~ Calls implementation ‘absurd, appalling’ ~
PHILIPSBURG–United Democrats (UD) Member of Parliament (MP) Sidharth “Cookie” Bijlani on Tuesday urged authorities to “tread with caution” on the implementation of the National Ordinance on the reporting obligation with regard to cross-border money transports.
Bijlani said the current implementation of the legislative decision is “absurd and appalling.”
The MP said there seems to be a misinterpretation of the implementation of the law as nowhere in the legislation is it mentioned that persons have to declare their personal valuable items to Customs. Bijlani has been receiving numerous complaints from persons about this.
“There seems to be a misinterpretation in implementing this law and with little or no guidance this can be very detrimental to our economy, our tourism.”
The MP said last week Saturday, he called a meeting with the Deputy Secretary General, Deputy Head of Customs and Coordinator Analysts from the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) for them to explain the implementation of the cross-border money transport legislation.
“It is well understood the importance of having this law passed by the Parliament of our country St. Maarten so we are not to be blacklisted internationally. But to my own surprise, the implementation (and interpretation) process is so rapid and quick that within six to eight weeks they want to start with fines and imprisonments for defaulters. Now this is absurd. Even a country like the USA – when they wanted to introduce ESTA [Electronic System for Travel Authorization – Ed.], it took them nearly two years to implement it seamlessly,” Bijlani said.
“I have travelled extensively to many foreign destinations and I never had to declare my personal valuable belongings to Customs in any country. Yes, if I bought items collectively of higher value than US $800, I have to declare to US Customs which is an acceptable norm in most countries.”
He continued: “Let’s say a well-known rapper visits our island on a private jet. It is a known fact that he wears multiple number of chains on his neck and much more on his wrist: my conservative guess – half a million-dollars-worth of jewellery. You want him to declare the value of the personal jewellery he is wearing? What if his private jet comes to St. Maarten, then he goes by yacht to St. Barths, then comes back to our shores for two days, then goes on another yacht to Anguilla, then comes back and flies out. Do we want him to declare what he is wearing and what he may have bought additionally, every time he comes through the island? And even after jumping all of these hoops, can we really expect him to return to our shores in the future?” Bijlani asked.
“No points for guessing that. All high net worth celebrities are going to find out and say, ‘To hell with this. Let’s just go directly to Anguilla or Antigua or St. Lucia or Barbuda or any one of 70 other islands.’ Who wants this kind of harassment? Affluent individuals and even ordinary tourists do not want this kind of intrusion in their personal valuables. No one! We are going to kill the economy with this draconian policy. It makes absolutely no sense.”
Bijlani urges the caretaker Minister of Justice to “take this matter seriously as it will shy away our tourists. In today’s world, one wrong step can have unmeasurable consequences.”
He stressed that if no action is taken “to rectify this problem, I will make it my personal agenda to have this law amended to reflect our openness in our tourist-oriented economy and safeguard our already fragile tourism product. Tread with caution,” Bijlani said.
On October 11, Parliament approved the national ordinance amending the Penal Code in connection with the implementation of some urgent international obligations by 12 votes for and no vote against. Government later indicated that the National Ordinance on the reporting obligation regarding cross-border money transports was amended to include precious metals, jewellery and rare objects of high value. Stated in the amended ordinance, the threshold amount for obligation to report cross-border money transports has increased from NAf. 20,000 to NAf. 25,000. Persons entering or leaving St. Maarten are obligated to report any items in their possession that have a value of NAf. 25,000 or more, to Customs officials by completing and signing a declaration form. Persons travelling together will have to complete individual reports. Declaration forms are available at Customs offices at the airport and seaports. Failure to comply with the ordinance may lead to confiscation or prosecution.