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Soualiga Newsday Focus (1712)

Government advice body recommends 30% quotas for female leadership

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – A government policy advisory group has called for compulsory quotas to make company leadership a fairer reflection of society.

The SER on Friday published its call for “firm rules” and a new approach to improve diversity to make it “the new normal” to have as many women as men in top roles, as well as plenty of people with a non-Western background.

It proposed that the top 100 Dutch listed companies should be forced to make 30% of positions on their supervisory boards available for female candidates at risk of German-style sanctions, sacking other board members.

Mariëtte Hamer, chairperson of the SER, told the NOS broadcaster that a 2013 law asking companies to ‘strive’ for a fairer reflection of society has not been successful. ‘It has had no discernible effect, the number of women is static and cultural diversity isn’t growing at all so something really needs to change,’ she said.

‘Supervisory boards must have 30% women, if they don’t they must appoint a woman, and if they fail to do this, other appointments will be annulled.’ The business association the VNO NCW has come out in support of a quota for the first time too.

Hans de Boer, chairman, told the NOS: ‘We should have been able to sort this out ourselves, but now women in the VNO NCW management are saying this has to happen.

‘I think we have a good solution: large companies need a quota and all others need their own initiatives to get more women in the pipeline.’ Earlier this year equal opportunities minister Ingrid van Engelshoven aimed to ‘name and shame’ large companies with a lack of women at board level, saying only 13 of the largest 200 met the government target and that their excuses were often ‘pathetic’.

However, in August, government think tanks the CPB and SCP claimed that such a quota would not boost profitability, based on results in other countries.

Their report suggested more should be done to address stereotypes within companies, change a ‘part-time culture’ of work amongst Dutch women and look at whether women were more risk or competition averse, despite young women being better educated than men. It did not consider whether management positions could be shared or carried out in reduced hours.

(DutchNews)

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Thin pickings for opposition parties in budget debate as Rutte holds firm

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Prime minister Mark Rutte has made few concessions to opposition parties during two days of debate on the government’s 2020 spending plans and dismissed calls for more money for education and the police.

In addition, the prime minister said he is reluctant to use corporation tax cuts as a lever to encourage industry to put up wages – a threat he had made earlier this year.

All parties were unanimous during the debate that industry should put up wages by 5% to reflect economic growth and the increase in dividend payments to shareholders.

The two days of debate were overshadowed by the murder of lawyer Derk Wiersum, which Rutte described as an ‘attack on the rule of law’.

But he refused to increase spending on the police, as demanded by opposition parties, and argued that more money had already been allocated to boosting the size of the police force and tackling organised crime.

In addition, the cabinet has no more cash available for education, Rutte said. Talks on a new pay deal for teachers stalled in June and a new lump sum would only be on the table if agreement on salaries is reached, Rutte said.

The government did agree to spend an additional structural €26m on specialist centres for youngsters with multiple problems, such as autism, addiction or self-harm.

(DutchNews)

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Security beefed up for gangland killing legal team after lawyer is murdered

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Justice minister Ferd Grapperhaus is to meet public prosecution department officials and lawyers’ representatives on Thursday morning to discuss yesterday’s ‘unprecedented’ murder of a lawyer involved in a gangland killing case.

Derk Wiersum, who was representing Nabil B, a key witness in the case against gangland boss Ridouan Taghi, was shot dead in Amsterdam on Wednesday morning outside his home.

Last year Nabil B’s brother was also shot dead, in what is thought to have been a warning to Nabil not to testify. The aim of the meeting is to try to decide what more can be done to guarantee the safety of lawyers involved in cases of this kind, Grapperhaus told reporters.

The chief public prosecutor Fred Westerbeke told current affairs show Nieuwsuur on Wednesday evening that measures have also been taken to protect everyone involved in the case against Taghi.

The counter terrorism unit NCTV is also involved in the investigation into the murder. Westerbeke told Nieuwsuur that Wiersum had discussed safety issues with officials and that some steps had been taken but that murder had not been one of the scenarios under consideration.

Dark phase

The AD says in an analysis that the killing of a lawyer marks the beginning of a ‘new, dark phase’ and shows that the underworld is prepared to directly attack the rule of law.

Lawyers, public prosecutors and judges go about their business unguarded, the paper said. ‘The Netherlands is, or was, a country in which the prime minister cycles to work,’ the paper said.

Yet despite Grapperhaus’ anger at the killing, he is also aware that the underworld is tightening its grip on society and that a quarter of the country’s mayors have been threatened by criminals, the paper points out.

(DutchNews)

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Beating organised crime is complex but the fight will be won: Dutch PM

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The battle against organised crime is complicated but will ultimately be won, prime minister Mark Rutte told parliament on Thursday.

Speaking during two days of debate on the government’s 2020 spending plans, Rutte referred to the murder on Wednesday of lawyer Derk Wiersum, who was shot dead near his home on the southern edge of Amsterdam.

Wiersum was defending a crown witness in a complicated drugs-related gangland killing trial. ‘Our opponent is not making things easier. The battle is complicated, but we will win,’ Rutte said.

Everyone involved in the legal system, he said, should be able to do their work in complete safety. The prime minister also made a direct appeal to recreational drug users who, he said, should consider the implications of taking a pill at a festival or sniffing cocaine at the weekend.

‘Many things are permitted in the Netherlands, but if you do this, you are contributing to the chain which is undermining the rule of law,’ the prime minister said. The prime minister was echoing Dutch police chief Erik Akerboom who told an international conference on drugs last year that weekend users are supporting violent crime.

There is a ‘hard and brutal world lurking behind that ‘innocent seeming’ little line or pill’, the police chief said.

Report

This February influential police union labelled the Netherlands a narco state and at the end of August, a new report commissioned by Amsterdam’s mayor said that the city is unable to tackle drugs-related criminal activity.

Behind the scenes, the report said, the big drugs bosses have no trouble amassing large fortunes in what the Telegraaf called ‘a golden age for the Amsterdam drugs criminals’.

Earlier on Thursday, justice minister Ferd Grapperhaus, who met police chiefs to discuss the situation on Thursday morning, said he backed setting up a specialist police unit to focus on drugs crime.

(DutchNews)

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10 jailed for blowing up ATMs in Belgium, ringleader gets 13 years

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Ten Dutch nationals have been jailed for between three and 13 years for blowing up six cash dispensers in Belgium, broadcaster NOS said on Wednesday.

The six, aged 22 to 32, come from Amsterdam and Utrecht and were known as the Hema gang because they wore Hema waterproofs during the robberies. They are thought to have gotten away with €800,000 in the first four attacks, although some of the cash was marked by paint capsules which exploded in the blasts.

The final two attempts failed. The gang struck six times in 2018 all over Flanders, using gas to make the cash dispensers explode. The Belgian court said they had been lucky that no-one was killed.

(DutchNews)

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Shock and outrage as top lawyer is shot dead in Amsterdam

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Lawyers, the police and politicians have reacted with shock and horror at the ‘unprecedented’ murder of a top criminal lawyer, who was shot dead in Amsterdam on Wednesday morning.

Derk Wiersum was defending a crown witness in a major gangland investigation and there are suggestions there may be a connection with the case. The national terrorism agency NCTV has been drafted in to help with the investigation.

Wiersum was representing Nabil B, a key witness in the case against gangland boss Ridouan Taghi. Taghi is said to be behind a string of killings in Utrecht and Amsterdam in the ongoing the ongoing ‘mocro mafia’ drugs wars.

Last year Nabil B’s brother was also shot dead, in what is thought to have been either a warning to Nabil not to testify or a case of mistaken identity. The shooting happened around 7.30am.

Neighbours reported hearing several shots and the gunman, said to be aged 16 to 20 and dressed in black, made off on foot. According to some witnesses Wiersum was with his wife when he was killed.

Wiersum was a partner in a major Amsterdam law firm and focused on cases involving organised crime. He had previously warned that the public prosecution department is not doing enough to protect crown witnesses.

He was also a part-time judge. Flowers have been left by well-wishers at the door of the law firm where he worked.

Prime minister Mark Rutte and legal affairs minister Sander Dekker said they are extremely shocked by the killing and Amsterdam mayor Femke Halsema has called an emergency meeting of police chiefs and justice ministry officials.

‘This case has the highest priority,’ the mayor said. ‘Details are still sketchy so we must be careful about drawing conclusions, but it is shocking that such a thing can happen in our democracy.

‘We wish his family and colleagues much strength at this difficult time,’ the Dutch bar association said in a statement. National police chief Erik Akerboom described the murder as brutal. ‘This brutal murder has broken new boundaries,’ he said. ‘Now people just doing their job would not appear to be safe.’

(DutchNews)

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2020 budget: the main points in the government’s spending plans

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – A youth parliament to give youngsters a voice in political developments, €2bn to stimulate local councils and housing corporations to build more homes and the introduction of company bike – as opposed to car – schemes are among the government’s plans for 2020.

Here are the main points:

Taxes and income

Spending power to rise across the board, people in jobs will benefit most Tax on cigarettes and rolling tobacco will rise by €1 on April 1 More parents to qualify for extra child benefits, cost to the cabinet €500m From July 1, new fathers to get five weeks paternity leave, paid at 70% of salary* The state pension (AOW) age will remain 66 years and four months* Employers will pay lower jobless benefit (ww) premiums for workers on permanent contracts, more for people on flexible contracts*

Healthcare benefits to rise €67 a year for single people, €95 for couples The tax on energy will rise but bills will be cut by €100 for the average household via a tax back scheme Tax break for freelancers to be reduced from €7,030 to €5,000 by 2028*

Healthcare

€50m on top of earlier announced €370 to train healthcare workers More money for family doctors and psychiatric care €1bn up to 2021 for youth social services Maximum ceiling for drugs prices to be reduced by changing calculation method and pressuring manufacturers

Transport

Investment in roads to reach almost €3bn, including A9 and A1 improvements €100m to keep shipping lanes properly maintained Introduction of company bike schemes for commuters from January 2020 €100m to boost the sale of second hand electric cars up to 2024 €2.6bn for the railways, including new safety systems Introduction of more ‘train every 10 minutes’ services

Education

€333m to reduce pressure on primary school teachers, €270m for salaries* University and college fees to remain at 50% for the first year More money for trade schools and for pre-school projects in disadvantaged areas €15m to support gifted children €5m to stimulate diversity in science

Home affairs

€1bn to the six big cities to enable local authorities to speed up housing construction €1bn to lower taxes paid by housing corporations Threshold for social housing to rise to €42,000 for a couple Tenants to earn too much for social housing to face rent increases of up to €100 a month €50m to develop a clean air agreement with local and provincial governments A ‘youth parliament’ to give youngsters a voice in politics will be established New rules will be introduced for political party (online) campaigning

Defence

Defence spending to reach €11bn or 1.35% of GDP Investment in defence staff recruitment to solve 8,000 structural shortages Better contracts, investment in equipment Strengthening of national cybersecurity by increasing the capacity of the military intelligence service MIVD and the Defense Cyber Command

Justice and security

More tools for police and the public prosecutor to confiscate criminal earnings Fines for internet providers if online child pornography is not removed from servers and computers within 24 hours €95m extra for courts More limits on access to free legal advice and support* Sanctions for people who launch cyber-attacks A structural €65m to speed up asylum procedures and extra €35m in 2020 Structural deals with other European countries on accommodating refugees to make sure the protection of refugees is the same European wide Prevention of illegal immigration and people trafficking in cooperation with the countries of passage in North Africa

Climate and nature

Further develop plans to phase out the use of gas in private homes* More experiments to deal with excess rainwater €300m a year up to 2030 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and €60m for innovation and pilot projects €80m to stimulate circularity in construction projects

Economic affairs

A €7.5m investment in new technologies, such as solar cells, artificial intelligence and biotechnology in 2020, and an annual €10m from 2021 €65m to be made available to start-ups between 2019 and 2023 to be distributed via the TechLeap NL programme A stronger market position for farmers by preventing unfair trading practices Promotion of circular farming *Announced earlier

(DutchNews)

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Modest economic growth ahead, says king at state opening of parliament

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – King Willem-Alexander outlined the government’s plans for the coming years at the official opening of the new parliamentary year on Tuesday.

In his seventh speech from the throne, the king said that the country is entering a period of ‘modest’ economic growth. ‘Our internationally oriented economy is vulnerable to turbulence on the global market, not least as a consequence of trade conflicts,’ the king said.

‘What is more, the prospect of Brexit casts a long shadow.’ ‘This means a ‘profit warning’ is in order, both for the short and the long term, requiring us to think about how the Netherlands will earn its living in the future and remain a country with good public services.’

The ending of World War II was a common theme throughout the speech. ‘Of course, as we start to celebrate 75 years since our liberation, we are all the more aware of the degree to which prosperity and well-being in the Netherlands depend on what happens in the rest of the world,’ the king said.

And those who look at developments elsewhere in the world, will realise how special it is to live in a country where people feel safe, the king continued. Key to the cabinet’s plans this year are to give people security in terms of work and a decent income, the king said.

The recent pension and climate agreements are part of the process of making the economy ready for the future, in the way that the Afsluitdijk dyke and the Delta Works flood defences did years ago.

US and Brexit

The king also turned to the ‘old and cherished partnerships’ with the United States and the United Kingdom which, he said, are being redefined. ‘Global free trade is under threat from protectionism and trade conflicts.

The Netherlands and Europe must respond with self-assurance and realism.’ While transatlantic cooperation and the European Union are the cornerstones of Dutch foreign policy ‘many aspects of the post-war multilateral system are in urgent need of modernisation’, the king said.

‘Examples include international protection of intellectual copyright, cybersecurity and the effectiveness of decision-making at the UN and the World Trade Organisation.’

Key to the Dutch position, he said, are security, a strong and sustainable European economy, a common climate policy, respect for the rule of law, and last but not least, an effective policy on migration.

Migration

‘It is true that the number of migrants coming to Europe has fallen dramatically compared with 2015. But the sustained pressure on Europe’s external border, the appalling fate of many migrants who try to cross the Mediterranean and the lack of solidarity among EU member states all require that we take new steps.

Every country must do its part.’ The king ended with a reference to a 96-year-old member of the resistance who, the king said, had stated recently that ‘I feel a responsibility to pass the message to younger generations that you must engage in resistance if necessary.’

‘As a young man this hero put his life on the line for the future of our nation,’ the king said. ‘And now, 75 years later, the future is still what drives him. That is not only inspiring – it is a task we all share.’

(DutchNews)

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Fire Department Caribbean Netherlands organizes training week on Bonaire

BONAIRE - The Caribbean Netherlands Fire Department (BKCN) is organizing a training week on Bonaire from September 16th through 20th with practical exercises of major fires and other calamities.

BKCN continuously focuses on providing training for all staff, with the aim to have a professional fire department with well-educated and trained firefighters. Training and practice often takes place in or around the barracks, but sometimes it is necessary to do this at other locations as well.

In this training week for on-duty officers, training is provided for all (greater) risks that may occur in the Caribbean Netherlands: company fires, incidents with hazardous substances, accidents at the airport and / or with cruise ships, tropical storms, etc.

These days, therefore, Bonaire is (fictionally) the scene of major fires, explosions and other calamities, where practice will be as realistic as possible.

There will be practice at three different locations and the fire brigade will be present with several fire brigade vehicles and personnel.

If residents see the fire brigade in action these days in Kralendijk, this does not necessarily mean that there is something wrong. Warning signs on location will indicate that it is an exercise. The fire brigade will of course do everything in its power to minimize the inconvenience. (RCN Caribbean Netherlands)

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Inspectorate continues to seek feedback from driving candidates and schools

GREAT BAY, Sint Maarten (DCOMM) – The Inspectorate of the Ministry of Tourism, Economic Affairs, Traffic and Telecommunications (TEATT) has taken note of the public relations campaign launched by some concerned Driving Instructors and Driving Schools, with respect to the department’s announcement of the launching of the computer-based testing for the theory portion of the Driving Exam.

They have expressed their beliefs and critiques of the system, which the Inspectorate welcomes. We support the exercise of free speech by these concerned parties and applaud their passion in what we hope is a shared desire to continually improve not only the level of exams administered to the public but also the quality of instruction and more importantly teaching that candidate drivers expect to receive prior to sitting the theoretical test.

The department-hosted meetings with the St. Maarten Consumer Coalition where concerns of both students and driving instructors were tabled.

The Inspectorate based on the tenets of openness, transparency and fairness decided to extend, once again, a 30-day invitation to all driving instructors, schools and their students.

Students and their instructors may visit the department and familiarize or further familiarize themselves with the computer-based theory testing system based on appointment.

Students can take a practice test and become familiar with the type of questions (multiple choice, open-ended and fill-in the blank) and the wording of test questions that will be asked.

There are three test categories (10 questions each) which comprise of: 1) the Road Traffic Ordinance, 2) traffic signs and 3) traffic situations (also previously known as “the board”). 

The passing score is 83.3%, which means you must score 25 out of 30 questions correctly.  The goal is to test the candidate’s knowledge in each of the three test categories and not only one or two. Our aim is to produce a driver with a well-rounded knowledge of the law and not just in key areas.

The minimum passing score (minimum score to pass the test) in countries, as the United Kingdom, The Netherlands and Germany are higher than in St. Maarten, starting at 88%.

In the United States (varies by state) and Canada, the average minimum score to pass a test is 80%. So based on international comparison, St. Maarten is not an outlier when compared with developed countries.

Now, as a testing facility, the Inspectorate understands and empathizes with candidates who may be apprehensive about sitting a test especially if they feel they have not been familiarized with the testing environment prior to taking the test.

The Inspectorate has received feedback from candidates who have taken the theory exam and they have expressed to us that some driving schools are refusing to prepare them for the digital exams.

On the other hand, we have spoken to other driving schools/instructors who have started preparing their students to sit the digital exam. We strongly discourage any driving instructor or school to accept payment for driving instruction if the intention is not to adequately prepare the student to sit the exam (both theoretical and practical).

The Inspectorate also strongly encourages all prospective students to fully vet any driving school prior to making payment (after all, it is your money). That is why, similar to Aruba earlier this year, we are issuing an invitation to all driving students registered with a driving school, who have paid for and have an exam date to come in and sit the practice digital theory test as part of the soft launch. 

In doing so, we are providing candidates with the possibility of taking a practice theory test using the new computer-based system.

Candidate students who fail the practice theory test will not be penalized; you do not lose any of the two chances granted to you by law to take the theory test. We want to allay your fears about the digital theory test and address the negative feedback circulating in the community about it.

It also allows the department to get honest feedback from test takers on the system.  Your driving school/driving instructor must register you to take the practice test by contacting the department for a test date and time.

Candidates must present a valid ID and proof of having an appointment to take an exam when presenting themselves for the practice theory test. The pilot will last for 30 days ending October 14, 2019.

Lastly, the department is also requesting the Driving Instructors who have concerns about the system to document these. We request that you form a committee and collectively provide your feedback in writing to the department by October 14, 2019. 

After your feedback is reviewed, a meeting will be held with you to discuss it. The department will then issue a documented response to you. You can submit this collective feedback in hard copy at Juancho Yrausquin Boulevard #6 during office hours or via email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

In closing, there is a saying, which I think is, applicable here, “In life, change is like a train. You need to ask yourself, am I on the train, am I on the track or am I watching the train go by?” Let us all get on the train, the Inspectorate of TEATTs press release concludes.

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