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Sarah: Gov’t will resist instruction to Holiday

~ Says move 'absurd' ~

PHILIPSBURG--Caretaker Prime Minister Sarah Wescot-Williams has condemned the move by the Dutch Government to issue instructions to Governor Eugene Holiday to thoroughly screen incoming ministers from the United People's (UP) party-led coalition.

In an invited comment on Friday Wescot-Williams said government "will resist" this latest move by the Dutch government. She said the three Caribbean countries had protested, but to no avail.

"Our arguments in the case of the integrity instruction are even stronger in this case. No autonomous matters seem to exist anymore in the eyes of the Dutch government," Wescot-Williams said when asked to give her opinion on the matter.

"Minister Plasterk's other option was to have the AIVD under the pretext of our security service carry out the screening according to criteria set by the Minister. In essence, what the governor has been instructed to do, but then on my instructions via the St. Maarten security service, which was not to be made public. Of course I objected."

The Prime Minister said St. Maarten's screening process was "in evolution. We have adjusted and refined the process over time. But it is our responsibility. Our national security service has cooperation agreements with many other services and when necessary calls on these other services.

"But we cannot replace our service by other 'experts' because the Dutch government has issues with some politicians on the island. It is absurd. ... What will be next?

"The Governor should never be put in this position. After all, he is also part of the government‎ of St. Maarten. And worse, he does not decide if a minister is admissible. He needs to inform the Kingdom government. This is asking for trouble."

Kingdom govt orders tougher screening St. Maarten ministers

page10a128By Suzanne Koelega

THE HAGUE--The Kingdom government has ordered a more stringent screening of St. Maarten's incoming Council of Ministers. The Kingdom Council of Ministers decided on Friday to give St. Maarten Governor Eugene Holiday an instruction to hold off on the appointment of the ministers and prime minister until it is absolutely certain that they are in the clear.

The Dutch government will appoint a team of experts to assist the governor with the screening, announced Minister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Ronald Plasterk after the meeting. He didn't want to give details to the media on who exactly these experts would be and whether they were of the Dutch intelligence service AIVD.

Plasterk said that the screening would go further than to only check whether the candidate ministers had a criminal record. "Guarantees are needed that no problems will evolve after the appointment." (See related article)

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte confirmed the instruction for St. Maarten at his weekly press briefing. "In light of the outcome of the elections and the formation process, the Kingdom Council of Ministers has given the governor an instruction to wait with the appointment of the ministers until there is sufficient guarantee that nothing stands in the way of being appointed. The decrees to appoint the members of the Cabinet can only be signed by the governor when it is clear that there are sufficient guarantees for integrity," he stated.

Rutte said the integrity of St. Maarten's government was at stake, which was confirmed in two separate integrity reports. These reports, drafted by PricewaterhouseCoopers and the Wit-Samson integrity committee, showed conflict of interest situations and abuse of power on all levels of the St. Maarten government.

The prime minister answered the question by this newspaper whether this instruction, the second for St. Maarten since September 2013, didn't create unnecessary additional tension in the Dutch Kingdom, with a firm 'no'.

Rutte said that the Kingdom government was executing the agreements that were part of the constitutional reform process that granted Curaçao and St. Maarten the status of country within the Kingdom on October 10, 2010. Focal points in these agreements were finances and legal security. "We are strictly sticking to the agreements with the countries. They have to comply with the standard. I won't be of any bother if they do so," he said.

According to Rutte, the situation in St. Maarten is of such a serious nature that internal redress by the local government was no longer an option and that an instruction was required to deal with the situation. He said the standard screening of the candidate ministers prescribed by the St. Maarten law was "too thin."

Rutte said the measure by the Kingdom government didn't focus on one specific person, in this case, candidate Prime Minister Theo Heyliger. "We need a Cabinet with members that are beyond any doubt."

Plasterk denied that the instruction was given to specifically prevent Heyliger from becoming prime minister. "The decision is not aimed at individual persons. We have to be certain about the integrity of all members of the Cabinet."

He estimated that the additional screening of the candidate ministers and prime minister will take a few weeks. "It will not be a matter of months," he told the media.

Plasterk immediately informed the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament of the decision of the Kingdom government to have the governor hold off on the signing of the decrees to appoint the ministers and prime minister until further research has been done in addition to the existing screening procedure.

"With this instruction, the Kingdom government ensures that the governor has sufficient information to be able to decide whether he can sign the appointment decrees or that he has to apply article 21 of the Regulation of the Governor," Plasterk stated in the letter.

Article 21 prescribes that the governor, as Kingdom organ, has the authority not to sign a federal ordinance or decree in case he believes that it is in violation of higher laws or matters that are in the interest of the Kingdom.

The legal basis for Friday's instruction is secured in article 15 of the Regulation of the Governor, which states that the governor is the representative of the Kingdom government and has to carry out instructions stated in a Royal Decree. The same article was used to give the governor of Aruba an instruction in July this year to hold off on the signing of Aruba's 2014 budget until further research had been carried out.

St. Maarten's caretaker Prime Minister Sarah Wescot-Williams was not present at Friday's Kingdom Council of Ministers meeting. She was only informed on Thursday that the country would be receiving an instruction the following day. Representing St. Maarten at Friday's meeting were Acting Minister Plenipotentiary Josianne Fleming-Artsen and Director of the Cabinet of the Minister Plenipotentiary Perry Geerlings.

Plasterk will shortly present an action plan to strengthen the justice system in St. Maarten, which will be discussed in the Kingdom Council of Ministers meeting slated for November 7. Plasterk announced this plan, which will include sending a special (white collar) crime unit and an integrity supervisor to St. Maarten, two weeks ago in the Second Chamber during the handling of the draft 2015 Kingdom Relations budget.

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.

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