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Voters give party leaders food for thought in first TV election debate

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Six party leaders took to the stage in the first televised debate of the general election campaign, but it was a series of cameos from ordinary voters that stole the show.

The debate featured the six largest parties in the last parliament, including three members of the coalition but without Labour (PvdA). Two of the leaders are women – Sigrid Kaag of D66 and Lilian Marijnissen of the Socialist Party, while Kaag and CDA leader Wopke Hoekstra are spearheading an election campaign for the first time.

The two-hour event on RTL was broken down into a series of five themed debates in issues, but each started with a party leader being confronted by a member of the public.

Prime minister Mark Rutte was taken to task by Kristie Rongen, one of the victims of the child benefit scandal that prompted the cabinet’s resignation six weeks ago. An irate Rongen accused Rutte of ducking responsibility for the tax office’s aggressive pursuit of thousands of working families who were wrongly accused of fraud and forced to pay back child support.

‘What if it still isn’t sorted out a year from now?’ she said. ‘Will you take responsibility then? We asked for you not to come back, but you’re standing for election again.’

Rutte replied: ‘I think it’s dreadful. Lots of things have gone badly wrong, other things have gone wrong, but we’re working our socks off, together with the parents’ panels, to put it right.’ Rongen cut in: ‘You’re complicit in this.’

Couscous bar

Nadia Zerouali, a cookery writer from Winterswijk in Gelderland, asked Geert Wilders, leader of the anti-immigration PVV, why his party manifesto wanted to disenfranchise her and her Moroccan-Dutch family for having two passports.

Wilders claimed his concerns were about Dutch Muslims prioritising Sharia law over the constitution and told Zerouali, who has a teenage son, that ‘Moroccan youths’ were responsible for a high proportion of crime.

When Zerouali invited him to discuss things further at her couscous bar, Wilders replied: ‘Fine, but I’ll leave the couscous if you don’t mind. I’ll bring my own meatballs.’

Finance minister Wopke Hoekstra faced a couple who run a restaurant in Voorburg who demanded to know why their financial support had been delayed for two months, while GroenLinks leader Jesse Klaver met a student who was struggling to pay back loans, which Klaver’s party previously supported.

But Rutte’s encounter with Kirstie Rongen was the most painful and a rare moment when the prime minister’s composure slipped, as the format made it difficult for the leaders to lay a glove on each other.

Coronavirus and economy

Everyone working on the programme was required to take a coronavirus test before the debate, but the leaders were left to decide for themselves. Rutte, Kaag and Marijnissen chose not to take a test while Wilders declined to say.

Rutte said: ‘I’ve never been tested: you only do that if you’ve got symptoms or you’re in a presymptomatic group.’ There was broad consensus on the coronavirus crisis, though Wilders began the debate with a tirade against the cabinet’s failures to invest in healthcare.

‘They’ve closed five hospitals in recent years, 19 first aid points and 15 intensive care units,’ he said. Kaag was the only leader to support the idea of vaccine passports to allow people to return to normal life sooner once they have received their coronavirus jab, combined with more widespread fast testing.

Socialist leader Lilian Marijnissen said vaccine passports would lead to ‘divide and rule’ between generations. Kaag was admonished by Hoekstra, who pointed out that she had recently agreed with her cabinet colleagues on a plan for rapid testing.

‘This is not a D66 plan,’ he said.

Nuclear power

Hoekstra clashed with Rutte on the question of whether top earners should be taxed more to pay for the extra support during the coronavirus crisis.

Rutte argued high taxes could put companies off from hiring new staff, but Hoekstra accused him of driving forward inequality. ‘You wanted to press ahead with student loans, you wanted to cut taxes for the biggest companies and you wanted to press ahead with casual contracts in the labour market.’

The parties also differed sharply on responding to climate change, with GroenLinks leader Jesse Klaver coming under pressure from the right to include nuclear energy in the renewable energy plan. Klaver accused Rutte and Hoekstra of lying about the sustainability of nuclear power: ‘Nuclear energy will not help us reach our climate goals in 10 years’ time,’ he said.

But Hoekstra called on GroenLinks to put ‘ideological debates’ to one side and use all possible means to achieve the targets.

(DutchNews)

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Dutch vaccination programme catches up and Leiden vaccine is close to coming on stream

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Despite starting last in the EU with its coronavirus vaccination programme, some 7% of the Dutch have now had their first jab, propelling the Netherlands up the vaccination league tables, according to European figures.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control says of the EU member states, only Malta (10%), Denmark (8.8%) and Finland (7.7%) have vaccinated a bigger proportion of their populations.

Bulgaria remains bottom of the list, with a vaccination rate so far of 3%. In total, nearly 43 million doses have been shipped to EU countries and over 30 milion people have been vaccinated, the ECDPC says.

The Leiden-developed Johnson & Johnson vaccine has now been approved for use in the US and is expected to be cleared by the Amsterdam-based European medicines agency on March 11.

The Netherlands has ordered 11.3 million doses of the single dose vaccine, of which three million will be in the first batch next quarter. The vaccine reaches maximum efficacy after 28 days.

‘The good thing about the Janssen vaccine is that the research involved some of the mutant forms,’ immunologist Huub Savelkoul told broadcaster NOS.

Programme

Outside people working in healthcare or with vulnerable health issues, the Netherlands is currently vaccinating people aged 60 to 64 with the AstraZeneca two-dose vaccine via their family doctors.

Britain, no longer a member of the EU, has the highest rate in Europe. More than 20 million people in Britain have now had their first jab and people over the age of 40 are on the vaccination list for March.

(DutchNews)

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Dutch Jurists Report Netherlands' Racist Practices in Caribbean Islands to United Nations Entity

SINT MAARTEN (PHILIPSBURG) - The Dutch International Commission of Jurists, also known as the Nederlands Juristen Comité voor de Mensenrechten (NJCM), submitted an alternative report to the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) in March of 2020, the Pro Soualiga Foundation said in a press statement. 

The Netherlands was set to appear before CERD in 2020, however, their appearance was rescheduled for August of 2021 due to the COVID 19 pandemic.  The alternative report begins by stating that "the Kingdom's constitutional framework provides the European Netherlands with a greater distribution of power in the Kingdom government" which creates a situation where "the view of the elected governments of Aruba, Curaçao and St Maarten on Kingdom issues are considered to be less important," according to the Pro Soualiga press statement.  

NJCM makes the following assertions regarding "Discrimination of Caribbean Citizens of the Kingdom":

1) The constitutional framework of the Kingdom creates a lopsided distribution of power between the Caribbean Netherlands and the European Netherlands.

2) Under certain circumstances, the Kingdom government can also involve itself in autonomous matters of the islands.

3) The European Netherlands are a majority in the Kingdom government and therefore are always able to overrule the ministers plenipotentiary of Aruba, Curaçao and St Maarten.

4) Due to the fact that there is no Kingdom parliament, the Dutch parliament acts as the Kingdom parliament without the other countries having a right to vote.

5) This historically grown constitutional imbalance upholds racialized discourses and practices.

6)  Kingdom interference in the autonomous matters of the Caribbean countries are in fact interference by the Netherlands.

7) There is no such thing as Kingdom interference in autonomous matters of the Netherlands.

8) The Dutch legislature has the discretion to differentiate between the BES islands and the European Netherlands.

9) The legislature uses the aforementioned discretion to justify unequal rights to social welfare on the BES Islands.

10) Majority of the BES island population believe that they live under worse economic and political circumstances compared to the situation before 2010.

11) The Dutch legislature and local (Dutch) governments differentiate between Dutch citizens born in the European Netherlands, and those born in or migrating from the Dutch Caribbean.

The NJCM concludes that in order to eradicate the continued practices of "racial discrimination and inequality" on the Caribbean islands, it is imperative for the Dutch government to be more mindful "of the fact that Dutch Caribbean communities have a right to be included in decision-making processes, directly affecting them, in accordance with internationally established democratic values, and voting and representational rights."  The Netherlands is due to answer the allegations posed by NJCM in August of 2021. 

Please find the NJCM Alternative Report below:

NJCM Alternative Report

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Prime Minister Jacobs commemorates our history makers yesterday, today and in the future

SINT MAARTEN (POND ISLAND) - Every Year in February, Black History Month is celebrated all over the world to signify the journey of the black community. As a community, we reflect on our achievements and the struggles our ancestors faced and some still face today. Though at the end of February, I take this time to reflect on the celebration of our people who have made a difference and those who are making a difference today, as well as those who will move us even higher in the future.

Black history month is very important to all St. Maarteners, as we also look at the struggles of those who have gone before us and the opportunities they have left for us to inherit. I encourage all St. Maarteners to continue telling ‘we story,’ through whichever medium chosen and let the tradition of storytelling help to maintain our culture, norms, achievements, and struggles. We must also strive to record tangible and intangible memories for posterity.

Sadly, we see that racism and injustice against people of color are still prevalent in many countries. Within our own community, we still see inequalities. Black history month continues to raise awareness of the journey and the fight that people of color continue to fight, in action, words and deeds.

On behalf of the Government of St. Maarten, I take this opportunity to invite all citizens to continue learning about your heritage and striving to rise above what others may perceive as our limits. I pledge to continue to work together with all stakeholders to ensure our education systems elevate to ensure all our children have the opportunity to learn and teach all there is to learn, as well as be inspired to make history themselves.

Many local authors whose work is available at our local library and bookstores, as well as online, can help us to learn about our story and our Island's History. Let us also pledge not only to celebrate and commemorate in February but choose to study and highlight our icons throughout history and today, all through the year via our various mediums in order to ensure our history lives on.

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Appeal court says curfew is justified, state can refer to ‘extraordinary circumstances’

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Appeal court judges in The Hague said on Friday that the government had introduced the curfew in mid-January on valid legal grounds, tearing up last week’s lower court verdict.

The lower court had ruled that the curfew had been based on legislation designed to cover emergencies such as a dyke breach, and said that there was no question of similar urgency in the case of coronavirus.

However, the appeal court said that the current circumstances can be considered ‘extraordinary’ and this made the introduction of the curfew an option. ‘The coronavirus pandemic is sufficient cause,’ the court said.

‘The court is also of the opinion that introducing a curfew is proportional, given other measures are not available,’ the judges said in their ruling.

‘The (temporary and limited) infringement of various fundamental rights, such as the right to freedom of movement, is therefore justified.’ Last week’s legal wrangling led the government to bring in emergency legislation to anchor the curfew in law, which has now been passed by both houses of parliament.

Friday’s ruling means that the 33,000 fines handed out to people for breaking the curfew, which runs from 9pm to 4.30am, remain in place. Campaign group Viruswaarheid, which brought the case against the curfew, said they will appeal to the Supreme Court and, possibly, bring a new case against the new legislation.

(DutchNews)

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Scholarship agreement with Lipscomb University renewed

SABA (THE BOTTOM) - The Public Entity Saba and Lipscomb University from Nashville, Tennessee have extended their collaboration with the signing of a four-year scholarship agreement. This agreement succeeds the first one of May 2017.

The scholarships agreement, signed by Saba Commissioner of Education Bruce Zagers and Lipscomb University Vice President for Enrollment Management Byron Lewis earlier this month, supports Saban students who are approved for their study grant at the Dutch Education Execution Department DUO and who enroll at Lipscomb University.

The scholarship agreement is valid for four successive academic years, from 2021 up to an including 2025. Under the agreement, Lipscomb University will match the study grant that Saban students receive from DUO. Saban students who enroll at the university receive a one-time gift from the Public Entity Saba in the form of a laptop.

The university provides assistance to the Saban students, including securing adequate living facilities during their period of study and transportation to and from the airport at the beginning and conclusion of each semester.

Saba and Lipscomb University have a long-standing relationship that goes back to the friendship with the Thomas family from Tennessee. Students of the university have been visiting Saba at least twice a year for more than 10 years. The annual summer camp with plenty activities, organized by the Lipscomb University, is very popular among Saban children.

Lauren Risley (25) is a former Lipscomb University student who came to Saba since 2014 when she was a freshman in college studying exercise science, and now works on the island as project leader public health and sports at the Public Health Department. She knows from first-hand experience how deeply the friendship between Saba and Lipscomb is rooted having come to the island more than 10 times as a student, all the way up to her master’s.

“The children are always asking me when the Lipscomb students are coming. Many friendships have been sealed through the visits of the Lipscomb students. The Lipscomb students keep returning, year after year, and that consistency is important. The children look forward to their visit every time.”

While on Saba, the university students they do special activities with the children like hiking, a basketball night, dodgeball games, an ice cream social gathering and on the last night there is a grand finale with a show on stage and a potluck dinner.

Asked about the importance of this deep-rooted relationship, Risley said: “Lots of children on Saba grew up with the Lipscomb students. So, when these children go to study in the United States, it is nice that they can go to a familiar place where they feel comfortable.”

Lipscomb University is a private Christian liberal arts institution that had a total enrollment of close to 4,900 students in the fall 2020. Several Saban students go to Nashville every year to enroll in this university which has more than 175 undergraduate majors and minors and offers a 60 master’s degree program.

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International students harder hit by corona restrictions, survey shows

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The majority of foreign students who have come to the Netherlands to study have been struggling emotionally because of coronavirus measures, a survey by Dutch international education bureau Nuffic has shown.

Over half experienced anxiety, loneliness and boredom during the first half of the academic year when most universities and colleges were closed, while four in 10 experienced feelings of depression.

Students from outside the EU were more likely to struggle emotionally than EU students.

Students who were able to physically attend some classes felt more cheerful, the survey showed, and were more inclined to rate their university or hbo and social life.

‘International students are being hard hit by the coronavirus crisis,’ Nuffic director Freddy Weima said. ‘These students don’t have as big a social network in the Netherlands as their Dutch peers and that makes them vulnerable.

We know universities and hbo colleges are aware of the problem and trying to remedy it. This survey underlines how necessary this is.’ Recent research showed that among the wider population of students some 30,000 to 35,000 students are not coping well because of the restrictions.

At Tuesday’s press conference no further relaxations of the physical attendance rules were announced for students at unversities and hbo colleges. They can, however, take advantage of the greater possibilities to play sports outside via clubs, prime minister Mark Rutte said.

The concerns that international students have in many cases overlap those of Dutch students. Many do not have a quiet place to study, for example. Last year, the number of students from outside the EU dropped by 4%.

However, more European students signed up for a Dutch university course, taking the total increase in foreign student numbers to 13%, university association VNSU said.

(DutchNews)

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WYCCF to continue as a location for administering the COVID-19 vaccine

SINT MAARTEN (GREAT BAY, (DCOMM) – So far, more than 4000 persons have registered to get the COVID-19 vaccine. The administering of the vaccine started this week on Monday, February 22, and has been going very well. A surge in interest in getting the vaccine has been noticeable with the increase in registration.

The procedure at the White and Yellow Cross Care Foundation (WYCCF) went very smoothly and effectively for the last three days. And because the WYCCF offered to continue as vaccination location for cluster 2 (which consists of all registered persons who are 60 years or older), the Vaccine Management Team (VMT) has decided to continue the vaccination at the WYCCF along with CPS.

All registered persons who are 60 years or older will receive an invitation via WhatsApp or email clearly stating the location, date, and time of their vaccination appointment. At present, this will be at the WYCCF or CPS.

The WYCCF is located at St. John’s Estate Road #6, and the Collective Prevention Services (CPS) at the Vineyard Office Park Building, on the W.G. Buncamper Road #33 in Philipsburg.

The Sint Maarten Medical Center (SMMC) has also offered to provide vaccination services for registered persons of the 60+ priority group. Whether they will continue to be a vaccination location has not been decided yet.

The VMT will decide and communicate about vaccination opportunities at SMMC and other vaccination locations, based on ongoing assessment in the beginning and the number of people in the 60+ category registering for the vaccine.

Registering for the vaccine can be done (also if you are under 60 years) by either visiting the online link: https://forms.sintmaartengov.org/form.aspx?v=OGtn05kNmb (which will soon be made available in different languages) or via the paper-based “COVID Vaccine Registration Form” which can be picked up at several locations, including CPS at the Vineyard Office Park Building, the Division of Labor Affairs at the Simpson Bay Public Service Center in Simpson Bay, Doctors’ offices, the Government Administration Building, and select pharmacies. Completed forms with an attached copy of your ID can be dropped off at the CPS office.

People who have questions about underlying conditions regarding the vaccine are advised to consult their family physician.

Other questions about vaccination can be emailed to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call CPS at 914.

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Reopen cafe terraces, MPs and Amsterdam’s mayor urge ministers

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – A majority of MPs have called on the caretaker government to look into the option of allowing cafe terraces to reopen under strict conditions.

During Wednesday’s debate on the latest coronavirus developments – including the decision to allow secondary schools to reopen and to extend the curfew – MPs urged ministers to take more steps to help the hospitality industry.

Pieter Heerma, who chairs the CDA parliamentary party, said that last weekend – when the spring sunshine hit – takeaway outlets had to cope with long queues of people ordering drinks and snacks. ‘Would it not be safer and easier to regulate if terraces can open again?’ he said.

MPs have now agreed that ministers should look at the options ahead of the next press conference on March 8. Amsterdam’s mayor Femke Halsema has also called on the government to relax the rules for cafes.

‘I would call on the cabinet to look at opening the terraces in March, so we can better regulate public spaces,’ she told the Parool newspaper. ‘Or think about outside spaces which people move through, like the zoo.

People want to see others, and the safest place to do it is outdoors.’ Prime minister Mark Rutte told MPs later in the debate that opening cafe terraces is ‘not going to happen’. It would not be sensible at this stage in the pandemic, Rutte said.

Government help

The cabinet has also agreed to increase the maximum amount which companies can claim in help for paying regular bills to €550,000 for medium and small firms, and to €600,000 for large companies.

Shopkeepers can also claim more help with paying unsold and stockpiled products which cannot be sold because of the lockdown.

(DutchNews)

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R4CR wrapping up info sessions Quick Win Round 2. Call for proposals March 1 to April 2

SINT MAARTEN (PHILIPSBURG) - The Resources 4 Community Resilience (R4CR) program recently held four information sessions for the “Quick Win” Round 2 call for proposals. These information sessions were held in-person to allow CSO’s (Civil Society Organizations) to get acquainted with the local R4CR staff but also to pose their questions in person and receive direct feedback.

The information sessions were staggered to give interested persons the choice between an early session (starting at 18:00) or later session (starting at 19:30). Due to COVID-19 restrictions each in-person session was limited to a maximum of 10 attendees.

“We were very happy with the turnout which averaged approximately 9 persons per session but moreover, elated to meet the people behind the CSO’s in person” said Rolf Hunink, R4CR Team Leader.

The R4CR program includes a grant scheme as funding mechanism for community and social rehabilitation initiatives on Sint Maarten and focuses on improving the capacity of local CSO’s in reconstruction and resilience activities post hurricane Irma.

The R4CR program is financed by the Government of the Netherlands via the Sint Maarten Trust Fund. The latter is administered by the World Bank and implemented by the NRPB (National Recovery Program Bureau).

The grant scheme will be active for four years and will provide grants to local CSO’s (formerly known as NGO’s) to execute projects focused on reconstruction, resilience, and improved service provision. Project activities by registered CSO’s can cover subject categories such as neighborhood initiatives, sports/recreation, nature/environment, culture, poverty relief, day care centers/after school programs, youth employment, skills development, psycho-social support and gender-based violence.

“The Quick Win Rounds are designed for projects that can be completed within 6 months on a moderate budget” explained Chi Hing Roger, R4CR Financial expert, during one of the information sessions.

Quick Win Round 1 started in September 2020. Twelve projects were selected with a total budget of $452,481. Those projects are currently being implemented. The second (and final) Quick Win Round will have a total budget of $750,000 with a maximum of $60,000 per project.

“Our official call for proposals will start on March 1, 2021 and the deadline to submit a project proposal will be April 2, 2021. We will evaluate the incoming proposals on a rolling basis, so it is important to submit projects proposals in a timely manner not to miss out on the chance for funding” concluded Chi Hing Roger

The final information session for Quick Win Round 2 will be held online via Zoom on Saturday February 27 from 11:00am to 11:45 am.

Interested persons or organizations can register for the information session by sending an email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . For more information about the R4CR program or an overview of all current projects please visit www.r4cr.org or the Facebook page (R4CRSXM).

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