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Soualiga Newsday Focus (1434)

Ministry of VSA: Permit requests for medical professionals must meet law criteria

SINT MAARTEN (POND ISLAND) - The Minister of VSA Emil Lee has expressed concern from a recent media broadcast that suggested that the Ministry is not being pro-active in the recruitment of a psychiatrist for the Mental Health Foundation. 

Minister Lee took the opportunity to clarify that it is not the role of the Ministry to source or find medical professionals for institutions. The Ministry of VSA has two specific roles; from a public health and policy perspective, the Ministry ensures that the quality and standards of care are sufficient; the Ministry also has a regulatory function, which the Inspectorate executes. 

The Mental Health Foundation is one of our local health care institutions currently facing challenges with the recruitment of qualified health care professionals. The Ministry of VSA is in ongoing consultation with the MHF regarding their recruitment process, obstacles and the permitting procedures. 

The MHF has made known to the Ministry that their financial conditions pose an additional challenge in the recruitment of qualified professionals that meet the standards of Sint Maarten laws. 

“We have historically done everything we can to facilitate the Mental Health Foundation. We recognize the value of mental health, especially after hurricane Irma. Post-Irma, the Ministry was contacted with a donation for three vehicles, to which the Ministry in turn made the donation to the Mental Health Foundation. At the time the foundation was leasing vehicles at a sum of around USD$ 25.000,- per year. The donation was made in recognition of their financial need, in an effort to help them save money. Another action of the Ministry is that the request of the MHF for a new building is being reviewed to see if it can be a project funded by the World Bank. We are doing this because we recognize that they have issues with their current building size and structure.” - Emil Lee, Minister of VSA

The Ministry does recognize the indicated need by the MHF and a proposed solution to the MHF has been to seek out health care professionals from the EU or BIG registered countries. 

This approach could yield more suitable candidates, with a higher chance of meeting the criteria of Sint Maarten laws. It is often the case that institutions seek out more economically beneficial recruitment routes; however, the Ministry stands firm in its obligation to process requests within the confines of the law.

An example of some of the criteria of the application process:

-        Have to be registered with the licensing authority in the country that they are currently practicing

-        Education equivalent to Dutch standard

-        Letter of good medical conduct (not older than 3 months)

The Ministry of VSA has the responsibility to adhere to legislation as it pertains to registering health care professionals to practice and service the population of Sint Maarten. 

This is governed by the national ordinance regulating the execution of healthcare which outlines the conditions and criteria of health care professionals willing to serve on Sint Maarten. In order for the Ministry to serve the population, especially on matters such as health care, it cannot be careless and must ensure that permits are granted based on screening protocols set by law, for public safety.

The Ministry often sees requests for permits that simply do not meet the criteria’s set in our laws. While it is always the mission to work within the boundaries of the law, when facts are presented that do not allow us to move forward within our legal limits, permits are not granted. These outcomes are discussed with our stakeholders and we trust that they share our interest in not only compliance to the laws, but the commitment to public safety. 

“I am bound by the laws that are in place for our country. We struggle sometimes with finding the balance and this is why we are working on our Sint Maarten BIG registry, our registration requirements and how we can improve our process. But in the meantime, we need to find the balance in flexibility and ease as well as the quality and public safety.”    

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Geerlings offers payment plan on unpaid taxes to ease the pressure on businesses

SINT MAARTEN (POND ISLAND) - Times are still “tough for everyone” and in recognition of this reality, Finance Minister the Honourable Perry Geerlings has decided to offer an extension of the deadline for payment of outstanding taxes or create a payment arrangement for businesses if it is proven that they cannot meet their tax obligation on a timely basis. 

Beginning Thursday this week business owners can visit the Reciever's Office in Philipsburg to make their request. 

The Finance Minister issued the instruction to (the tax office more particularly) his Ministry this week with a guideline stipulating that the term of a payment arrangement or an extension of payment is limited to between four (4) and 18 months. 

The offer applies to businesses who presently have outstanding taxes owed to the Government of St. Maarten. However, the extension or payment arrangement option will only be granted upon request, and each application will be thoroughly evaluated.

If a payment arrangement is granted, the particular businesses with outstanding Tax payments will have the option to make their payments 

in installments over a period of four to eighteen months. If the company is granted a delay of payment, they will be given a new date when they would have to make the full payment of their outstanding taxes to the government. 

Geerlings made the decision to ease some of the financial burdens on the society considering that the island has still not recovered from the devastation caused by the hurricanes of 2017. He said, "This option gives some leeway to those businesses, who at this time are still suffering the financial consequences of the hurricanes of 2017. It gives society more time to settle their debts in these difficult times." 

The Tax Department would take into account the time the company filed their taxes, their financial circumstances and means along with the extent to which there is certainty that the business will be able to meet their financial obligation to the government if they were granted a payment delay or offered a payment plan. 

In extreme cases, Geerlings said that the maximum term has been set at 18 months but only if the circumstances of the businesses are justified.

Under normal circumstances, all taxpayers should make their payments to the Receiver's Office by the 15thof each month as they become due and payable one day later. This is usually the case for Turnover and other Taxes. Under these same circumstances, businesses would receive a penalty for late filing and payment of their taxes. However, once you have made a request to pay at a later date and that request has been granted, the penalty for paying later will be waived.

The Ministry of Finance is urging all other businesses whose normal operation has been resumed post-Irma to continue paying their taxes as prescribed by law.  

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COCI Kicks Off COCI-2U Campaign Optimizing Outreach and Services to the Business Community

SINT MAARTEN (PHILIPSBURG) – St. Maarten Chamber of Commerce & Industry (COCI) Executive Director Anastacio Baker on Tuesday said that in connection with the COCI’s 40thanniversary marking its establishment forty years ago this week, the Chamber is continuously looking at improving its services towards the business community.

As of March 13, COCI will introduce a new service called, COCI 2U.  This service entails COCI going to the business establishment after a request has been made for an excerpt and delivering aforementioned document and at the same time picking up of annual fees due, among other Chamber to Business related matters.

The process entails the customer contacting COCI either by telephone, fax, email or via Facebook with their request.  COCI will then proceed to prepare the document (s) requested and deliver them to the customer.  Payment could be made by cash, check or credit card, and a receipt of payment will be provided to the customer on the spot by the COCI representative.  

“This service is being introduced due to the traffic congestion on the public roads and the lack of parking especially in the Philipsburg area.  With these daily challenges, the Chamber is well cognizant of these and therefore seeks ways and means to make it easier for the business community to be able to utilize the services offered by COCI.

“The business owner or manager does not have to leave the establishment and get bogged down in traffic or finding parking.  It’s fast and simple, COCI 2U” Baker said on Tuesday.

The Simpson Bay Public Center is also a venue that businesses can make use of in requesting documents and making their annual fee payment. 

COCI in connection with its 40thanniversary has decided to waive outstanding dues before 2014, only if a company owes for the period 2015-2019, that they pay for that period in order to be current.  This special promotion is valid for a four-month period and will end June 31, 2019.

COCI also plans within short to select a business owner to travel to SeatradeCruiseGlobal conference and expo next month in Miami, Florida as part of the organizations 40thanniversary celebrations.

SeatradeCruiseGlobal is considered the cruise industry’s most significant worldwide event which will take place from April 8-11 at the Miami Beach Convention Center bringing together approximately 11,000 professionals.

“The cruise industry is pivotal to the economic development of the country. We have clearly experienced for ourselves the fundamental role played by Port St. Maarten right after the passing of Irma in September 2017.  

“The port and stakeholders worked with the cruise industry to get the destination ready for the first cruise ship visit and this was accomplished three-months in the aftermath of Irma.  Since then, the destination has grown to where we received in 2018 close to 1.6 million cruise passengers within 13-months.

“COCI would like to give the opportunity to a local business to promote its services and products to the cruise industry. At the same time, this business gets the exposure and experience of being at an international conference/expo which further leads to innovation and expansion opportunities.  We are here to facilitate the business sector which in turn benefits the economy of the country,” COCI Executive Director Anastacio Baker said on Tuesday.   

Additional information with respect to this will be released next week.

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Attacking emergency service workers should always result in jail, minister agrees

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Justice minister Sander Dekker plans to amend the law covering violence against emergency service workers to make sure that simply threatening to attack an official  results in jail time rather than community service. 

The measure, proposed by MPs from the anti-immigration PVV and the ruling VVD and CDA, would expand the list of crimes which cannot be punished by a fine or community service to include all attacks on the police, firemen and ambulance workers, even if no-one is injured. 

‘This sort of violence has a lot of impact on the victim, his surroundings and colleagues, and thereby reaches society at large,’ Dekker said. ‘It also shows a lack of respect for the work that these people do, often in difficult circumstances.’ 

Ultimately, it will be up to judges to decide on the appropriate punishment, Dekker said. They will still be able to sentence people who attack the police to community service sentences alongside a term in prison.  (DutchNews)

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Stand-off over Amsterdam Islamic school continues, Muslim groups get involved

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Islamic organisations in the Netherlands have called on the board of Amsterdam’s only Islamic high school to resign following claims by the security service that members of the board had links to terrorist organisations. 

Six organisations, including the Islamic school organisation ISBO, have urged the board to stand down. ‘We note that individual interests are being placed above the importance of ensuring good, Islamic secondary education,’ the letter said.

A great deal of effort has been put into improving standards at Islamic schools in recent years and a growing number are now classed as ‘excellent’ by inspectors, the organisations pointed out. 

The Cornelius Haga Lyceum leaders should therefore resign in the interests of the school’s pupils and the children of Amsterdam, the letter said. The school opened its doors in 2017, despite efforts by both the city council and the education ministry to prevent it from opening. 

The then education minister Sander Dekker had refused to allocate funding for the school, because a former board member was alleged to have shown support for IS on Facebook. 

Now the AIVD claims that pupils at the school are being influenced by staff with terrorist connections. The AIVD says that between 2009 and 2012 these leaders were linked to a militant jihadi organisation called Caucasus Emirate which is based in the south west of Russia and is responsible for several terrorist attacks in Russia itself. 

Funding 

Amsterdam’s mayor Femke Halsema has now frozen all funding to the school until the entire board resign. In a briefing to the city council, the mayor said that the children’s safe and democratic development cannot be guaranteed because the school is operating in parallel to society. 

Halsema and Amsterdam’s education alderman Marjolein Moorman are due to hold closed talks with parents and pupils on Tuesday evening. Despite calls for the school to be closed down, this will be extremely difficult under Dutch freedom of education rules, the NRC points out. City officials were similarly powerless when the board of orthodox Jewish school Cheider refused to quit after a sexual abuse scandal.  (DutchNews)

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National themes, national gov’t dominate provincial election debate

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The first of several scheduled debates in the run up to the March 20 provincial elections took place in front of RTL’s cameras on Thursday night and was dominated by national themes and national parliamentary party leaders. 

The environment, a carbon tax for heavy industry, calls for a ban on fireworks and even Zwarte Piet came on board during the debate, which was attended by the leaders of the eight biggest parties in the national polls. 

The 500 members of the 12 provincial councils will go on to elect the 75 members of the senate in May, and the current coalition is almost certain to lose its majority. This means opposition parties are using the election as an informal referendum on the cabinet. 

During the debate, PVV leader Geert Wilders and the SP’s Lilian Marijnissen made it clear that they would not help the coalition to pass controversial issues in the senate on any grounds. 

Labour leader Lodewijk Asscher too said he would not support the government in the senate unless it underwent ‘an enormous change in course’ and picked up issues close Labour’s heart. 

Debutants

The NRC points out that it was the first time three of the party leaders – D66’s Rob Jetten, FvD’s Thierry Baudet and the VVD’s Klaas Dijkhoff – had been involved in such a television format. 

Jetten, the paper said, had obviously done his homework and tried to be dominant. Baudet, who first moaned that others would not let him speak, came back after the first break and refused to let Jesse Klaver get a word in edgeways, the paper said. 

In its review, the Financieele Dagblad said that the well-rehearsed one-liners were interspersed with ‘sharp arguments’. Baudet, the paper said, described the government’s plans to tackle climate change as ‘bizarre, absurd and impossible’ to which Klaver responded: ‘total nonsense, but you say it with such flair that it is almost believable.’ (DutchNews)

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Police raid ‘arrests policeman’: NOS

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – One of the suspects arrested in a police raid into criminal networks and housing fraud earlier this week was a police employee, reports the NOS. 

The man, named by media as Donovan A., reportedly worked in an advisory role in the facilities management team. He is suspected of money laundering, has been suspended and is subject to an internal police investigation, according to the NOS. 

The raid of 35 locations in the area of Ypenburg on Tuesday morning discovered millions of euros in cash, five weapons and 14 cars. Police made 18 arrests, one of whom was reportedly one of their own members of staff. (DutchNews)

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100 neglected dogs rescued from breeder, found in filthy conditions

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Around 100 dogs have been confiscated from a breeder in Deventer after they were found in a severely neglected state. 

The dogs, ranging from Rhodesian ridgebacks to Jack Russell terriers had untreated wounds, hip problems and matted coats and some were found to be suffering from parasites. 

They were living in filthy conditions. The dogs also showed serious signs of stress and were afraid of humans. While efforts will be made to resocialise the dogs and find them new homes, in a worst-case scenario, a dog may have such severe problems that it may have to be put down, animal protection group Dierenbescherming said. 

The raid followed a visit to the breeder by animal protection inspectors on February 22. That in itself was a follow-up inspection to one carried out last July when the owner was ordered to take steps to improve conditions. 

The inspectors will go to court next week to request the owner be banned from breeding or owning dogs for life.  (DutchNews)

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Russian money laundering machine shifted millions through the Netherlands

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – A money laundering operation which moved billions of euros out of Russia shifted part of the cash through the Netherlands, the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project said on Monday. 

In total, almost €1bn of the money ended up in the Netherlands, some of which was used to buy two luxury yachts, said the research project, which includes Trouw and the Groene Amsterdammer magazine plus Dutch investigative journalism collective Investico. 

The OCCRP says Troika Dialog, once Russia’s largest private investment bank, channeled billions of dollars out of Russia from 2004 via a network of 70 offshore companies with accounts in Lithuania. 

The two Lithuanian banks were closed down in 2011 and 2013. The scheme was discovered in a collection of 1.3 million banking transactions and other documents obtained by OCCRP and the Lithuanian news site 15min.lt, which stem from the two Lithuanian banks. 

Some of the money was channeled into the Netherlands via the Amsterdam Trade Bank (ATB) and Turkey’s GarantiBank. ATB, part of Russia’s Alfa Bank, is already involved in corruption investigations. 

Smaller amounts were moved through ING and ABN Amro, the Groene Amsterdammer said. ‘The million-euro payments came from the Troika Bank and had many signs of money laundering,’ the magazine said. 

In addition, €43m went to the Rabobank account of luxury yacht builder Heesen, according to Dutch investigative news collective Investico. ‘How could all this happen under the watchful eye of the central bank DNB?’ the magazine asked. 

‘Banks are banned from carrying out transactions if they don’t know who profits, but, the central bank says, banks often have no idea who is really hiding behind anonymous companies.’ 

The central bank declined to answer specific questions about the claims, the Groene Amsterdammer said.(DutchNews)

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Freelancers more likely than regular employees to earn poverty wages

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – An increasing number of the self-employed risk ending up living below the poverty line, the national statistics office CBS said on Tuesday. 

The CBS considers someone is at risk of living in poverty if they earn less than €1,040 after tax as a single person, or €1,960 for a family with two children. In 2013 some 250,000 working people were in such a position and that total had declined in the years up to 2017. 

But in 2017, the last year for which the CBS has figures, the number of freelancers with a very low income was rising again. In 2017, 1.6% of people with a permanent contract were on a very low income, down from 2.3% in 2013. 

The freelance poverty rate, which had fallen from 10.6% to 8.1%, rose again in 2017 to 8.6%, the CBS said. ‘Freelance income is always a little more precarious than that of people in traditional jobs because the number of jobs they get fluctuates,’ CBS chief economist Peter Hein van Mulligen told broadcaster NOS. 

‘However, freelancer usually benefit more from economic growth than people in regular jobs. That effect would now appear to be over.’  (DutchNews)

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