Tuesday, Oct 21st

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Red Cross helps 25 hurricane victims

SIMPSON BAY--Despite its challenges, the St. Maarten Red Cross sprung into action from Tuesday to assist Hurricane Gonzalo victims with whatever it could.

Red Cross Operational Coordinator Julia Boasman said Thursday that several persons from boat yards were among the first to visit the Red Cross looking for clothing after losing everything in the hurricane. About five families, who lost everything since their boats sank nearby, visited the Red Cross on Tuesday seeking help. They were provided with amongst other things, dry clothing.

Five families, sent by government, also visited the Red Cross for donations. They were given tarpaulins to cover their roofs which were either damaged or blown off during the hurricane. They were also offered clothing and food.

Boasman said no one sought shelter at the home, but persons received tarpaulins to cover their roofs so that they can stay dry in their homes until their situations improve. Boasman said residents are still busy cleaning their homes. She estimates that by weekend more persons will visit for aid, as by then persons would have fully assessed and know what they need.

Boasman said persons who visit the Red Cross are primarily looking for donations of lumber, zinc, tarpaulins, clothes and food. “We tried our best to help all, but what we have is very limited. We gave out what we had and we are still waiting for other goods to come in so we can continue helping all,” Boasman said.

Donations can be delivered to the Red Cross building on Airport Road in Simpson Bay.

Dutch Parliament supports English in Statia education

THE HAGUE--Members of the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament expressed support for the introduction of English as the language of instruction at schools in St. Eustatius during a meeting with Dutch State Secretary of Education, Culture and Science Sander Dekker on Wednesday.

Members of Parliament (MPs) André Bosman of the liberal democratic VVD party, Roelof van Laar of the Labour Party PvdA and Paul van Meenen of the Democratic Party D66 lauded the decision of the state secretary to make the switch from Dutch to English as the language of instruction at Statia schools.

The MPs shared the opinion of the expert committee that investigated the pros and cons of introducing English as the language of instruction in St. Eustatius. “The switch to English will better connect with the language of the people and will make it easier for youngsters to achieve better school results,” stated Van Laar.

Van Meenen stated that the report of the United Nations Children’s Fund UNICEF about children’s rights in the Dutch Caribbean made mention of the language problems that children faced on the islands. “Children in St. Eustatius learn a different language in primary education than they use for the final exams in secondary education,” he said.

According to Van Meenen, special solutions are needed for the three public entities Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba. “We can’t continue to forcefully teach in the Dutch language with pupils insufficiently mastering the language and as a result don’t understand the curriculum. Offering English in secondary education is therefore a good step that will enable the children of St. Eustatius to continue their studies worldwide,” he said.

Bosman said he supported the switch to English as the language of instruction as it better fits in the local circumstances. However, not everyone was in favour because they feared that young people, once they have completed their studies, would have trouble working at a job that demands knowledge of the Dutch language. “How will the Dutch language be guaranteed for this group to prevent job opportunities from being lost,” he asked the state secretary.

Bosman and Van Meenen expressed concerns about the connection to studies in the Netherlands. “We have doubts about the connection with education in the Netherlands. How will a student be pulled up to the level when they want to study in the Netherlands,” asked Van Meenen.

“How do we guarantee high quality education that connects to Dutch education or do we let go of that connection and focus on further studies in the region? Every advantage has its disadvantage. It is either your own language with a more difficult connection or the Dutch language with difficulties to acquire the level,” said Bosman.

Van Laar and Bosman asked about Bonaire and the decision of the state secretary to stick to Dutch as the language of instruction on this island. Van Laar pointed out that Dutch was a foreign language for many pupils and that at home these children mostly spoke Papiamento or Spanish, English with their peers and that they were only taught Dutch in class.

“The question is whether this doesn’t have an adverse effect on school results. Pupils leave primary education with insufficient knowledge of the Dutch language and will never catch up on that backlog. Dutch has to strongly improve if it is to remain the language of instruction,” said Van Laar.

Van Laar asked about the possibility of having a second trajectory in secondary education in Bonaire for students for whom Dutch is a foreign language and who don’t focus on continuing their studies in the Netherlands. “Wouldn’t their school results drastically improve with English or Spanish as the language of instruction? Wouldn’t that make it easier to connect to further education in the region? We ask the state secretary to look at this,” he said.

Bosman asked whether having English as the language of instruction in St. Eustatius and Saba and Papiamento in Bonaire, if the island decided to go for this option, would mean that the diplomas would have the same value as the diplomas in the Netherlands and whether the students would have the same rights to further their studies in the Netherlands.

State Secretary Dekker soothed the worries of the MPs. He said the diploma of the Caribbean Examinations Council CXC that students in St. Eustatius would be receiving had to be of the same level as the Dutch diploma. Saba already has English as the language of instruction and students receive a CXC diploma.

Dekker sent a letter to the Second Chamber on October 8, 2014, in which he outlined the trajectory to introduce English as the language of instruction in St. Eustatius. He confirmed his full commitment to contribute to this process, as having English as the language of instruction had proven to be in the best interest of the pupils/students. He did warn that it would be a very demanding and intense process for all stakeholders

Post-Gonzalo report discourages swimming in Great Bay for now

page9b127SIMPSON BAY--The Nature Foundation (NF) has published a report outlining the findings of its post-hurricane Gonzalo assessment. Swimming in Great Bay is discouraged in particular due to poor water quality, fish die-off and hazardous debris.

The assessment includes the state of oil and debris in wetland and ocean environments, wrecked vessels, mangroves, trees and foliage, beaches and the Man of War Shoal Marine protected area.

There is a significant amount of debris in the Simpson Bay Lagoon, in relation to around three dozen sunken sailing and motor vessels. This includes wood and other floating debris, fiberglass and other solid material.

There is also a significant amount of diesel, gasoline and motor oil, particularly near the Simpson Bay Shipyard. NF responded by cleaning the water with oil absorbent booms and pads the day after Gonzalo. The foundation received a report of a significant oil spill near Cay Bay, but upon inspection it turned out to be a combination of mud, soil and sand runoff caused by heavy rain. Two follow-up surveys showed the same results.

On Tuesday, NF assisted many distressed vessels, towing dinghies and other small boats to safe locations. The foundation recommends that wrecked vessels be removed as quickly as possible to avoid the introduction of even more fuel into the lagoon and in Oyster Pond waters. Abandoned vessels should be added to the list of vessels to be cleaned and sunk as artificial wrecks.

Some mangrove areas suffered considerable damage, although their resilience in well-managed areas usually translates to quick recovery from hurricanes. Mullet Pond mangroves suffered considerably, partially due to unauthorised vessels being tied to their roots. Prior to inclement weather, NF says it will seek to restrict the practice in the inlet of Mullet Pond.

Mangrove strands in Belair, Red Pond and Fresh Pond were damaged considerably and will be monitored. Additional strands will be transplanted if needed. Mangroves planted near the Causeway Bridge fared very well despite some vessels being stranded nearby, although some roots were damaged by debris.

St. Maarten’s trees suffered “quite some damage,” almond, genip and tamarind trees in particular. Some had a trunk diameter of more than one meter, and therefore were of historic significance. Locations have been noted and additional trees will be planted as part of the NF St. Maarten Trees Project.

NF conducted water quality tests at Kim Sha, Great Bay, Simpson Bay and Little Bay beaches. There was poor water quality at Great Bay Beach and Little Bay due to the overflow of Belair Pond and Great Salt Pond. NF discourages bathing in Great Bay until water quality levels have stabilised and hazardous debris has been cleared. Invasive Tilapia were found at the location, having died of salt-stress. Clean-up efforts should focus on removing Tilapia and debris from Bobby’s Marina to Captain Hodge Wharf.

The Sea Turtle Index beaches of Simpson Bay, Guana Bay, Gibbs Bay and Dawn Beach were found to be in relatively good shape, with the exception of large amounts of Sargasso weed having been washed ashore. NF transferred one nest which was lain late Saturday to early Sunday higher up the beach, but it was lost to inundation. Similarly, a nest was lost in Dawn Beach.

As usual after any storm NF started underwater surveys to locate potentially harmful debris in Great Bay and Simpson Bay. Low visibility in Great Bay hindered efforts, but subsequent surveys are set to follow. No major harmful debris was found in Simpson Bay, although swimmers should avoid the large patches of Sargasso present.

Initial surveys of the Man of War Shoal Marine protected area show that mooring installations survived. Visibility was still too poor to effectively survey the coral reefs. Further surveys will be carried out today, Friday, October 17.

Second Chamber debate to focus on St. Maarten

THE HAGUE--The Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament will call in Minister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Ronald Plasterk for a debate on the general developments in the Kingdom, and especially the political situation in St. Maarten.

Parliament's Permanent Committee for Kingdom Relations decided during a procedural meeting on Wednesday that it will schedule a general debate with the minister in November. A specific date has not been set as yet.

St. Maarten was the main reason for requesting a debate, although the committee did go along with the suggestion of Member of Parliament (MP) Wassila Hachchi of the Democratic Party D66 to have a broader talk about developments in the Kingdom.

MP's Andre Bosman of the liberal democratic VVD party, Roelof van Laar of the Labour Party PvdA and Ronald van Raak of the Socialist Party (SP) said the situation in St. Maarten was sufficiently urgent to have a debate.

"The situation merits a debate and it has to happen soon," said Van Raak on whose request the committee already agreed earlier this week to ask Minister Plasterk for a written clarification on the recent political developments in St. Maarten and the process to form a new government.

Van Laar, who took the initiative to request a debate with the minister, said the situation in St. Maarten was of such an urgent nature that it required monitoring by the Second Chamber. Bosman supported this proposal and said he preferred to have a specific debate since it would enable Parliament to focus on one issue.

Hachchi contended that there were more developments in the Kingdom that merited a debate with the minister such as the Isla Refinery in Curaçao. "We have to remain practical," she said. Sietse Fritsma of the Party for Freedom PVV supported Hachchi in this, and without objections of the other committee members it was decided to have a broad Kingdom affairs debate sometime next month.

Also taking place next month, on November 6, will be a debate on the finances of the Aruba Government. The debate on the tasks of the College for Financial Supervision CFT will take place on December 4.

The committee further agreed to start the procedure to ask the Council of State advice on the instruction that the Kingdom Council of Ministers gave the Governor of Aruba in July this year to investigate the feasibility of Aruba's 2014 budget and the multi-annual development of government's finances. Hachchi filed the request, also on behalf of the Christian Democratic Party CDA.

The Kingdom Government took that decision based on the responsibility that it carries according to the Kingdom Charter. The Kingdom Government has to guarantee the rights and freedom of the people in the Kingdom, legal security and good governance. The Kingdom Government can take measures if these four basic conditions are not met or insufficiently addressed in the individual countries.

According to Hachchi questions have been raised whether the Kingdom Council of Ministers handled in accordance with the law when it gave the Governor of Aruba an instruction. She mentioned that the decision caused a row between the Netherlands and Aruba.

Hachchi reminded her colleagues that the Second Chamber was free to seek advice from the Council of State. The committee agreed to start the process, which includes a plenary decision by the entire Second Chamber, but decided to wait with the formulation of the questions for the Council of State until the matter with the Aruba Government on the 2014 budget has been settled.

Van Raak supported Hachchi's request. Bosman, Van Laar and Fritsma said they wanted the matter with Aruba concluded first. "I don't want this advice to play a role in the conflict between the Netherlands and Aruba," said Van Laar. Fritsma said the advice would further impede the situation.

‘Stop, drop, go’ campaign starts

page1b126PHILIPSBURG--The "stop, drop and go" campaign to encourage persons in possessions of illegal firearms to voluntarily turn them in to authorities without fear of prosecution began on Wednesday, October 15, and will continue until October 31.

During the campaign period, illegal firearm holders can voluntarily take in their weapons between 8:30am and 4:30pm at the Attorney General's Office on the third floor of Puerto del Sol building in Simpson Bay in Dutch St. Maarten or at the Gendarmerie in French Quarter or Concordia in French St. Martin.

Prosecutor Tineke Kamps said Wednesday that the Prosecutor's Office is back in operation after Monday night's hurricane. "The whole island is cleaning up now, of course and hopefully people are cleaning up firearms as well," she said in reference to the campaign, which is aimed at reducing the number of illegal firearms on the streets with the aims of reducing gun crimes.

Following the campaign authorities on both sides of the island will clamp down on persons in possession of illegal firearms. Stiffer punishment will also be sought for persons found with illegal guns.

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