Bati Bleki Weekly Recap, January 25th, 2016

Comercio nunca ta gaba, pero semper ta keha pasobra esey ta mentalidad!

When I was married we had a standard argument. He would say: Honey, you always complain. And I would says:  Baby, you never listen. Sounds familiar, right? In December, the usually exact MinFin gave a series of interviews to the press in response to the Chamber of Commerce publication which explained the various challenges commerce faces. The chamber also highlighted the areas that require improvement, and provided examples for change. While I have a great respect for what the Minfin usually says, his remarks did not sit well me. Neither were they well received among my friends in business. The Minfin stated that commerce always complains, because that is the nature of the beast, merchants are never satisfied and they eternally bitch about the state of the economic climate. Moreover, when he asked them repeatedly for a list of what he could do for them, he never received an answer, and that he was still waiting! That declaration that “Comercio nunca ta gaba, pero semper ta keha pasobra esey ta mentalidad,” struck me as an insult then, because if commerce always complains then it’s safe to say that government never listens.

Anyway I asked around for opinions, and am running the list here, for the reading pleasure of the officials:

  1. Reform the labor laws to make them more equitable to both business operators and employees, because they are now heavily skewed in favor of the workers.
  2. Significantly restructure the tax system to make it simpler to understand and enforce, but more importantly make it fairer for those who do well and are more productive.
  3. Limit the wage tax rate to 35% and have a 3 tier system of 10%, 25% and 35%. Don’t punish those who earn performance bonuses by taxing them close to 60%.
  4. Lower the corporate profit tax sustainably, not by a mere 3%. If a company reinvests a certain amount annually, over a 5 year period, has energy sustainable initiatives, employs above a certain number of full time employees, etc, then the tax rate should 10%. That’s palatable, and rewards efficiencies.
  5. Throw BBO and BAZV out and replace them with a VAT sales tax. The more you consume the more you pay.

However, all of the above will probably not be effective, if government does not reduce its payroll expenses.

Dear Minfin I hope you are pleased with my list, it’s short but powerful, and I also heard in Chamber of Commerce circles that they shared their findings at the annual 85th celebration, and also mailed the document to ministers, members of parliament and to the governor. Last minute I was also told that the Aruba Hotel & Tourism Association presented a similar list!

Finally, while I have you on line, if you have any influence in high circles please think about the parking introduction on Palm Beach. Where will hotel and store employees park?  Please answer that question before rolling the program out.

GOING PLACES.  Gerald Griffith is now General, Sales & Marketing Manager of City Suites Curacao, in the heart of Punda, Willemstad. The impressive building with parking, and some street level shops, on Pietermaai Plein 8, is located within a short walking distance from the neighborhood’s famous bars and restaurants. With every room air conditioned, fitted with a flat-screen TV, a coffee machine, free Wi-Fi, stylish bathrooms and comfortable bathrobes and slippers, City Suites Curacao is the new in-place for business travel and/or leisure. Opened on November 27th, 2015, Gerald confirms that his focus is on corporate and leisure markets from neighboring countries, including Aruba, so pack your bags, let’s go.

TONY’S ROMA GETS A REFRESH.  Tony Roma’s recently enjoyed a considerable refresh. The focal point moved to the outside, where a bar was created, facing the garden, nicely laid out with dinner tables in full view of the comings and goings at Paseo Herencia.  The terrace is getting glass doors this week, so that we can have our favorite lunch in air-conditioning, then move for dinner al fresco. Owner Milton Berlinski reports that a future awning will make lunch in the garden possible, soon. As for the main building, facing the Excelsior Casino, it is either going to be torn down, or converted into three retail spaces. The neighboring lot is destined to become The Cove, inspired by a desire to bring life to that vacant area. Now that Aqua Condominium is progressing, the neighborhood is following suit stepping up the pace of development. The Cove will have restaurants, bars and lounges, and will serve as an entertainment area with limited retail. The second floor of The Cove will offer affordable residences, in great proximity to the beach!  While I had Berlinski on the line he said Aruba was pretty funny. Because he saw himself in the newspapers recently being quoted regarding the Refinery Reopening Committee which he was member of, but could never remember talking to anyone from the press about it. While indeed, he did resign his seat on the committee, he never granted any media interviews about the subject, yet saw his picture, accompanied by an article of the conversation he never had, in quite a few media outlets. Funny it is.

 NEWS FROM +297. The former Amazonia Churrascaria is being converted into +297, a contemporary lounge with tapas, graced by indoor and outdoor seating. A water element is being designed around the property, which will create a calming environment where folks can lounge, drink, eat and have a civilized evening. The place should appeal to a higher-end customer, in the 28-50 year old demographic in search of a more sophisticated nighttime experience. Water element?!  Anyone designing water elements in Aruba, where water is so expensive, must has deep pockets.  Water in arid places, is always a sign of luxury and opulence.

CONDO LIVING. Aqua Condominium is apparently up and running. Sales executive Jenner Flores, who has been working for the complex for the past six years, and had plenty of time for Beach Tennis in the past, is pleased with the present progress of the construction under the leadership of a new owner, Spanish, Venezuelan, project developer Venancio Gonzalez. That name sounded familiar to me, so I went to Google. Of course, Gonzalez was previously involved with Aruba where in October of 2009, his company Kuai-Mare Development & Projects purchased a privately owned terrain of 5,000 square meters between Arashi beach and the lighthouse, from four groups of heirs, the Lacle and Fowler families among them, for the amount of 4.6 florin.  He was also in the news in connection with a five star hotel project related to Tierra del Sol, for which the MinInfra was possibly going to comply with the request for terrain, before he changed his mind. Anyway, Gonzalez now has a stake in Palm Beach and he is moving nicely along. Affiliated to a quality Spanish window-making company, ALUDESCA, he immediately provided Aqua with his own windows, fully insulated, keeping cool in and heat out. He already made money on the project. But it looks good. The property is at the moment completing 208 unit, as well as a three-story amenities building, with spa, pool, fitness and business centers. Imagine, the project originally conceived as a giant 500 condo village, has been under construction for eight years. Don’t you think it’s time to finish it and move on?

Other condo developers on the island believe this is good news for the investment real estate market here. Alberto Perret Gentil, who has been active on Aruba for thirteen-years and developed the multiple successful phases of Oceania Residences, as well as the two almost sold-out phases of Blue Residences, is currently developing the neighboring Azure Beach Residences on Eagle Beach. He shares that stagnation has negative effects on consumer confidence and the fact that Aqua Condominium received a new lease on life is encouraging news. Azure Beach Residences will offer 106 premium waterfront apartments and 9 villas in the garden area, and Perret expressed his satisfaction with the fact that construction and sales are coming along nicely, hand in hand. The size of the project is just right, he explains, and if all goes well, Azure Aruba will live up to its credo that “Life is Just Better at the Beach!”

I HAVE ARRIVED, I GOT QUOTED IN THE NEWSPAPER. I am proud to report that one of Aruba’s morning newspapers quoted me today, saying that bla-bla, must have been what I meant when I wrote what I wrote. So now we can add mind-reading to the resume of the venerated editor of Solo Di Pueblo. And for your information, I did not mean that. Yes, I confirmed a story that during a visit in Houston, some of our top government officials were picked up by limousine on their way to important meetings at CITGO, but I did not hear any titillating rumors about female escorts involvement. And if there were female escorts involved, because people do all kinds of crazy things when they think no one is watching, I don’t care. I don’t care if they were entertained in Houston by hookers, cheerleaders, Jabba the Hutt or Chewbacca because it’s the principle that is important. The x-rated details, are marginal, and are only of great interest to E Entertainment Television viewers, and to the editor of Solo Di Pueblo, which by the way I read every morning, as an antidote to the government-produced press releases printed everywhere else. So what’s the principle? The principle is that you should pay your own way, and not let anyone court you, and blind your good judgment with piddly, pathetic gifts, especially when the giver stands to make a fortune from an upcoming deal. So that’s the principle. As a government official you should keep your nose clean, and beware of temptations, that lurk behind every wind turbines, desalinization equipment, and/or refinery rehab salesman.

This is not the first time that newspapers quote a conversation that never was, as I reported two days ago: While I had Berlinski on the line he said Aruba was pretty funny. Because he saw himself in the newspapers recently being quoted regarding the Refinery Reopening Committee which he was member of, but could never remember talking to anyone from the press about it. While indeed, he did resign his seat on the committee, he never granted any media interviews about the subject, yet saw his picture, accompanied by an article of the conversation he never had, in quite a few media outlets. Funny it is.

And talking about the powerful seduction of women, in the art of the deal: A few years ago, when one of Aruba’s major hotels was for sale by the real estate owner, a New York hotshot arrived on the island, and expressed his desire to buy. While the accountants were busy with the due diligence process, for a lengthy period of time, the hotshot had the time of his life entertained by resorts employees, in the showroom department. Our elated New York friend paraded the lobby with two or three nymphs hanging on each arm, he thought he died and went to heaven. He didn’t, but I think he wished he did, because the nymphs scrambled his brain, and he ended up grossly overpaying for the property, which resulted in almost immediate bankruptcy, and the dissolution of his Big Apple financial firm. So yes, it’s the world’s oldest business trick, but I guess it works every time.

NAGICO CAMPAIN REVEALS TREMENDOUS BENEFITS. The local branch of NAGICO, hosted a nicely-orchestrated party recently at the Alhambra Ballroom, where I learned that National General Insurance Company, is a Caribbean-based operation in more than 19 territories, for the past 36 years. The company was rolling out a new campaign, one that puts all other insurance companies on the island to shame. First of all, no more pesky and annoying deductibles, you get hit while fully insured, you don’t have to pay any part of the damage! Secondly, at the wake of an accident, you still get to keep the no claim discount on your premium which you earned by being a low-risk driver, and thirdly, a fleet of green and yellow road assistance cars is ready to be dispatched, prepared to come to your rescue, 24/7.

Founded in St. Maarten in 1982, the company arrived in Aruba more than a decade ago, and built up a steady and enthusiastic following, under the capable leadership of Detlef Hooyboer.

You must be crazy to be in the insurance business in the Caribbean with all its hurricanes, tropical storms, earthquakes, and volcano eruptions. Right, not in Aruba, but in most other islands such as the Dominican Republic, Haiti, St. Maartin and Montserrat, it’s pretty risky. But the vision persisted among a group of hard working people and they created a solid company despite claims of USD200,000,000 in the 90s. True to their philosophy of calculated risk, they continue to offer the best catastrophe reinsurance protection plan in the region.

Back to the party: The entire company team was on hand for the event, perfectly dressed and groomed, mixing and mingling, chatting with members of the media, clients and friends. We all watched the well made NAGICO commercial with real life endorsements by clients, which was informative, entertaining,  albeit a bit long.

I have been a client of Boogaard Assurantien N.V for umpteen years, I have never been invited to a party, offered a review of my policy or any personal service, let along two delicious Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc wines from New Zealand, like the ones I had at the NAGICO affair, rubbing shoulders with the MinEd and executive assistant Marian Oduber!

A few years ago I made an attempt to switch insurance companies but was informed at the time that I stand to lose my hard earned no claim discount. Now that the threat has been removed — Marian told me I can keep my discount — there is nothing stopping me from moving to a place where I feel loved and appreciated. I have to admit, besides granting tremendous benefits to motorists the NAGICO crew is very cute and great looking.

JUST SAYING. Press members received the press release by Leo da Silva, Chief CPI Department, at the Central Bureau of Statistics, by mail this week. The detailed document explained the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for December 2015. My father was an economist and a statistician by profession, so numbers hold great fascination to me and I try each month to diligently read through Leo’s document in order to understand the fate of the nation. Many of my findings deserve sharing, but this one is worthy in particular: The subsistence  level  for  a  household  consisting  of  two  adults  and  two  children  (age  0-14 years) in December 2015 is Afl. 4,404, while for a single adult household it is Afl. 2,097. Think about this number in light of the fact that minimum wage is Afl. 1,637, so Afl. 460 BELOW the minimum subsistence level. For your information: The  subsistence level , according to CPI, is the minimum level of income which is  perceived  necessary  to  achieve  an  adequate  standard  of living  in  a  given  country.  The  subsistence  level  is  usually determined  by  estimating  the  cost  of  all  the  essential resources that an average adult consumes in one month or year. This is commonly called a basic needs index, and it varies according to the price of food, clothing, housing, transport and other items in the “basket,” which the last time I looked did not include any Cappuccinos, Old Parr, movies, nor vacations.

OLD FRIENDS, GOOD FRIENDS. A group of my veteran friends enjoyed a get together at the Nautical Club bar, on Friday. It seems to me that I spent many years at that bar in a past decade, when we once owned a boat, a hole in the water into which you sink all your cash. The Tiara, a twin engine fiberglass yacht, was anchored at the Nautical Club where before and after every sortie we had balchi di pisca and Awa di Playa soup. I went back on Friday after many years, the spectacular view remained the same, and the balchi di pisca are still awesome. The number of boats in and out of the water tripled and the restaurant is now glass enclosed and air-conditioned, with white tablecloths. Simon Tromp, who used to be the Americana/Occidental Resort food and beverage man, is in charge, but I am sure the menu stood the test of time, with Fish Creole & Pan Bati, still the crown jewel of the kitchen. The gathering, organized by Hubert Solagnier Sr. in honor of Joost and Janet Barens, was gezellig. Joost and Hubert met in the Food & Beverage department of the American hotel in the mid 70s, even before General Manager Barry Kaplan’s time. They remained friends through thick and thin. Hubert says Joost was a great leader and manager who taught his island rookies a thing or two about restaurants and kitchens. In return the pragmatic Dutchman was introduced to some classic Maitre D’s tricks. Example: How to graciously command $100 tip for a premium table at the packed Stellaris Supper Club.Theo van Loon, and the younger Steve Lacle joined the gezelligheid, with some stories of their own: Theo about his last position at the Caribbean Palm Village Resort and Steve about his current project, finishing a brand new Caribbean Mercantile Bank branch at Wayaca Falls, across the airport. Hubert delighted his friends with tales of the Steamboat buffet era, when $6.95 got you an amazing breakfast and $19.95 filled you to the gills, at dinner. And then it all fell apart, with the premature death of the partnership, he explained. Hubert who recently sold his company operating the Touchdown Sports Bar & Grill, to a group of unexpected investors, considers himself lucky for having flipped a business, just in time. While we were expecting Victor Joseph, Frank Kelly, Edwin Trimon and Jose Chiquito, they didn’t make it, but we had fun anyway.