Focus (2)

Soualiga Newsday Focus (2993)

Cities and provinces call for massive spending to boost new home construction

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The Dutch government needs to spend €1.5bn to €2bn a year to make sure 600,000 new homes are built in the bigger Dutch cities by 2040, according to an alliance of the biggest 16 cities, several provinces, cycling lobby group Fietsersbond and public transport services.

The money needs to be spent on infrastructure, particularly establishing good public transport connections in the areas earmarked for large residential projects, the plan’s backers told broadcaster NOS.

The caretaker cabinet set aside €100m a year for the next 10 years to encourage the construction of more housing and has said that any additional funding must be up to the next administration.

The local authorities also want action on the often conflicting regulations drawn up by central government. ‘One ministry asks for more housing, while another says the land should be used for goods trains,’ a spokesman for Den Bosch told NOS. ‘That leads to red tape and health and safety risks.’

One million homes

In February, an alliance of developers, construction companies, lobby groups, housing corporations and tenants association said that one million new homes need to be built in the the Netherlands in the next 10 years to meet demand.

At the same time, they say, measures are needed to improve neighbourhoods and make the Netherlands’ housing stock more energy efficient. Current government strategy involves realising 75,000 new homes a year though new build and converting other buildings.

However, developers have complained for years about the restrictions on size and price imposed on them by local councils, as well as the high cost of building land.

Old shopping centres

Meanwhile architect and advice bureau KAW said in a new report for the Dutch social housing sector that there is enough room in post World War II neighbourhoods, old shopping centres and on petrol station forecourts to build all one million houses which experts say are needed.

Post war neighbourhoods can absorb some 800,000 while the rest can be built in redundant spaces in urban areas, KAW said. Builders and developers are known to favour developing green field sites because it is easier and cheaper than building in cities.



Caretaker cabinet sets dubious record of longest period in office

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The Dutch cabinet has been acting in a caretaker capacity for 273 days, the longest period in post-World War II parliamentary history, according to the Montesquieu Institute.

The cabinet resigned on January 15 in the wake of the childcare benefit scandal and even though it is six months since the general election, no new coalition has yet been put together.

The previous record dates from 1977, when a caretaker cabinet headed by Joop den Uyl remained in power for 272 days. The four current coalition parties – VVD, D66, CDA and ChristenUnie – are currently in negotiations on forming a new alliance and concrete policy talks are due to start next week.

Cabinets acting in a caretaker capacity are not allowed by convention to implement new policy.



Amsterdam gets tough on cannabis lollies and fake space cake

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Amsterdam is to crack down on the sale of cannabis and magic mushroom-related souvenirs in an effort to ditch the city centre’s druggy image.

The sale of weed biscuits, cannabis lollypops and the like in city centre shops both conflicts with local zoning laws which restrict the sale of souvenirs, and promotes drugs use, city officials say.

In addition, Ilse Griek, a member of the city centre borough council told the Parool, the products are misleading because they don’t contain any illegal drugs. Drug souvenirs used to be sold in tourist shops only but are now appearing in the windows of mini supermarkets and wafel shops, Griek told the paper.

This week, six shops close to Dam square and Rembrandtplein were warned about their window displays, the paper said. Shopkeepers who refuse to remove the banned produces face fines running into thousands of euros and having the goods confiscated.

City councils voted in favour of a motion to halt the sale of cannabis-related tourist products at the end of last year. The checks are part of efforts to make the city centre more attractive to locals, shoppers and companies.

Since 2017 there has been a ban on new shops in the city centre which focus on tourists or sell fast food.



Unions agree pay rises for teachers, but pressure still needs to be tackled

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Teaching unions and employers have reached a pay deal for secondary school teachers, giving them a 1.8% rise, from October. In addition, all full-time school staff will get a one-off bonus of €800 at the end of the year with a proportional payout for part timers.

Despite the agreement, the biggest teaching union AOb says more still needs to be done to reduce the pressure on teachers, and that means the government will have to come up with more money.

Both the AOb and CNV affiliated Onderwijs union say they will lobby the government for more money for education in the coming months. The extra money should be invested in reducing the pressure of work, which in turn will boost standards, the unions say.

Earlier this week, the unions agreed a 2.25% pay rise for primary school staff.



Cinemas most likely to be supported for 18 months of coronavirus

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Four in 10 Dutch companies have received support from the government to deal with the impact of coronavirus over the past 18 months, national statistics agency CBS said on Wednesday.

In total, five different support schemes were open to companies between March 2020 and June 2021, and 162,000 companies made use of either the scheme to help pay wages or fixed costs, or both.

However, just 6% of companies – or 26,000 in total – were given support throughout the pandemic, the CBS said. Cinemas were most likely to be helped – 80% of them were backed financially during the entire period under review.

Theatres, coach tour companies, hotels and restaurants were also more likely to be given continual support. The sixth and final package of support ended on October 1, although night cafes and clubs are still able to claim because of the continuing restrictions they face on both numbers and opening hours.



Amsterdam man arrested for planning attack on Mark Rutte

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Amsterdam police have arrested a 22-year-old man on suspicion of planning an attack on prime minister Mark Rutte, the public prosecution department has confirmed.

The man, named by the Volkskrant as Yavuz O, is said to have placed messages inciting terrorist violence on public Telegram group De Bataafse Republiek and asked for ‘revolutionaries’ to carry out his plans.

The Volkskrant, which broke the story on Tuesday morning, said the man wrote in December 2020 that ‘most Dutch people hate that Rutte’ under a photo of the king with the cabinet.

‘Would you have what it takes to shoot them all? From a car. Open the window. Gun out. And shoot.’ He is also said to have discussed his plans with others, sometimes face to face, and to have spoken about ‘storming parliament’ and shooting Rutte as he cycled outside.

He is also, the paper said, suspected of trying to buy arms. O will appear in court next week for a pro forma hearing. He is accused of inciting terrorism, collecting information in preparation for committing a crime and making terrorist threats.’


Earlier this week, a 42-year-old Dutch national who lives mainly in Spain was jailed for five months, two suspended by a Dutch magistrate for threatening two politicians online.

He wrote on Facebook in September that health minister Hugo de Jonge should look around him every second. ‘I will pay for the first, second and also the last bullet. (…),’ he said.

Later that month he also posted a message aimed at D66 leader Sigrid Kaag: ‘I hereby inform you that I am going to attack Sigrid Kaag before midnight tonight and injure her in such a way that she is either dead or can never do her job again again,’ the man wrote, again on Facebook.

The public prosecution department said that the defendant had crossed the line. ‘This case serves to send a clear signal,’ the department said. ‘It must be clear to everyone that participants in the public debate must not abuse their freedom of expression.

Online threats are not to be tolerated.’


In September, Rutte was given extra personal protection amid concern that gangsters may be plotting to kidnap him. The Telegraaf reported that intelligence agencies acted after ‘spotters’ – people hired by criminal gangs to prepare the ground for an attack or kidnap – were observed in Rutte’s vicinity.

He and other politicians were also reportedly the targets of another alleged terrorist cell in Eindhoven.



Researchers to look into role of Dutch Protestant churches in slavery

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Church and art historians, and theologians at Amsterdam’s VU university are to carry out a major research project into the involvement of Protestant churches in slavery and colonialism, Trouw reported on Tuesday.

The Protestant church organisation PKN is cooperating with the investigation to ‘come clean’ about its past, the paper said. Churches benefited enormously from slavery, via donations from slave and plantation owners, and sometimes missionaries to Suriname were paid in enslaved people.

Visible signs of slavery in churches include gravestone carvings, and caricatures of black people on paintings and stained-glass windows. But the project will also focus on looking at how thoughts about slavery and racism developed within the church itself, theologian Heleen Zorgdrager told the paper.

This summer, the leaders of the four big Dutch cities wrote to parliament urging the next cabinet to do more to shine light on the Netherlands’ ‘hidden and difficult’ slave trade history.

‘The stories of slavery and colonial history must be spoken about openly,’ the council chiefs of Amsterdam, The Hague, Rotterdam and Utrecht are quoted as saying in their letter.

The options include a public holiday on July 1, national research into the country’s colonial past and a specialist agency to combat racism and discrimination in 2023, it will be 150 years since legislation to abolish slavery was actually enacted in the Netherlands.



Council of Europe slams the Netherlands over benefit scandal failings

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The Netherlands needs to overhaul its legislation, implementation and case law if it is to prevent another childcare benefit scandal, according to a confidential report by the European human rights organisation, the Council of Europe.

The report, seen by Trouw and RTL Nieuws, was compiled by the Council’s Venice Commission at the request of MPs following the scandal in which thousands of families were wrongly accused of defrauding the tax office.

They were then ordered to pay back benefits, causing many acute financial problems. The fallout from the scandal eventually brought about the collapse of the government in January this year.

In particular, a culture of holding back information and frustrating attempts at information gathering by MPs representing parties in the coalition government came in for particular criticism.

‘It should be acceptable and normal for coalition MPs to represent parliament as an institution and not be seen as disloyal if they question parliamentary procedure,’ Trouw quoted the report as saying.

Former CDA MP Pieter Omtzigt, who was at the forefront of the battle for justice for the parents, was frequently hampered by the cabinet in his attempts to get to the relevant information.

In order to curb the power of the cabinet, MPs and parliamentary commissions must be given more money and support, the report said. The right to information of the members of the lower house, which is anchored in the constitution, must be ‘practical and effective’, the commission said.

It also said a minority of MPs should be enough to initiate a parliamentary enquiry. Information and criticism should not be swept under the carpet but find its way to the highest level, the commission said.

Tax office

Meanwhile the result of an enquiry into the failings of the tax office in the benefits scandal by two independent lawyers and seen by the NRC is about to land on MPs’ desks.

It shows that details about problems experienced by citizens often remain with the people who staff the tax office phone lines. They were told numerous times by their superiors that ‘this is the law and that is all there is to it’, the paper quoted that report as saying.

The report said the tax office culture is one of fear, where staff are afraid of jeopardising their job if they draw attention to abuses and wrongdoings they had seen.

The report concludes that the ‘emphasis is still on the smooth execution of working processes’ to the detriment of solving people’s problems.

The Council of Europe report also criticised the lower house of parliament in this respect, saying it had not paid enough attention to the basic principles of resonableness and fairness when it helped draw up the benefit system legislation.

Algorithms and judiciary

The use of algorithms and artificial intelligence is another danger to the protection of citizens, the Council said. The system used to identify alleged fraudsters in the benefits scandal was discontinued in 2020 when privacy watchdog Autoriteit Persoonsgegevens (AP) labelled it discriminatory.

The report recommended an annual report from the judiciary to the government and MPs about possible abuses. Last week a committee of judges concluded that judges too had failed citizens by ruling almost unanimously for the tax office when alleged benefit fraud cases came to court.

Despite the critical tone of the report the Council said it had faith in the government’s ability to carry out the necessary reforms.



No dinosaurs, bikinis or Harry Potter: the silent censorship of Dutch school books

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – What do dinosaurs, divorcees and Harry Potter have in common? They’re all censored in many Dutch school books because of pressure from religious communities, according to an investigation by the NRC.

The largest educational publishers in the Netherlands, including Malmberg, Zwijssen and Noordhoff, have drawn up lists of ‘sensitive’ subjects in consultation with groups such as the Reformed Churches’ Parents’ Association (ROV).

According to the NRC the extensive guidelines are not limited to respectful depictions of God and other deities, but discourage any mention of ‘debatable theories’ from astrology to evolution.

Publishers are advised to avoid supernatural and legendary themes including pirates, ghosts and dragons, along with Harry Potter and any attribution of human characteristics to inanimate objects, such as talking trees.

Other subjects are covered by softer forms of censorship. Divorce can be mentioned provided it is not ‘seen as normal’. Entertainment for adults, ranging from spring carnival to football matches, should be portrayed in a sanitised form with no tattoos or short skirts.

Bikinis and shorts are restricted to the beach or swimming pool. Authors are reluctant to speak out and comply with the guidelines because they are dependent on a small number of publishers for their income.

‘I can imagine that if you soil the nest, you’re not welcome any more,’ one said.


Noordhoff declined to comment on the NRC’s report, while ThiemeMeulenhoff, Malmberg and Zwijsen said the ‘image conveyed’ was not representative.

Malmberg said it ‘expressly’ sought to create a ‘balanced depiction of society’ in its textbooks that represented ‘as many children and teachers as possible’. Zwijsen, like Malmberg, said dinosaurs and evolution were included in their teaching materials.

The pressure on publishers has increased since two groups of Protestant reformed schools set up the SLRO foundation to promote the views of the orthodox Calvinist denomination in educational materials.

Gerdien Lassche, a teacher at a reformed school in Kootwijkerbroek and a policy worker at the ROV, told NRC that the lobby group’s purpose was to ensure teaching methods created ‘a safe basis for bringing up children’.

‘You can call it sanitising, but it’s a way of connecting with the reality that our children live with,’ he said.

Mixed-race families

Some of the guidelines would appear to take a selective view of that reality, such as a directive to avoid ‘highly advanced forms of emancipation’ such as women preachers. Mixed-race families and sport on Sunday are also frowned upon.

Other educational organisations were largely oblivious to the degree of censorship in publishing until they were approached by NRC. ‘What you don’t know, you don’t see,’ Linda Morssinkhof, director of the Montessori School in Zwolle, said.

‘I think our politicians should have something to say about it.’ Gökhan Çoban, head of Islamic school organisation ISBO, said his schools taught subjects such as history and sexual diversity from an Islamic perspective, but added: ‘I would question any guidelines that were clearly skewed to promote a particular group.’

But Lassche said the SLRO wanted to ensure the community’s values were reflected in the classroom. ‘I would advise others to do the same as us,’ he said. ‘It’s definitely worth it, especially when publishers realise, they can sell a significant number of books.’



Two men jailed for 30 years for killing lawyer Derk Wiersum

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Two men have been jailed for 30 years for the murder of lawyer Derk Wiersum outside his home in the Amsterdam suburb of Buitenveldert in September 2019.

Giërmo B (37) and Moreno B (32), who both claimed to have an alibi for the shooting, were convicted on the grounds of DNA and telephone evidence, and the fact they both had large amounts of money shortly after the murder.

The public prosecution department said it had been unable to prove which man did what, but that Moreno B was likely to be the shooter while Giërmo drove the getaway car.

Both were therefore both culpable for the killing, the prosecutor said. The court in Amsterdam agreed. ‘This was a gangland killing, a paid-for hit,’ the court said. ‘These childhood friends… were brought in to kill the victim, and they were paid to do so.’


Wiersum was acting for Nabil B, a key witness in a major drugs and murder trial revolving around gang leader Ridouan Taghi, when he was killed. Taghi, 43, is one of 17 people currently standing trial in Amsterdam accused of ordering six murders and another seven attempted killings between 2015 and 2017.

The court said that while many had suggested the elimination of the key witness’s lawyer, to intimidate him, may have been the sole purpose of Wiersum’s murder, the investigation had ‘focused exclusively’ on the perpetrators and ‘not on the person(s) by whom they were directed’.

Some Dutch media sources have also linked Taghi to the murder of television crime reporter Pieter R de Vries, who also worked with Nabil B, although his lawyer has denied any connection.

The killing of Wiersum was described at the time as a ‘new, dark phase’ in the increasingly deadly underworld drug wars and prompted justice minister Ferd Grapperhaus to pledge tough new measures against drug criminals.


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