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Soualiga Newsday Features (1825)

Waiting lists for nursing home places grow as population gets older

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Waiting list numbers for a place in a local nursing home or for home nursing support continue to soar, reaching nearly 14,000 people by July, the NRC reported on Friday.

The total of people looking for a place in a home near to their current address or for care services has risen by over 1,000 since February, and 4,000 people have been waiting for more than six months.

The shortage of nurses and the increase in demand due to the aging population have contributed to the problem, the paper said. ‘This is a crisis situation,’ Jeroen van den Oever, from nursing organisation Fundis, told the paper.

‘We have 60 vacancies out of 800 district nurses and sometimes we have to tell a patient ‘no’.’

(DutchNews)

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Amsterdam-on-sea? Dutch capital tells tourists to go to The Hague

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – They are not renaming it ‘Amsterdam The Hague’. But in an effort to spread the blessing and curse of Amsterdam’s 17 million annual overnight tourists, The Hague has temporarily taken over the capital’s main physical marketing outlet.

For three weeks, visitors to the Iamsterdam store and information point at Amsterdam Centraal train station will be met with a green carpet and a barrage of charming propaganda suggesting that all ways lead to The Hague.

On the first day, tourists were offered free fifty return train tickets to the Dutch centre of government and the first to turn up, American artist Annamarie Trombetta, also won a guided tour around the city highlights in a horse-drawn, golden carriage.

Richard de Mos, head of economic affairs for The Hague’s municipal council, told DutchNews that this is part of a three-year joint strategy to share some of Amsterdam’s tourism largesse and burden.

‘It’s good for the corporation The Netherlands to present itself as the whole of the Netherlands, not just Amsterdam,’ he said. ‘The focus is not on nuisance-making tourists but on the sort of tourist who wants to visit palaces, museums and beaches.

We can learn from Amsterdam about how to spread attractions out too.’ He said that The Hague has room and open arms for a few more cultural visitors and families. ‘Amsterdam has 13 times more overnight visitors than we do.

But we offer something different: a seaside town, a royal town and a place of knowledge and peace. If The Hague can help make Amsterdam less busy, it is happy to do it.’

Earlier this month, Haarlem announced a new strategy to prioritise certain types of ‘quality visitors’ and minimise negative effects, and an influential think-tank announced a need to invest in better national planning to cope with burgeoning tourism.

Behaviour

Geerte Udo, chief executive of the city’s marketing agency Amsterdam&partners, said the measure is part of a three-year collaboration with The Hague with goal of spreading tourism across the Netherlands to reduce crunch points: ‘If you look at visitor behaviour, they are willing to travel for an hour to see something unique,’ she said.

‘The Hague is unique: it’s a royal city where our government is located, and they have beautiful places and events. ‘Spreading tourism isn’t easy but if you look at the data, there are people who have been here many times who are interested in new areas.

There are also visitors here for 10 days who after two or three days are interested in going abroad, and Dutch infrastructure makes other places easier to reach.’ She added that the city needs to do more research on how to deal with predicted increases in numbers in the coming years but wants a no-tolerance approach to crass behaviour.

‘We aren’t happy with people who misbehave,’ she said. ‘We are an open and tolerant city, but we do not accept that people disrespect our locals. There are many solutions we have to invest in, but this is a partial one, if people have a broader idea of what the Netherlands has to offer.’

Tour

Trombetta, who enjoyed a tour of The Hague from a golden, horse-drawn carriage – around some of the route the king will take in his own on the national budget day next week – said she felt ‘like a princess for the day.’ ‘This is above and beyond,’ she told DutchNews.

‘It’s amazing to be here in such an international city, which is ancient for me as an American. I’ve found it captivating and almost everything I heard; I didn’t know. I want to stay here!’

Her tour – joined by DutchNews.nl – included the Dutch parliament and Royal Palace, architecture from medieval buildings and linden-tree lined streets to the modern Richard Meier city hall and charming shopping streets, winding like the sand dunes they were built upon.

‘I always say, stinky canals are for Amsterdam,’ joked her guide Remco Dörr. ‘The Hague is a royal city by the sea!’

(DutchNews)

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Cycling at home slows down Parkinson symptoms: research

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – People in the early stages of Parkinson’s who do aerobic exercise on home trainers can stop the progression of the disease to a significant degree, a study by Radboud teaching hospital published in The Lancet Neurology shows.

The researchers studied two groups of Parkinson sufferers for six months, with one group working out on home trainers and one group doing stretching exercises three times a week.

Some hundred people participated in the trial. At the end of the six months the group that had cycled on the home trainer saw a significant reduction in symptoms compared to the group that had done the stretching exercises.

Both groups had apps to motivate them. The home trainers were fitted with screens and software to increase efforts, such as a virtual Tour de France app which challenged patients to climb a hill or better other players’ achievements.

The fact that patients could do the work-out at home also had a positive effect, researchers said. ‘The control group scored four points less on the scale we use to assess motor skills of Parkinson patients,’ head of the research team professor Bas Bloem told broadcaster NOS.

‘The effect of cycling is about the same as the improvement we would get from different types of medication. New medication for patients is regarded as meaningful if the improvement it brings has a score of three.

That shows you how important the effect of cycling really is.’ More research is needed to find out if the positive effect that has now been found will continue in the future. ‘The cyclists were fitter and had fewer symptoms.

They were deteriorating at a slower pace. That means they will need less medical care and fewer pills but also that effects of the disease on their lungs and heart will be reduced. Many Parkinson patients die of these complications,’ Bloem said.

(DutchNews)

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Scammed, sofa-surfing and stranded – finding a home as an international student

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – With an estimated shortfall in the Netherlands of 31,000 rooms, many students still don’t know where they’re sleeping this semester.

Deborah Nicholls-Lee reports on why international students are among the worst affected by the student housing crisis. In a living room on the Prins Hendrikkade, close to Amsterdam’s Central Station, a makeshift bed has been fashioned out of crates and a mattress salvaged from someone’s rubbish on the street.

19-year-old UvA student Katie Millar, from the UK, is crashing there, along with a Belgian student who is also homeless. ‘I’m lucky to have very nice friends who are helping me out,’ she tells me, ‘but obviously I don’t want to intrude too long.’ She thinks she’s staying with a friend of a friend’s mum next week, but she’s not certain.

Though term has already started, an estimated 4% of students in the Netherlands are still desperately seeking a place to live. This year, 11.5% of them will be foreigners like Katie – many aware far too late of the country’s student housing deficit which has seen overseas students in Groningen bedding down in makeshift emergency centres and students in Tilburg sleeping in tents.

Katie decided to study in the Netherlands after university open days in the UK left her feeling uninspired. ‘I kind of had FOMO [fear of missing out] for the rest of the world, especially with Brexit, and I wanted to go somewhere that was super international, where I would meet other people.’

Viewings

She shoulders her housing problems as best she can. ‘I don’t want to stress my parents out, so I only ring them when there’s good news,’ she says. Meanwhile, she’s ‘biking around like a crazy person’, and attending two or three viewings a day. ‘I think I might have sent 100 emails and I didn’t get any replies. It was just everyone saying ‘No students.

No sharing.’ Katie has also had a taste of the gruelling hospiteren evenings: a sort of interview-cum-social, where prospective flatmates gather at the property. With everyone speaking Dutch, internationals, she says, ‘get a very negative vibe straight away’. ‘One place I went to two days ago,’ she tells me, ‘the landlord officially requested no international people.’

A campaign against this policy of excluding foreign students is one of many strategies outlined in the Student Housing Action Plan 2018-2021 (SHAP), devised by stakeholders such as universities, the education ministry, student housing organisation Kences, and Nuffic (the Dutch organisation for the internationalisation of education).

The plan includes educating newcomers on how the student housing market works here and rebalancing supply and demand within ten years. The SHAP states that neither the students, nor the knowledge economy that they feed, can function properly faced with the huge housing deficit.

Consequently, within four years, 10,500 young people and student housing units are planned for Amsterdam, 2700 for Leiden, and around 2000 each for Delft, The Hague, Rotterdam and Utrecht.

Nijmegen is planning 500 new units and Maastricht will build 1170 units, though around one quarter will only be temporary. Dutch Student Union (LSVb) treasurer Ruben Kleijn, whose portfolio includes student housing, is used to hearing stories like Katie’s via the union’s Housing Hotline service and hopes that the SHAP will honour its pledges.

Universities, he says, ‘have a bigger responsibility than they seem to imagine’. We must take international students seriously, he told DutchNews, and ‘make sure they actually have an honest chance of finding a proper room and that there is access to relevant housing information’.

Shinyoung Kang (29) from Korea, who moved to The Hague to do a Master’s at the Royal Academy of Art, told DutchNews she felt she was not taken seriously by the seven or eight agencies she contacted because she was not Dutch. She stayed in an Airbnb, a hotel, and with a friend until, desperate, she paid over the odds for a barely habitable attic room. When she couldn’t bear it any longer and terminated the contract, the landlord withheld her deposit.

Venezuelan Eva Gonzalez (37) also had a bad experience with rental agencies in The Hague. ‘As soon as they found out I was a student – plus a foreign one – they completely dismissed me,’ she says. When she moved to Amsterdam, she responded to at least 25 listings, talking on the phone to countless people, and even sending essays about herself. ‘I finally found a roommate [just] one day before flying home for summer break,’ she says. ‘When he called me, I cried – I was so relieved!’

In Amsterdam, as in The Hague, the scarcity of housing has pushed the average rent for a student residential unit up to about €700 (€427 nationally). Since universities do not own student accommodation, they are unable to operate rent controls. Instead, students are often placed with third parties such as the Student Hotel (from €720 a month) or left to try their luck in the free market, where they, unfamiliar with the rules, make easy prey for unscrupulous landlords.

‘Pretty much every international tenant gets taken advantage of. That’s how it goes,’ says Dafna Eccles, an advisor at !WOON, an organisation offering free legal advice to tenants and property owners in Amsterdam and Amstelveen.

Internationals, of course, have fewer options. ‘They’re more desperate than Dutch students,’ she says. ‘If you’re living with Mum and Dad, then you can put it off for a few months … [But] you can’t commute from Madrid.’ Isabel* from Spain and Luca* from Italy, a couple in their 20s, are a case in point.

Attracted by the high level of English and easier access to competitive study programmes, they decided to enrol at two Amsterdam universities. After a long, fruitless search for accommodation, the pair responded to an online advert for a room on the outskirts of the city.

The landlord lured them off the official rental website, they handed over a deposit without visiting the property, agreed on a monthly rent of €1000, and – to secure the BSN they needed to get a job, healthcare and benefits – reluctantly signed papers stating that they were the only tenants, when in fact the property was shared with two others.

‘It seems stupid,’ admits Isabel, ‘but we had just one week to move … I know it’s not legal and it’s not correct, but no-one’s checking the landlords and they do whatever they want … You have all the pressure of studying abroad in a different country, in a different language, and all this personal academic pressure, so you are easy to manipulate.’

On moving day, the couple were horrified to discover that they would in fact be sleeping in the living room – which had not yet been equipped with a bed, leaving a tiny kitchen as the only shared space. ‘It was the worst time of my life,’ says Isabel emphatically. ‘I wanted to go back to my mother in Spain and forget about everything. It was horrible!’

Legal proceedings

Luca and Isabel sought advice from WOON, who calculated that they should be paying just €300 for the room. Isabel was terrified when they started proceedings against the landlord, who would often appear unannounced at the property, but WOON soon put them at ease.

‘When we got the money – oh my god! – I was crying for hours!’, says Isabel. ‘I couldn’t believe it! It was beautiful.’ Eccles lays some of the blame at the door of the universities.

‘The government’s cut their budget. They try to get international students in because they can charge them more money. These students are not really getting what they should. They know full well that there’s no housing for them.’

A spokesperson from the UvA shared with DutchNews the information pack on the housing shortage and how best to find a room (in English) which she says they send to students ‘as soon as they apply at the university’.

This year, she says, they have helped 3000 international students find a room. Isabel is excited about the studio flat she and Luca have found in new development OurDomain.

A five-year-contract offers them some security at last, and their €1,200 a month includes shared facilities such as sports courts, a theatre and a bar.

But for thousands of students, the search goes on. ‘We have many, many friends who are having problems,’ she says. *Names have been changed.

(DutchNews)

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Netherlands has most asthmatic children in Europe: report

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The Netherlands has Europe’s highest number of children with asthma caused by traffic pollution, the AD reports. The paper cites figures from a report in medical journal The Lancet, which states that one in five Dutch children have pollution-induced asthma, with the number rising to over half in the big cities.

Nitrogen oxide from diesel cars and lorries are the main cause, the researchers said. The report comes in the wake of data published by the environmental air quality watchdog RIVM saying the Randstad urban belt is the most polluted in the Netherlands.

There will also be a parliamentary debate on the government’s clean air accord on Thursday. Asthma is the most common chronic disease among children in the Netherlands and some 100,000 children up to 14 suffer from it.

‘They are exposed to air pollution day in and day out. The government must act to protect them, director Michael Rutgers of the pulmonary disease association Longfonds told the paper.

The Longfonds, lung specialists, cardiologists, paediatricians and scientists are handing over a petition to MPs on Tuesday calling for ‘more ambitious’ measures to limit pollution.

These include tackling big polluters, building schools, day care centres and sports fields away from motorways, lowering the maximum speed limit and introducing the pay-per-kilometre scheme earlier than the planned 2030.

‘Nitrogen oxide is a hidden killer. You don’t see it, you don’t notice it but it causes inflammation of lungs. Asthma often begins when children are young. Every day, I see children who are unable to play outside when the weather is fine and children whose lungs are so sensitive they don’t know how to cope with [smog from fireworks on] New Year’s Eve,’ lung specialist Hans in ‘t Veld told AD.

Junior infrastructure minister Stientje van Velthoven’s clean air accord promises to halve the effects on health compared to 2016 by 2030. Between 10,000 and 15,000 people in the Netherlands die from air and noise pollution related causes each year and 1.2 million have some form of respiratory disease.

(DutchNews)

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Dutch are mostly happy – but 400,000 feel left behind, says SCP report

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Divisions between the haves and have-nots have become entrenched in the past 10 years, according to a report from the SCP socio-cultural think tank.

A new report, The Social State of the Netherlands 2019, shows that in general Dutch people are just as contented as they were with their lives in 2008 – giving an average score of 7.8 out of 10.

Improvements in the economy have not affected this contentment rating, says the report – which compares the factual economic and social situation with people’s assessment of how they are feeling.

But, it adds, that there are ‘deep-seated differences’ between the haves and the have-nots in terms of education, income, sickness and psychiatric disorders. It says the numbers of people on a low income are growing and 400,000 people are seriously unhappy, pessimistic about the future and their own opportunities.

It notes that automation and an increasing use of robots have impacted the jobs market, and routine jobs will probably disappear in the future. The report is based on studies the SCP carries out every two years and encompasses the credit crunch and refugee crisis as well as the recent economic boom.

(DutchNews)

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Governor Holiday opens 10th Parliamentary Year

SINT MAARTEN (PHILIPSBURG) – On Tuesday, September 10, 2019, marked the opening of the parliamentary year 2019-2020 by His Excellency the Governor of Sint Maarten Eugene Holiday in the House of Parliament on Tuesday morning.

His Excellency’s address to the House of Parliament can be found below:

Madame Chairlady, Members of Parliament,

Today September 10, 2019, we are gathered in this chamber for the opening of Sint Maarten’s tenth parliamentary year 2019-2020. To mark the opening of our tenth parliamentary year I have the privilege of addressing you as prescribed by our Constitution. Today I do so amid trying and challenging times.

As we gather here today, we think of the victims and devastation caused by hurricane Dorian in the Caribbean, the United States and Canada. And more particular we think of The Bahamas where hurricane Dorian took the lives of at least 50 persons and left a trail of destruction with many persons still missing. Our prayers, thoughts and sympathy are with the families of the victims and with all those whose livelihoods are at risk. We are deeply saddened and stand in solidarity with the government and people of the Bahamas. We wish our Bahamian brothers and sisters strength and offer our support as they work to recover in this difficult time.

The utter destruction and human suffering caused by Dorian reminds us how vulnerable we are. We are, as a result, strengthened in our commitment to build resilience in the face of the increasing intensity and frequency of natural disasters as a result of climate change. And we are once again reminded that close regional and international collaboration is required to secure and protect our people and our way of life.

Madame Chairlady, Members of Parliament,

As we embark on this tenth parliamentary year amid a cloud of political uncertainty, we – all of us – ought to ask ourselves one basic question: What can we do to secure a safe and prosperous future for our children and our grandchildren?

Let us, based on that question, use this moment to standstill and reflect on where we are and on the direction of our country.

And as you do so as parliamentarians and ministers, you ought to remind yourselves that people across our country look to you to work together to prioritize the policies that matter most to them. Matters that will improve their wellbeing and secure the wellbeing of their children and their children’s children. They look to you to support and take legislative decisions to strengthen our economy, to secure the functioning of our financial system, to improve the resilience of our infrastructure and to protect our environment. They look to you to focus on employment, housing, education, health, and security policies.

Addressing these issues in a serious and sustainable way is particularly

  • pressing given our vulnerability for the effects of climate change as experienced with the impact of hurricane Irma and as we can see in the Bahamas;
  • pressing, taking into account the risks associated with the slowing global economy amid escalating trade disputes; and
  • pressing, in the face of the threat to our financial system by criminals engaged in money laundering and terrorist financing.

It is against this backdrop imperative that parliament and government rise above the narrow confines of individual interests and domestic politics, to the higher and broader concerns of our society within this globalized world.

Madame Chairlady, Members of Parliament,

The impact of Irma on our economy and on our people has and will continue to dominate government’s policy agenda. We are reminded every day of the immense strength and resilience of our people, amid the setbacks caused by the economic, financial, social, physical and emotional impact of hurricane Irma in 2017. During 2017-18, the economy contracted by a cumulative 12% and in 2018 unemployment increased to 9.9%. In 2018 government revenues declined due to the economic contraction, resulting in a budget deficit of NAf.105 million. For 2019 the deficit is budgeted to amount to NAf.71 million.

Strengthening our economic and financial resilience against external shocks has been and must therefore continue to be a key priority of government. Looking ahead, the outlook for 2019-2020 shows a gradual rebound in economic activity. The rebound is supported by the reconstruction activities of homes and businesses as well as by the coming online of hotel rooms to accommodate the increase in tourist demand.

Looking ahead our focus must be on growing the economy to above pre-Irma levels. Realizing that objective, calls for selfless rather than selfish actions and for cohesive rather than fractured responses. It calls for us to move with a sense of urgency and a sense of common purpose, grounded on a cohesive reconstruction, recovery and resilience agenda. One that includes:

  1. The rehabilitation of the airport terminal;
  2. The facilitation of the construction, renovation and upgrade of hotels;
  3. The stimulation of Small Business Recovery and development;
  4. The rehabilitation of education facilities;
  5. The repair of homes and strengthening of our social systems;
  6. The care for the environment;
  7. The tackling of the effects of climate change;
  8. The implementation of sustainable waste management;
  9. The strengthening of our disaster preparedness and management; and
  10. The strengthening of our public finances and financial management

To achieve these objectives, demands that we find the resolve to ask more of our selves than we demand of others, demands that we need not break others down to build ourselves up and demands that we realize that there is strength in internal and external partnerships rather than in partisanship.

Madame Chairlady, Members of Parliament,

During the past year government has, in its efforts to strengthen our disaster preparedness and management capabilities, invested in building capacity through the upgrading of equipment, training and greater involvement of communities. Government has also, where necessary, sought to intensify collaboration with our neighbors on the northern side of the island as well as with regional and international partners. Important steps in this regard include:

  1. The joining of the Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility (CCRIF) in September of 2018, to secure short-term liquidity if Sint Maarten is hit by a hurricane or other natural disaster; and
  2. The signing of a Memorandum of Understanding with the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) on behalf of the Kingdom of the Netherlands ensuring cooperation on disaster risk management if assistance is required for the coordination of emergency response and relief efforts. The government is as a result pursuing becoming an associate member of CDEMA and will be hosting its conference at the end of this year.

To achieve its objectives government has and deems it important to continue to work closely with the Netherlands and the World Bank administered Trust Fund. Government has also and considers it imperative that we continue to build partnerships within the region. Government therefore looks forward to the CARICOM heads of governments meeting at the beginning of 2020, regarding the participation of Sint Maarten as an associate member of the CARICOM.

Madame Chairlady, Members of Parliament,

An important precondition for the development and implementation of our required reconstruction, recovery and resilience agenda is a strong organization. Government has therefore executed its plans to the establish the National Recovery Program Bureau earlier this year. The program bureau is charged with preparing, coordinating, implementing and evaluating projects financed through the Trust Fund for the recovery and reconstruction process. The program bureau is financed through the Trust Fund and assists the ministries with the requirements of Trust Funds projects, including project management, financial management, procurement, as well as social and environmental safeguards. During the coming parliamentary year government expects the National Recovery Program Bureau to roll out an increased number of projects funded by the World Bank.

Madam Chairlady, Members of Parliament,

Besides strengthening its organization government has prioritized education as a corner stone for the sustainability of the recovery process. Government has therefore developed an Education Master Plan. The Education Master Plan is an inventory of all school buildings, sport facilities and cultural facilities such as the Library, the Museum and the SIMARC. The facilities of these services were all damaged, some even destroyed by hurricane Irma. Government has secured an amount of USD.35 million in the trust fund towards the Education Master Plan.

Government has also established a collaboration with its Kingdom partners in the area of education, culture, youth and sports. Noteworthy in this respect is the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) regarding the protection of Children’s Rights signed in 2018. As part of the implementation of the multi-annual year plan and work plan of the Memorandum of Understanding MoU, government recently hosted the 4th Kingdom Taskforce Conference 2019 “Ready. Set. Protect”. In doing so government will continue to develop policies to combat abuse against children.

In addition to our children, government remains committed to protect the most vulnerable among us such as the sick, the elderly, and the unemployed. Important in this regard is the emergency income support and training project funded via the Trust Fund. The project includes training and certification programs in construction and hospitality for unemployed persons; That in cooperation with the National Institute for Professional Advancement and the University of St. Martin.

The availability of adequate, social and affordable housing has worsened as a result of the passing of hurricane Irma in 2017. Many families were left homeless. The housing waiting list at the Sint Maarten Housing and Development Foundation (SMHDF) has almost tripled post-Irma, up from some 1500 persons pre-Irma. It has as a result been concluded that the current agreement of tasks and responsibilities between government and SMHDF will be restructured. Government has established that diversification of the social housing program is needed and special housing for the elderly and physically challenged need to be included in the Housing Policy.

Madame Chairlady, Members of Parliament,

The health of our population is linked to the care for our environment. With regards to the care for the environment, waste management is a significant challenge on our island. Government has, in its efforts to address the waste management challenges, been working closely with the World Bank and the Netherlands. The objective is to:

  • Improve the management of waste streams at the landfill; and
  • Introduce recycling, including the removal of metals and other recyclable material from the island.

Madame Chairlady, Members of Parliament,

Together with the care for our environment it is imperative that we implement measures to address and mitigate the effects of climate change on our island.

Government has taken critical steps in that regard, comprised of the reform of the legislative framework of VROMI through a new VROMI Ordinance. Under the new VROMI ordinance government has been working on updating and upgrading building code legislation and policies to mitigate the effects of recurring extraordinary hurricanes. To achieve this, government has already conducted an inventory and established stakeholders’ consultations.

Building codes however are not enough. They are to go hand in hand with an effective Spatial Development Strategy to increase resilience throughout our community. This in particular given the use of the Global Sustainable Development Goals to prepare the development planning legislation or the so-called zoning plan legislation. The Spatial Development Strategy provides the framework for the completion of 13 spatial development plans. Priority has been given to the draft plans for Middle Region and Dutch Quarter which are being finalized to be submitted to parliament for handling.

Madame Chairlady, Members of Parliament,

To safeguard the stability necessary to support our reconstruction, recovery and resilience objectives it is essential to ensure the safety and security of our people. This is particularly important considering the increase in violent crime and the increasing threat of cross border crime. Notwithstanding the limited available financial resources government deems it imperative to continue to invest in the strengthening of its law enforcement. It has in that regard identified several priorities which include:

  • The upgrading of the facilities of the Police stations in Philipsburg, Simpson Bay and Cole bay;
  • The upgrading of the Immigration offices and systems;
  • Recruitment to reinforce the Coastguard; and
  • The renovation of the Point Blanche Prison facilities as well as the need for a new prison.

Madame Chairlady, Members of Parliament,

As a small open tourism economy Sint Maarten is a member of the international community. It is therefore imperative for Sint Maarten to maintain good international relations and comply with its international obligations. The income we earn from tourism, the food we eat, the clothes we wear and the goods we use to build our homes come in large part from overseas paid for through the international banking and financial system. Our economy, our financial system is thus completely tied to the global economy. Anything that affects the integrity of the global economy, affects us. Based on the review of the Caribbean Financial Action Taskforce, Sint Maarten must implement a number of legislative changes urgently, to protect our local financial system from misuse by criminals and from forming a risk to the global financial system.

Government has therefore prioritized the introduction of legislation to combat money laundering and financing of terrorism based on international requirements as stipulated by the Financial Action Task Force. The adaption of these regulations in our laws is critical, to secure the participation of our economy in international trade and business, and thus to safeguard the viability of our local economy. That is to safeguard our jobs and livelihoods as well as those of our children and their children.

Government has as a result recently presented parliament with, an amendment of the Penal Code, an amendment of the Penal Procedure Code and an amendment of the Civil Code, for your urgent handling. This to ensure compliance with the Financial Action Task Force stipulations and avoid Sint Maarten being blacklisted by the Financial Action Task Force.

The question before this parliament is as such a simple one: Will you act before this tipping point become a breaking point for us and for the future of our children and grandchildren?

Madame Chairlady, Members of Parliament,

Hurricane Irma has left government cash strapped with significant budget and liquidity deficits. As a result, government has limited financial internal means to execute its agenda towards meeting the challenges that our country is facing. That is limited outside of the USD.470 million available financing through the Trust Fund, USD.128 million of which has already been committed to specific projects.

To achieve its objectives government has therefore and deems it important to continue to work closely with the Netherlands and the World Bank administered Trust Fund.

Government has, taking the challenging conditions into account, prepared the draft 2020 budget for presentation to and handling by parliament.

Madame Chairlady, Members of Parliament,

Two years after hurricane Irma, we have come a long way and it is evident that a lot remain to be done. We must as a people, government and parliament be focused and relentless in our pursuit to realize a cohesive reconstruction, recovery and resilience agenda. In this tenth parliamentary year we cannot afford not to get it right among ourselves, with the Netherlands and with our partners in the region. We must shoulder our responsibility and act with a sense of urgency and common purpose.

Madame Chairlady, Members of Parliament,

In this tenth parliamentary year, you are advised to reflect on the basic question: What can we do to secure a safe and prosperous future for our children and our grandchildren? And as you review and debate the business of our people - in these complex and challenging times - it is essential to note that the policy choices you make in this chamber will shape the lives and determine the opportunities of current and future generations of Sint Maarteners.

The people of Sint Maarten therefore depend and look to their parliamentarians and government to work together for them and to represent their interests.

Madame Chairlady, Members of Parliament,

Thus, as you deliberate and decide on the issues that will come before you in the period ahead, I wish you much wisdom, strength, and God’s speed.

Thank you, God Bless you and May God Bless our Beloved Sint Maarten and protect its coast.

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Liberty Latin America announces acquisition of remaining 12.5% of UTS

SINT MAARTEN/CURACAO - Liberty Latin America Ltd. (“LLA”) today has announced that it has completed the acquisition of the remaining 12.5% of United Telecommunication Services (“UTS”). In March this year, LLA acquired 87.5% of UTS and the acquisition of the remaining 12.5% now results in LLA owning 100% of UTS.

The governments of Curaçao and St. Maarten held stakes of 87.5% and 12.5%, respectively, in UTS. C&W Communications (“C&W”) is part of LLA, and the UTS operation reports to Mr. Nicolas Collette, Vice President of C&W, Southern Cluster, which also includes Barbados and Trinidad & Tobago.

“This is an exciting moment for telecommunications in the Dutch Caribbean, as following the acquisition of the remaining 12.5% of UTS by LLA, we are now even better positioned to add value for our customers and deliver world-class connectivity and entertainment,” said Mr. Collette.

“We are very proud to be operating in the Dutch Caribbean and over the last few months we have been working hard towards establishing new benchmarks for value, service delivery and customer support. Collette also said the integration process between LLA and UTS was progressing smoothly.”

“We have been working closely together and both brands, Flow and UTS, have been sharing best practices in order to realise the full benefits of our newly combined company. We have also been keeping our stakeholders informed every step of the way and we now look forward to our sustained collaboration as we continue to connect the people of the Dutch Caribbean and create moments that matter for our customers,” he said.

Liberty Latin America is a leading telecommunications company operating in over twenty countries across Latin America and the Caribbean under the consumer brands VTR, Flow, Liberty, Más Móvil, BTC and Cabletica, while UTS provides fixed and mobile services to the island nations of Curaçao, St. Maarten, St. Martin, Bonaire, St. Barths, St. Eustatius and Saba.

About C&W Communications

C&W, part of the Liberty Latin America group of companies, is a full-service communications and entertainment provider and delivers market-leading video, broadband, telephony and mobile services to consumers in more than 20 markets. Through its business division, C&W provides data center hosting, domestic and international managed network services, and customized IT service solutions, utilizing cloud technology to serve business and government customers. C&W also operates a state-of-the-art submarine fiber network – the most extensive in the region.

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Forum voor Democratie support plummets in polls after infighting and splits

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Infighting and divisions at nationalist party Forum voor Democratie have cost the new grouping major support, according to a string of opinion polls.

A new poll by Maurice de Hond on Sunday said the party would win 14 seats in the 150-seat Dutch parliament if there was a general election tomorrow. That is half the total recorded in the spring, when the party emerged as the biggest in the regional election vote.

The new De Hond poll gives the ruling VVD 28 seats (19%), down five on its current total in parliament but an improved performance on earlier this year. The Labour party continues to rise and would now take 19 seats, or around 13% of the vote.

The Christian Democrats are on 16 seats in the De Hond poll. It is the first time in years that the three traditional Dutch parties are back on top.

Last week two other polls also highlighted the decline in support for Thierry Baudet’s Forum since it expelled co-founder Henk Otten in a string of acrimonious statements and Twitter messages.

I&O put the VVD on 32 seats, or 21%, just one seat down on its general election total. The poll also indicated that Baudet’s image had taken a major knock, with his personal rating dropping from 4.1 out of 10 to 3.5 and just 36% of the party’s supporters saying they approved of Baudet’s performance in the dispute with Otten.

An EenVandaag poll, also published last week, said Forum’s support had gone down from 25 seats in March to just 11 (7%), and had dropped seven seats in the past month.

The main beneficiary of the drop-in support for Baudet and Forum is Geert Wilder’s far-right PVV, which would gain between one and five seats, the polls show.

Wilders told a rally of far-right parties in Italy on Saturday that nationalist parties in Europe are experiencing ‘tough’ times but said they would make a come-back.

The De Hond poll also shows increasing support for the current four-party coalition which can now count on the backing of 54% of the population. In spring this had plummeted to 35%.

(DutchNews)

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Foreign students may face higher fees, Dutch language lessons

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Foreign students in the Netherlands will be offered help in learning Dutch, and students from outside the EU may face higher fees, if new proposals on dealing with the internationalisation of the Dutch higher education system come into force.

Education minister Ingrid van Engelshoven said on Friday that she wanted to reduce the growth in the numbers of foreign students at Dutch universities and hbo colleges.

They now account for some 11.5% of the total student body, twice the number 10 years ago. There has been mounting concern in the Netherlands about the number of foreign students attending Dutch university and college courses, prompting many degrees to be only offered in English.

And last year, Dutch universities published a document calling for the number of courses given in English to be capped in an attempt to contain the growing number of international students.

Court

Although students from other countries contribute to the Dutch economy, labour market and academia, this must not be allowed to go ‘too far’, the minister said. In particular, the growth in English language course may have a negative impact on Dutch student’s language skills, the minister said in a statement.

‘As culture minister, I am attached to Dutch,’ Engelshoven said. Ministry research shows that the growth in international student numbers is putting pressure on the financing, quality and accessibility of education, she said.

‘To bring in more balance, the cabinet wants to revise the rules for offering non-Dutch language education,’ the minister said. Departments which want to offer a substantial part of their courses in other languages than Dutch must prove that this has added value for students, she said.

Foreign students will also be offered Dutch courses, which will also encourage them to remain in the Netherlands after graduation and contribute to the Dutch economy.

Higher fees

The minister also plans to bring in minimum fees for students from outside the European Economic Area, to make sure that they do not adversely impact university financing.

These would be in line with the maximum fees paid by EEA students. According to website Science Guide, bachelor students from outside the EEA would pay at least €7,612 in tuition fees, or €15,178 if attending a university of technology.

Master programmes will cost a minimum of €29,452 year. The number of foreign students coming to the Netherlands is five times higher than the number of Dutch students who spent part of their course time abroad.

To counteract this, the number of Holland Scholarship grants for foreign students will be cut and the number of grants for Dutch students abroad will be doubled to 1,540, the minister said.

Financial benefits

Research published by the government’s CPB think-tank last week showed that foreign students do generate hundreds of thousands of euros for the treasury.

Even after the cost of sending Dutch students abroad is deducted from the total, foreign students from outside the EU generate up to €94,000 each for the government, the CPB said.

This is because their fees are much higher and around 30% of them remain in the Netherlands after graduation, the CPB said. By contrast, EU students bring in between €7,000 and €15,000 each, and no more than 15% stay on after finishing their degree.

Nuffic

In July the government announced that it was reorganising Nuffic, the organisation set up to promote the internationalisation of the education system. The measures include cutting its budget and closing the 10 education support offices, located in countries as diverse as China, Russia, India and Turkey.

‘Taken together, these developments will severely affect the activities through which we support education institutions in developing as well as strengthening high-quality internationalisation efforts, from primary and secondary education to vocational and higher education,’

Nuffic said in a statement. The 10 countries where the support offices are located sent nearly 14,000 students to Dutch colleges and universities in the last academic year, Trouw said. The Netherlands is particularly popular with Indian and Chinese students.

(DutchNews)

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