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UPG members meet in Rotterdam to discuss E-learning on Sint Maarten

During September, the UPG team met with the Deputy Minister Plenipotentiary of Sint Maarten Michael Somersal, kicking-off a project that the Unleashed Potential Group Foundation is currently working on.

The kick-off was held by The Groothandelsgebouw in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. The founder of OCDLab Maheep Gupta facilitated it.

This project is part of a platform that has recently been developed to facilitate cooperation between Sint Maarteners living on the island and living in the Netherlands. The idea behind this platform is the triple helix model of innovation in which academia, industry, organisations, companies and the Government of Sint Maarten work together, to foster economic and social development.

This platform is called Platform 721.

Members of Platform 721 created a list of areas that can best benefit from the triple helix model of innovation. UPG decided to work on the challenge of “exploring partnerships and avenues to promote e-learning on Sint Maarten.”

During the kick-off meeting, the Deputy Minister Plenipotentiary of Sint Maarten Michael Somersal explained to us the issues that Sint Maarten is facing when it comes to developing our educational system. He also gave us points to take into consideration if we want to have an impact in the field of education. Members of UPG spoke about how an e-learning system can be used to provide people the opportunity to study alongside their jobs and in doing so to obtain better jobs. Our angle is that people want to keep climbing to get the job and live of their dreams. If you provide them with the opportunity to go forward, people go forward.  Maheep Gupta of OCDLab encouraged us to get in touch with the people whom we want to reach. If you want a system that works you have to make sure your solving a actual problem people has, not just something in our heads.

Our next step will be to find out the different parties that would be interested in contributing to such a platform.

The end goal is to create a concrete proposal to expand e-learning opportunities on Sint Maarten. This proposal will then be presented to to the Government of Sint Maarten and educational institutions on the island.

After our kick-off meeting, UPG also met with other members of the Platform 721 and informed them of our findings. During this meeting, we understood that other partners of Platform 721 are working on areas that relate to what we want to do. We believe that we get more done by working together with our people so we will certainly get in contact with these members. We will keep you informed as things develop.

In the picture from left to right: Maheep Gupta (OCD Labs), Carlvin Brooks (Chairman of UPG), Jason James (Educational Policy and Research Officer), Deputy Minister Plenipotentiary of Sint Maarten Michael Somersal, Jennifer Hodge, Embrice de Weever, Carlton Brooks & Mechellin Hodge (Secretary of the Board & Social Media & Marketing Specialist).

The urgent need to update the laws relating to anti-money laundering and terrorist financing on Sint Maarten

Sint Maarten is a young country learning to stand on its own. The date that we celebrate as 10-10-10 gave us a new position of autonomy within the Dutch Kingdom. Sint Maarten now has a greater level of independence compared to the situation before 10-10-10. At the same time, this autonomy comes with new responsibilities. Now more than ever, Sint Maarten is seen as a major international player in the Caribbean. Although we as locals are very critical of Sint Maarten, Sint Maarten has been developing at an exponential rate. This, in itself, is a significant development. This rate of growth also means that the international community expects that St. Maarten maintains high standards, including having a financial sector that manages the risk of a growing economy. This article is meant to give you insight into St. Maarten’s new responsibilities regarding an up to code financial system. With the focus being on the urgent need for updated laws relating to anti-money laundering and terrorism financing.

What are anti-money laundering and terrorist financing measures?
Worldwide many institutions create, implement or monitor measures to prevent money laundering and terrorism financing such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the European Union. And locally, regional organizations such as the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force, the Central Bank of Curaçao and Sint Maarten, the Ministry of Justice of Sint Maarten and the local financial institutions such as banks.

But what do these parties actually do and why is this important?

These organizations define what kind of financial activities contribute to crime and what can be done to combat this. 

Let’s begin with understanding what this means in regards to money laundering & terrorism financing.
Generally, measures to combat money laundering and terrorism financing make it difficult for criminals to make use of the financial sector to benefit from or further their illegal activities.

Money laundering
If someone is involved in criminal activities and make money from it and in turn, they use that money to purchase property, this act is called money launderingUsually, when we hear the word property, we think of real estate; however, it is much broader than this. The term property refers to goods and property rights. Goods are the physical objects susceptible to human control, whereas property rights are abstract, such as owning a share in a limited liability company (Naamloze Vennootschap or N.V.).

“When money laundering laws are being put in place, we have to consider that people are smart and will look for ways to get around the law, resulting in rules that are useless.”
Carlvin Brooks

Known methods that are applied to launder money are: 
– Assisting transactions in which it is clear that the origin of money is from illegal activities.
– Concealing the true nature, source or location of funds gathered from criminal activities and using it to purchase a property.
– Purchasing property on behalf of someone else who is involved in criminal
activities.
– Creating companies to create the appearance of legal activities while funding the activities of this company with funds that originated from illegal activities.

Terrorist financing
Let us begin with first understanding the seriousness of an act of terrorism.

An intentional act aimed to causing extensive destruction to a Government or public facility or an information system that is likely to endanger human life or result in major economic loss, is defined as a terrorist act. Terrorist act also include: attacks upon a person’s life which may cause death; attacks upon the physical integrity of a person or kidnapping or hostage taking.
“See articles 1 to 4 of Council Framework Decision 2002/475/JHA, https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/PDF/?uri=OJ:L:2002:164:FULL&from=EN

Sint Maarten is fortunate not to have been a victim to a major terrorist act as is seen daily in many countries in the world. However, there is a significant risk that terrorist organizations can make use of St. Maarten’s financial sector to finance terrorist activities in other countries. This risk then makes Sint Maarten liable (albeit indirectly) for facilitating their activities.

The common methods that are applied to launder money are also used to finance terrorism (see above).

This means that Sint Maarten, as an autonomous country within the Kingdom, has the responsibility of putting safeguards in place to prevent that the island is used to facilitate terrorist financing.

Measures to combat money laundering and terrorist financing
Above the simple and in many cases easy to monitor methods of money laundering and terrorist funding are listed. However it’s a lot more difficult to understand how this work. The people who create laws try to explain what measures should be taken and ends in rules that are hard to understand. This has as a result that, even if a financial institution wants to comply with the law they can not be sure if they are really following the law. This also creates room to willingly not apply the law. This grey area  is what needs to be further defined with updated laws, because this is the area where activities of criminals tend to be centered.

The international community takes this seriously. They will not wait on Sint Maarten to update their laws. With every passing day, money can be laundered, which could be used to finance terrorism by making use of the weaknesses in Sint Maarten’s financial sector.

What these international organizations do is what is referred to as de-risking. This means that they put Sint Maarten on a blacklist and advise financial institutions to make use of other countries for payment transactions.

These institutions will advise Sint Maarten on what to do, but they will not force Sint Maarten to do what needs to be done and work around Sint Maarten

The result of being placed on an international blacklist is that it becomes difficult for Sint Maarten to access the global financial markets. This results in a higher cost for every transaction on the island. Making it difficult to attract investors, which becomes difficult for the Government of Sint Maarten to make international financial agreements or for non-public companies to make agreements with the international community.

For the person on the road who is trying to make a living, it means that it becomes hard to get a loan and loans become more expensive. So for example, if you want to get a mortgage, it’s harder for you to qualify because international investors also fund banks and these investors will be reluctant to do business with Sint Maarten. It can also mean that credit card companies can make it difficult for tourists to use their credit cards on Sint Maarten. Which would result in loss of business.

So where do we go from here?
Sint Maarten needs to update its laws relating to anti-money laundering and terrorist financing as soon as possible or run the risk of being blacklisted by the international financial community.
It is impossible to outline the urgent need for updated laws relating to anti-money laundering and terrorist financing, in one article. So the Unleashed Potential Group Foundation will be releasing a series of articles that are meant to inform you about this complicated topic.

We will be addressing topics such as the importance of customer due diligence, (also known as “Know Your Customer” rules), onboarding of clients procedures, transaction monitoring and de-risking: The withdrawal of correspondent banking services.

This article was written by LLM. Carlvin Brooks

  • He is the Chairman of the Unleashed Potential Group
  • He has a master’s degree in Financial Law from the University of Leiden in the Netherlands.
  • He is a law teacher for the department of AD. Accountancy by the Rotterdam Academy (Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences).
  • He specializes in complex payment systems.
  • Born and raised on the island of Sint Maarten.

Carlvin Brooks was assisted by the following UPG members in the creation of this article:

Ms. Mechillen Hodge – Member of the Board of Directors and Secretary of UPG,
Ms. Solange Wilson – Communications Officer within UPG &
Ms. Jennifer Hodge – Customer Services Consultant within UPG.

 

Why we chose to stay: Carlton Brooks

What is your background?

I have a background in electricity. Sterkstroom Installaties.

 What do you find the biggest reason is that people do not return to Sint Maarten?

Because there is slightly no future promised there and when they come back, mainly what they hear is that they are “overqualified” or “they don’t get paid.for what they are worth”. Therefore, they prefer to stay where they are where they feel more comfortable.  I think they feel more safe where they’re at, they have a safety net.

Do you feel  that way as well?

Yes, I do.

Do you feel that you may have a better and brighter future here than home?

No. I wouldn’t say that but I would say it’s difficult to do what you may want to do at home.

What do you want to focus on while in UPG?

 I would like to focus more on agriculture, creating certain events like sports, cultural events. For example, have booths and cookouts, where  people could set up their own tents and sell their food and stuff get to know their customers. It’s really to get something going and get the people together and talk about stuff. 

What goals have you made for yourself in UPG?

Right now, I am working with Denicio Wyatt with more agriculture and that is why I would like step into that field. I was thinking more along the line of the dump, but that dump situation is kind of out of hand for me to sit down and think up a plan for that. I would rather work on agriculture because no one is really looking and working on that field and I like agriculture also. So I was  “Hey, I like this better”.

How is that going working with Denicio?  

Well, he is willing to work with us, he is very willing to do whatever to make something happen. From talking with him and learning how he’s doing and having more information to help him lout in this situation..

How far have you gotten with in helping him?

Right now he is still going through the process of getting everything stabilized for him. So, right now that is basically what we are talking about. It’s really a back and forth right now with the government.

So right now, you are like a support system for him?

Yes, you could say that.


How do you think your background will  help you to accomplish the goals that you   have  set out for yourself in UPG?

Well seeing that electricity is my background, I have not thought about it like that. I would say one of my ideas were about the dump and having a nice recycling system but I would say more the agricultural side.

Then you would say that is more of your interest rather than your background that is in line with your goals you right now.?

Yes, you could that.

And what more do you want to do with your goals, apart from helping  Kenicio? Do you want to do something else with that or just some kind of support for the local on the ground?

I wouldn’t say some kind of support, I  would say, to pick it up. To bring something some new to the table of UPG. I want to work on agriculture. I don’t have something concrete at the moment, but I am busy brainstorming on that right now, something new.

What do you want others to know about UPG, if someone where to ask you?
I wouldn’t that say that’s a difficult question, I was talking to other members of UPG and I would say right now we are looking for our first gig! Our first way to do something. We want to do make a better St.Maarten, maybe we have layouts and plans  and having our own format of doing so. And I would say that has not happened as yet.

Why do you think that is?

Because no one gave us a chance for us to represent, you know. And that’s what I’ve been telling one of our members. I find that we have to have a product, we do have a plan and layouts, but we have to perform, we have to get something going. Let’s sign a contract and it’s like okay, we can handle this and then is when UPG  gotta represent. I can call and say “We can do this and that” but we have to get in there and I think that’s what we’re doing now. We’re finally making steps and we “knocking, knocking” and get “ no and no “ and now we finally getting some “yeses” to get an assignment on the table that we can perform.

At one point we weren’t getting projects, what if we create our own and then see what happens that way?  That’s also a possibility too! What do you think?

Hmm That’s true. What I was thinking for like having cultural events. For example, like how we approach the government up here, if we approach the gemeente up here with something like that  I think we would be most likely to get funded and sponsored for something cultural and bringing the people together.

UPG discusses reverse migration at the Sint Maarten House

THE HAGUE, NETHERLANDS– On Tuesday November the 30th 2018, UPG’s Chairman Carlvin Brooks had the honour of being one the presenters at “At the Cabinet After 5” event. This was the first event in a series of discussions that cater to students and (young) professionals living in The Netherlands.The series are being arranged by The Cabinet of the St. Maarten Minister Plenipotentiary.

The theme of the event was “Will I stay, or will I go?”. What was meant with this question is whether the presenter is planning on staying in The Netherlands or returning to Sint Maarten.


There were two presenters at the event. Carlvin Brooks of Unleashed Potential Group (UPG) and finance professional and Treasurer of the board of Unified Sint Maarten Connection(USC), Duane Meade. (See related story in the Daily Herald)

 

Carlvin Brooks discussed that his intention is to stay and his reason for doing this is, he believes that he can better give back to Sint Maarten by further developing the foundation of UPG. He also took time to explain in his presentation the vision of UPG.

“At UPG we don’t believe that people don’t want to return to Sint Maarten, we believe that they do not know how to” mentioned Brooks. There are many factors that has to be considered before returning to Sint Maarten.

When returning home, Sint Maarteners deal with the saying that they are overqualified. They enter the situation in which, they are qualified but do not have job experience for the job they want, but they need the job to gain job experience.

There are also the questions that need to be answered such as: Where will I stay? What arrangements needs to be made before returning to Sint Maarten? How much will it cost to return? Where will I work?

There are no easy answers to these questions. Especially, when it is considered that Sint Maarten is currently recovering from Hurricane Irma (2017), that devastated the infrastructure as well as the economy.” UPG is the bridge that Sint Maarteners can use to find a way back home”.


Target group
The target group of UPG are students who are in their 3rd school year and above and (young) professionals

UPG seeks to give students the opportunity to gain job experience with projects relating to Sint Maarten. This way they get the chance to apply the knowledge they are learning to real situations that will benefit them and the island of Sint Maarten.

When it comes to the (young) professionals they have already gained work experience. Due to this, we look for ways to use the knowledge and experience that they already have and connect them with the right companies on the island that can use their expertise. In order to do this, we map out what they want to do and the party or parties that they need to work with to achieve it.


Strategic Map
After his presentation, Brooks made use of the opportunity to hand over a document called “Expanding the foundation of Sint Maarten’s Economy”. The document outlines a project that UPG has created to help diversify Sint Maarten’s economy. It is the hope that this project can be transformed into an international start-up company that can create jobs and help Sint Maarten to rebuild. The document is also part of a strategic map that UPG created to help (young) professionals return home. 

From left to right: Deputy Minister Plenipotentiary Michael Somersall, Minister Plenipotentiary Jorien Wuite, Senior Advisor Culture, Education, PR and Protocol, Kelly Busby and Chairman of UPG, Carlvin Brooks.