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Archive for February, 2016

KsikoraThis week’s blog post about volunteering in Africa is written by Withum’s International Services Group member, Kathy Sikora.

Dear Africa,

It’s been a little over a year since I’ve seen you, and I’ve missed you so much that I’ve decided to come back and stay… for an ENTIRE YEAR! Get ready!

So what’s happening?

Nerdy accountant exciting things! I will be joining a team of missionaries at a hospital in Niger. I’m sure there will be several hats that I will wear once I arrive; however, my official duties (for now) will be to work with all of the finances and the accounting/finance team at the hospital. I’m grinning from ear to ear at the fact that I will get to combine volunteering, traveling the world and accounting all in one opportunity – this one!

When am I going?

Exact dates still to be determined, but the plan for now is to be in Africa at the end of June 2016!

But, how?!

So there was that time I found myself at the missions table at our church ministry fair one Sunday afternoon, picked up the missions pamphlet, saw Niger on the list and said to myself, “Totally going there!” Two and a half months later, I was on a plane. I was extremely fortunate to be part of the group from our church that went to Niger in December 2014, which is when I discovered this hospital for the first time. There seems to be this rumor going around that most short-term visitors have a tendency to return…and well, the rest is history.

And more importantly, why?

IMG_1878For starters, I’m really looking forward to how awesome of a professional experience this is going to be. I’m excited to be a part of a multi-lingual team and to learn French! I’m excited to teach others, especially those who have not had the same education opportunities as I’ve had. I’m excited to use my accounting skills to help the hospital. Gosh, I’m even excited to have to reconcile payroll, and I tremble at the thought of reconciling payroll (not joking, I seriously dislike anything payroll related). This will no doubt be a HUGE challenge for me and one that I am really looking forward to!

The hospital I will be at is such an important staple of the surrounding community and region for that matter. It serves many. The latest study showed just one doctor for every 50,000 people in Niger (compared to the U.S. that has 123 doctors for every 50,000 people). The survival of this hospital depends on missionaries to come and serve the needs of the hospital and the people. I am told that there is a huge need for accountants and to be able to fill a role that is so vital in the ongoing of operations of this hospital is giving me all the more motivation and excitement to go. I’m really looking forward to joining the team of missionaries there, and words cannot describe how honored I feel to be chosen to fulfill this need for them.

Above everything, expanding the kingdom of God so that others may know the joy of knowing Jesus and the hope of eternal life is what this is really all about. This hospital is a Christian hospital, and when people go there, they can hear the gospel – a story of which still remains unknown to a mass amount of people to this very day. To have the chance to love people and serve others – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. I consider it such a privilege to get the opportunity to do life with the Nigeriens for a year. I have no doubt I will learn many things from them. Life is not about being comfortable, making money, having a successful career, buying a new car, or even traveling the world (too bad I can’t remember this all the time), nor does my ultimate satisfaction lie in any of those things. And as I continue to do life here, I’m left with a hunger that can only be satisfied by one thing and that’s Jesus. SO… This is me following where He wants me to be. This is a big leap into the unknown. I have no idea what my future in this journey will hold, but I know who holds it!

I am incredibly humbled at this opportunity, a little nervous, and a little “is this really happening and am I really doing this?” – but most of all I am excited. That said, I would love nothing more than to continue to share this journey with all of you! More details coming soon! I will be sharing much more about Niger, this hospital, and this experience in the weeks/months to follow!

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Bali is every Australian’s cheap vacation spot. It’s only about a 3.5 hour flight from Perth and was quite an amazing experience.

Bali 1

How to do Bali:

Step 1: As you arrive at the airport, there will be about fifty local Indonesian guys asking if you need a taxi. Do not say yes or they’ll charge you 100,000 IDR (Indonesian Rupiah). This is a rip off here in Bali. A taxi should only cost you 10,000 IDR (approximately USD 73 cents). As you will learn, everything is cheap in Bali.

Step 2: Become a millionaire. Exchange $100 USD for ~$1,371,740 IDR.

Step 3: Stay in a hostel in Seminyak or Kuta and meet a random group of travelers. Hire a motor scooter for a day for 50,000 IDR (~$4) and drive south to Uluwatu to enjoy a day on the secluded beaches and watch the sunset at the Uluwatu temple.

Step 4: Don’t forget to refuel your motor scooter at a local shop. They’ll sell you petrol for 10,000 IDR and pour it out of a 1 litre Absolut Vodka bottle (the vessel of choice here in Bali). Be careful on your motor scooter; your life is at risk with every turn. The locals drive with their whole families (husband, wife, kid, groceries) on one motor scooter like it’s a walk in the park.

Bali 2Step 5: Travel up north to go scuba diving at Tulamben, a quiet village on the northeast coast of Bali. Tulamben is one of the best dive sites in the world, complete with its own shipwreck, the USAT Liberty.

Step 6: Do some bargaining with the locals in Kuta. Buy a pair of Ray Ban sunglasses for $4.

Step 7: Stay in a four star hotel for ~$50. Sit poolside and relax; you’re in paradise.

Bali 3I call Bali a third world paradise because you’ll have opportunities to sit on beautiful beaches, relax poolside, and enjoy the natural beauties of Indonesia, but you’ll also experience a culture shock. The locals live a different life than what some people in the States are used to. The people may seem poor and underprivileged and they will definitely haggle you for a few dollars. This is because they rely so much on tourists spending money so they can feed their families. Even though you may see them as deprived, the local people are some of the happiest people I’ve met in my travels, which is truly amazing. Bali is known for its tourism and over the years, the growing population in Bali has caused an excess of garbage pollution in landfills, the streets and beaches. If you’re keen on a trip here, I would go soon as Bali is slowly dying because of tourism.

By Lonnie Bloom, MBA | 609.520.1188 | lbloom@withum.com

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I shared a flat with a secondee from Denmark (Vy). Our stay in Perth has allowed us to explore some of the many sites of Perth. Here are a few we enjoyed:

  • King’s Park – one of the nicest/cleanest parks we have seen. Stop here for a beautiful view of the city and a stroll on the elevated walking bridge (Federation Walkway).
  • Fremantle – Fremantle is a hip town in Perth that has heaps of restaurants, bars and shops. We bought fruits and vegetables at the markets, went on a night tour of the Fremantle Prison and had to stop by Little Creatures Brewery for dinner and drinks.
  • Perth1Rottnest Island – About 20km from Perth, an island tour would include cycling to pristine beaches, snorkeling in clear water, and a chance to meet a few of the 10,000 quokkas that live there. The quokka is a cousin of the kangaroo and is one of the most photogenic animals on the planet.
  • Lancelin and the Pinnacles – Our first time sandboarding in Lancelin produced a few funny videos and even the best accountant wouldn’t be able to count all of the rocks at the Pinnacles.

Perth2

Perth3

  • Swan Valley – Wine tours are a must if you travel to Perth! The vineyards and wineries were beautiful and the river cruise back to the city was all smiles.

The work and the sites of Perth were new and exciting, but the people we encountered, conversations we had, and the lifelong friends and colleagues we made outweigh any of the pictures we put up on Instagram. The secondment program allowed us to step out of our comfort zones, jump into a new environment and experience a new life for four months.

By Lonnie Bloom, MBA | 609.520.1188 | lbloom@withum.com

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During June of 2015, David Springsteen, Partner and Practice Leader of Withum’s National Tax Services Group, Kimberlee Phelan, Partner and Practice Leader of Withum’s International Services Group and myself, Richard Ingunza, an accountant in Withum’s National and International Tax Services Group in New York, traveled to Cuba to see first-hand what commercial opportunities might eventually emerge from the normalization of relations between the United States and Cuba. We saw both potential and challenges. We remain in close contact with our HLB affiliate accounting firm, Interaudit S.A., in order to spot opportunities and find great promise in the recently announced changes to the regulations that govern commerce between the U.S. and Cuba.

On January 27, the U.S. government published its third set of regulations designed to expand commerce and contact with Cuba and its people. The new regulations follow significant regulatory changes announced in both January and September of 2015. The changes are part of the current administration’s policy of whittling away the embargo on U.S.-Cuban commerce and trade that can only be lifted by congressional action. To date, such action by congress has not been forthcoming. The recently announced measures cover export financing, aviation, construction, the organization of professional conferences and sports and entertainment events and a broadening of the list of U.S. exports now permitted without the need of a special license.

In order to encourage exports to Cuba, restrictions related to the financing of non-agricultural exports have been removed. Previously, U.S. exporters, while sheltered from Cuban credit risk, were at a disadvantage to exporters from other countries given the latter’s ability to provide export financing. U.S. financial institutions will now be able to provide direct export financing as will U.S. manufacturers. Interestingly, agricultural exports were excluded in the new regulations as the financing of such exports to Cuba is explicitly prohibited by the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Act of 2000.

planeThe U.S. and Cuba reached a new civil aviation agreement in December that eventually will permit up to 110 regularly scheduled, daily flights between the U.S. and Cuba. U.S. airlines are currently preparing lists of those routes for which they would like to secure landing rights. Options available to the Cuban national carrier, Cubana de Aviación, are also being explored given the risk of asset seizures stemming from U.S. court cases. To facilitate the resumption of regularly scheduled flights and to foster airline safety, restrictions related to the export and re-export of aviation parts to Cuba for use by commercial carriers have been eased and agreements related to blocked-space, code-sharing and leasing will be permitted going forward.

On a case-by-case basis, U.S. companies will now be permitted to export materials for infrastructure projects that the U.S. government considers as directly benefiting the Cuban people. Such projects include those in the areas of water treatment and electricity generation and, most interestingly, represent a departure from previous policy that severely limited direct business contact with Cuban state entities.

Other new categories of exports that should be granted export licenses include those that encourage agricultural production such as pesticides, fertilizers and farm equipment as well as goods that bolster disaster preparedness. Similarly, items related to artistic endeavors, the processing of food, residential construction and public transportation will now routinely be granted export licenses. Currently, all exports to Cuba that are not carried in the accompanying baggage of travelers must be imported through Cuban state-owned enterprises. Through this most recent set of regulations, the U.S. government has explicitly stated that, provided that the exports meet the needs of the Cuban people, importing through Cuban state-owned enterprises is now permitted.

In order to encourage greater business contacts, U.S. nationals will not only be allowed to participate in professional conferences in Cuba, but are now permitted to actively organize such conferences on the island. Similarly, U.S. nationals will now be permitted to organize semi-professional sports events and music performances and art festivals and exhibitions without prior approval from the U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Asset Control and the requirement that profits from such events be donated to not-for-profit organizations has been eliminated.

After announcing the current set of regulatory changes, U.S. government officials called upon the Cuban government to take parallel measures that would allow Cuban citizens to take advantage of the opportunities generated by the new changes. To date, Cuban authorities have been hesitant to undertake policy changes that would enable U.S. and Cuban firms to move forward on business projects that are now feasible given the recent changes in the U.S. regulatory landscape. A case in point is the resumption of ferry service between the U.S. and Cuba. During the summer of 2015, U.S. regulators approved licenses for U.S. operators to recommence ferry service between the two nations. To date, the operators are still waiting for approval from the Cuban government despite strong demand for international ferry service between both nations.

However, the next meeting of the Cuban Communist Party, scheduled for April 16 through the 19 , is quickly approaching and many, on both sides of the Straits of Florida, see an opening for select reforms to be announced by the government in Havana in the coming months.

By Richard Ingunza | 212.829.3219 | ringunza@withum.com

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