political sustenance from hardline Hinduism and an ultra-nationalism that includes strident opposition to Pakistan.
Khan said he was tired of the bickering, and stressed he was merely an entertainer.
"So much has been said, so much has been spoken, and with all due respect to everybody around the world, including in my country India, in my city Mumbai ... right now I'd just like to sit down here, walk the red carpet, have some champagne, enjoy the film.
"We as filmmakers should never ever look beyond the fact that we are here to serve the audience. That's how I see it. I truly believe that my job is to make sure people smile. I have no self-centredness or ego about it."
My Name Is Khan, directed by Karan Johar, is about a man named Rizvan Khan, a respectable Muslim played by Khan who suffers from Asperger syndrome, a mild form of autism.
Khan falls in love with a single mother, played by Indian actress Kajol, who runs a hair salon. But their budding romance is interrupted by the spread of prejudice against Muslims following the Sept. 11 attacks.
NEW YORK-- Ten contestants of "Project Runway" showed collections anonymously on Friday at New York Fashion Week, part of the reality show's efforts to keep the three finalists secret until the television season ends.
Only three of the ten designers at Fashion Week were the true finalists, but the television audience will not know their identities until the show's seventh season ends this spring.
The winner will be announced in the televised finale, with the decoy collections edited out.
Lifetime Network television viewers have seen only five contestants eliminated this season on "Project Runway," which pits design hopefuls against one another to create imaginative and skilled designs that are critiqued by a panel of judges. Typically, one contestant is eliminated each week.
At New York's Fashion Week, the 10 designers put on runway shows of 10 looks apiece, nearly all of which supported the view of many bloggers and critics that this season has featured some of the series' most talented designers.
The designers clearly heeded exhortations to keep their collections cohesive, tell a story and espouse a point of view. Tailoring, thoughtfulness and detail were well in evidence.
Contestant Ben cited "The Martian Chronicles" for inspiration, Jonathan called his collection an "experimental study in volume," Mila was "inspired by shadows" and Amy said she embraced "photographic digital prints and pleating." Jesse went for crime novel and film noir inspiration, and Seth hewed to a 1940s' Russian and German military focus.
The show marked the second unusual finale for the hit cable show since its move from the Bravo network to Lifetime. Last year a legal dispute between the networks meant no episodes had been televised before New York Fashion Week, so the finalists' collections also were presented anonymously.
While it was difficult to guess in Friday's show who the finalists were, the colorful Anthony was clearly a crowd favorite.
The judges were fashion designer Michael Kors, magazine editor Nina Garcia and model Heidi Klum, along with a guest judge, singer Faith Hill.
The "Project Runway" winner receives $100,000, a $50,000 technology package and a spread in Marie Claire magazine, along with bragging rights and enviable publicity. Even runners-up from past seasons have scored coveted Fashion Week runway shows.
LOS ANGELES-- Hard-working Barbie is adding two more careers to her long resume -- news anchor and computer engineer.
The two new ventures for the world's most popular fashion doll were chosen by for the first time by the public, who cast more than 500,000 votes to select Barbie's 125th and 126th careers, toymaker Mattel said on Friday.
The popular vote went to Computer Engineer Barbie, who will be launched in the fall of 2010 looking "geek chic" in a binary code-patterned T-shirt, pink-framed glasses, a pink laptop and a Bluetooth earpiece.
Girls however threw their votes behind News Anchor Barbie, who will also go on sale in late 2010 wearing a pink suit and carrying a news folder, camera and microphone.
Computer Engineer Barbie was designed with the help of the Society of Women Engineers, who hope she will inspire young women to enter the profession.
"As a computer engineer, Barbie will show girls that women can design products that have an important and positive impact on people's everyday lives," said Nora Lin, president of the Society of Women Engineers.
The Barbie doll was created in 1959 and her previous jobs have included astronaut, U.S. president, ballerina, princess, paratrooper and McDonald's cashier.
The future countries St. Maarten and Curaçao decided during the Political Steering Group Meeting in Willemstad last week Thursday to stick to their earlier agreement for a shared Central Bank and joint "own" currency, thus not switching to the US dollar as some had suggested. What the new currency will be called or look like is still unclear, but it is already obvious that it can't be introduced by October 10, 2010, when the new constitutional relations within the Dutch Kingdom are supposed to take effect.
The current Antillean guilder therefore will be maintained for the time being. This begs the questions that if the new "own currency" of St. Maarten and Curaçao is going to be much the same as the current Antillean guilder in terms of being pegged to the US dollar, etcetera, why even bother to change it?
To begin with, while the "St. Maarten/Curaçao (or Curaçao/St. Maarten) guilder or dollar" would hardly be an appropriate name for the future joint currency, viable alternatives such as "Dutch Antilles dollar or guilder" have the same problem as the current "Antillean guilder," in that the Netherlands Antilles will no longer exist after 10-10-10. A "Dutch Caribbean guilder or dollar" also hardly makes sense, as neither Aruba nor the BES islands Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba are to be included.
Rather than putting a lot of money and effort into designing and producing a new joint currency that won't differ much from the current Antillean guilder, perhaps it would make more sense to just keep the latter for now and take more time to study whether an own currency for just two islands is really advisable and desirable. In that sense it's important to remember that Antillean Central Bank President Emsley Tromp is the biggest proponent of switching to the US dollar, even though this would greatly reduce the scope of the very institution he heads.
So, instead of a basically purely cosmetic change from one "own" currency to another, the wise thing to do probably is to save everybody the trouble, with everything else that's going in connection with the process of constitutional change, and seriously look into "dollarisation" in the meantime. For an island like St. Maarten with a one-pillar tourism economy that depends heavily on the US market and where the dollar already rules in practice, that option deserves at least some further consideration.
Island Councilman Louie Laveist's lawyer, former chief prosecutor Cor Merx, sounded very chirpy and rather gleeful on radio earlier this week when he announced that he and his client were happy with the rulings handed down by the Joint Court of the Netherlands Antilles and Aruba on February 11.
In a nutshell, he did an impressive job as a spin doctor, more or less hailing the court's decisions – guilty of bribery, but acquittal of forgery and fraud, and no time in jail providing the small fine of 5,000 guilders is paid – as a victory for his client, the embattled politician who had appealed the lower court's rulings in five counts of forgery and bribery against him.
Even though we understand fully the defence's joy about no jail time for Mr. Laveist, and about three of the five charges being thrown out by the court, we were astounded by the former chief prosecutor's triumphant proclamation of victory.
In our books, bragging rights in the Louie Laveist appeal case belong exclusively to the Justice System. In our view, no victory dance, no spin, no fancy words can cleanse, erase or overpower the awful stench that accompanies the conviction of a serving member of any legislative body for bribery.
Our hope is that this latest victory for Justice and the Justice System will translate into a clear and loud message that will be heeded by all who have ears to hear, for based on some very credible stories that abound, Mr. Laveist was but a mere unlucky rookie miscreant.
On the same day the St. Maarten Hospitality and Trade Association (SHTA) sent out a reminder to its members that they have little time left to legalise their staff on account of the immigration raids announced for March following the Brooks Towers Accord (BTA) process to regulate long-time foreign residents, Antillean Justice Minister Magali Jacoba – who initiated that process – said she would be seeking help from the Dutch Government with the controls and repatriation of still illegal immigrants (see Thursday paper).
There is in itself nothing wrong with that, as everyone knew the BTA process was a last chance to obtain at least temporary papers in those cases that for some reason were and/or could not be handled through the regular employment-/residence- permit procedure, so those who did not make use of that opportunity must now face the music. That extra assistance may be needed from the Netherlands is also understandable in view of what are expected to be hundreds of undocumented inhabitants who are to be repatriated.
The problem is that the handling of the BTA applications does not appear to be going very smoothly. While it was announced recently that a number of permits were ready, but people were not collecting them, there reportedly are still many applicants who have not heard anything almost two months after the BTA period ended, even though they were told they would be contacted within two weeks.
It appears much of the paperwork is, not surprisingly, stuck at some of the same entities that handle the regular permit requests and already were faced with a shortage of manpower to do the job within the legal terms as it was. While the initial part of the BTA process was handled by a special team, much of the follow-up work has now ended up in the lap of these already overburdened officials.
So rather than worry so much about the controls in March, the minister would do well to investigate, at least in St. Maarten, how many of the applications that qualify actually have been processed to the point that the people involved have their permits. Perhaps that is where assistance is most needed, because if it turns out that many are still waiting for word on their requests come March, the law enforcement authorities are going to have to take that into account, also considering the maximum fine of 100,000 guilders for employing an "illegal" worker.
Last, but not least, a decision will have to be taken what to do with undocumented Haitians found on the island, because sending them back to their earthquake-ravaged country at this point in time would seem a socially unacceptable and downright inhumane thing to do.
Apparently the Island Government is still having trouble complying with these requirements, at least in the eyes of the CFT. This was already clear from the latter's December 16 letter to the Lt. Governor reported on in Tuesday's edition, in which a January 14 deadline was also given and to which the Executive Council has since responded.
That the opposition party DP complained about Island Council members only receiving the December 16 letter last week is understandable. After all, it is almost mid-February and a final draft budget is yet to be presented to the Island Council, let alone approved; a highly unusual and undesirable situation.
While the law allows for the continued governing of the island based on last year's budget, that certainly cannot be the intention for very long. Any government that respects itself should in any case have a proper budget in place to support its policies at the start of the year.
There are mitigating circumstances, including financial and other consequences of the process of dismantling the Netherlands Antilles. That is likely to have an effect on not just this year's figures, but also the long-term multi-annual budgeting that CFT appears to be requiring.
Then again, that St. Maarten is in transition to acquiring country status was known to all for some time and while the CFT requirements may make things a little more difficult, the 2009 budget also was prepared and presented when the financial supervision was already in effect. It's also important to remember that last year's budget was presented by the former DP Executive Council and one can rightfully question how responsible it is for the NA/Heyliger Executive Council that took over mid-2009 to continue governing well into the New Year based on that "old" budget.
All in all, there can be little doubt that the finalisation of this year's budget has become an urgent matter. Continued non-compliance could well have consequences for the process of establishing new relations within the Dutch Kingdom scheduled for 10-10-10.
That the plan has been 16 years in the making illustrates how difficult it apparently has been for government to make any real progress in this area. The Department of Spatial Planning and the Environment VROM may be short-staffed, but considering the time-span involved one can't help but wonder how much priority was given to this matter.
In the meantime, "The Friendly Island" and its people have had to put up with a lack of proper zoning all these years, with as consequence that the environment has been put under ever-greater pressure due to the continued basically unregulated economic growth and related investments in especially accommodations and other real estate projects.
A structural vision for the future development of the island drafted in cooperation with the municipality of Amsterdam is part of the efforts to tackle this pressing issue now at last. Input rightfully will be sought from the public, but many may recall something similar was already done by visiting Dutch students involved in the process some time ago.
It is nevertheless good to know that there is at least some movement when it comes to the long-awaited Zoning Plan. That public opinion and political hesitation had to be taken into account when it comes to this sensitive issue involving private property makes sense, as long as the general interest is not subordinated to that of the individuals involved.
Ultimately, while compensating people with tax benefits and feasible alternatives certainly seems reasonable, the process of "finding of common ground" can never be an excuse to seek compromise to the point where the zoning plan loses all its teeth and becomes a "paper tiger."
The lack of cooperation from residents who must have noticed the torching of two stolen cars in their neighbourhood, but failed to report this, has authorities worried. What's worse, police say they were subjected to verbal abuse and even threats while taking the vehicles away, although they could not tell by whom.
When people stop respecting the law and apparently don't consider the agencies called on to enforce it as being on their side, there is a serious problem. This does not mean the majority feels that way, but if even a small group somehow turns against authorities it can jeopardise the safety and security of society as a whole.
That the Lt. Governor is looking into additional law enforcement measures, including extended and far-reaching authority to the police and Prosecutor's Office, is understandable under the circumstances. Examples mentioned are closing businesses, offices and homes that violate public order, temporary detention of persons or groups ignoring law and order rules, as well as police searching vehicles and persons, including having the motorist open any closed packages.
The general public needs to realise that such steps can create a certain measure of inconvenience and can have other consequences, including financial ones. However, crime is becoming a serious threat to the local tourism economy and if it gets out of hand things quickly could turn very sour, as other destinations in the region have already experienced.
So while it makes sense to request understanding from the community and ensure that additional measures should not create the semblance of a police state, the Lt. Governor perhaps would do well to go a step further and not only look into, but actually proclaim those measures. After all, there is no reason to believe that the local criminals involved or even those who apparently sympathise with them will be overly impressed by intentions and/or warnings.
The time for talk has passed. Actions that speak louder than words, but unfortunately will also have an impact on the law-abiding citizen, are now needed to once-and-for-all get to the few who would try to spoil things for others. They simply can't be allowed to do so.
- 30 April 2015 - 27 April 2017
- 75 Tollgate
- Bachstr. 143
- 27 April 2015 - 29 May 2015
- Hoa Binh Tower
- Hoang Quoc Viet, Nghia Do
- 27 April 2015 - 29 May 2015
- Hoa Binh Tower
- 106 Hoang Quoc Viet
- 04 May 2015 - 04 May 2015
- Hoa Binh Tower
- 106 Hoang Quoc Viet
Training continues for the 25 Special Olympics athletes that will represent St. Maarten at the Special Olympics Latin America Games to be celebrated in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The St. Maarten team spent Saturday morning training in preparation for their Thursday departure. The team consists of eight swimmers, eight track and field athletes and four will compete in bocce. Countries invited to send athletes are Aruba, Bahamas, Belize, British Virgin Islands, Curacao, Dominica, Guadeloupe, Cayman Islands, Montserrat, St. Kitts/Nevis, St. Lucia, Suriname, US Virgin Islands, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Panamá, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, Venezuela, USA, Spain, Italy, Greece, South Africa, Austria and Spain.
VALENCIA, Spain-- U.S. challengers BMW Oracle won the 33rd America's Cup on Sunday, beating Swiss holders Alinghi in the second race to claim the best-of-three series 2-0 in a triumph of superior design and technology.
Software mogul Larry Ellison's giant trimaran, featuring a towering wing-shaped sail, beat Alinghi by more than a kilometre in the second race off the Spanish port of Valencia.
Ellison, an accomplished ocean racer who had never made it to an America's Cup match before, proudly steered his space-age boat back to port as night fell, hugging and congratulating his crew members.
"It's an absolutely awesome feeling. I couldn't be more proud," Ellison told America's Cup television.
"Alinghi sailed really hard today," he said.
Ellison's BMW Oracle team was beaten by Alinghi, backed by banking and biotechnology billionaire Ernesto Bertarelli, in the final of the 2003 challengers series for the America's Cup, which the Swiss went on to win from holders New Zealand.
The 2010 event came after more than two years of often bitter legal wrangles between Ellison and Bertarelli over the America's Cup rules, battles which sometimes spilled over into sniping between the teams.
Alinghi had been flying a protest flag during the race, meaning the result was provisional until the complaint was heard. An Alinghi spokesman said later it had been withdrawn.
An American team had not won sailing's oldest and most prestigious prize since Bill Koch's America3 beat Italians Il Moro de Venezia in 1992.
It was a convincing victory for Ellison's boat, a unique trimaran featuring a revolutionary wing-shaped mast and mainsail configuration the height of a 20-storey building.
The carbon fibre and kevlar American boat hit speeds of up to 33 knots, incredibly more than four times the speed of the wind, as it surged away on the second leg to lead by more than 2,100 metres.
Alinghi, with Bertarelli at the helm, finished 5 mins 26 seconds behind BMW Oracle after a miserable race.
Bertarelli's team made an error in pre-start manoeuvres, earning a penalty which had to be executed before they could finish.
The Swiss catamaran made up good ground to lead on the first leg of the 39-nautical mile race but were then blown off the water by BMW Oracle's superior speed.
"We were at the limit and couldn't push it any harder," Alinghi crew member Pierre-Yves Jorand told reporters.
"They did a great job and for sure the wing is a fantastic tool," he said.
BMW Oracle won Friday's first race equally easily.
Sunday's race finally got under way after delays of more than six hours as race officials waited for suitable wind.