Focus (2)

Soualiga Newsday Focus (2696)

Ministers switch to online meetings after deputy PM contracts coronavirus

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Meetings of the ministerial council will be temporarily moved online after a second cabinet minister received a positive coronavirus test.

Talks on forming a new coalition government were suspended on Thursday morning after deputy prime minister Kajsa Ollongren tested positive for the virus. The government’s information service said in-person meetings were being held in line with coronavirus rules, ‘but the decision has been taken to hold meetings of the ministerial council via communications technology for the time being, as a precaution.’

Ollongren, home affairs minister in the current administration, is leading the exploratory talks along with Annemarie Jorritsma of the VVD. On learning of her positive test Ollongren immediately left the parliamentary complex, where she and Jorritsma had been due to discuss their findings with prime minister Mark Rutte and D66 leader Sigrid Kaag.

On Friday junior economic affairs minister Mona Keijzer went into self-isolation after she tested positive for the virus. Other members of the cabinet were not required to quarantine under Dutch government rules because they had maintained social distancing at meetings.

Health minister Hugo de Jonge went into quarantine on election day last Wednesday after a member of his staff had a positive test, but De Jonge tested negative on Saturday.

Last November junior defence minister Barbara Visser was the first member of the cabinet to contract the virus.



Church in staunchly Protestant Urk opens its doors to 500 worshippers

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – A church on the staunchly Protestant former island of Urk has said it will open its doors fully to worshippers again out of concern for their ‘spiritual welfare’.

The Sion church has room for 500 people and since Sunday, everyone without symptoms has been welcome, without the need to wear face masks or keep to the 1.5 metre distance rule.

‘It is not that we know better or that we don’t listen to the government. We want to be obedient to government, while following God’s teaching,’ church elder Hessel Snoek told Trouw.

In addition, infection rates on Urk have come down and there are no cases of coronavirus within the church community, he said.

The government has not set limits on how many people can visit a church service, but advises a maximum of 30 and no singing. In December, figures from public health institute RIVM showed that nine of the 10 biggest coronavirus hotbeds in the Netherlands were classified as Christian council areas.

Fundamentalist Protestant party SGP won an absolute majority of the votes in Urk in last week’s general election – a rare event in a country with such a fragmented political system.

The SGP believes the country should be governed ‘entirely on the basis of the ordinances of God as revealed in the Holy Scriptures’ and does not think women should play an active role in politics.



Election watch: new look parliament has more women and minorities

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – With all the votes counted, the line-up for the new look lower house of parliament has been finalised, and the ruling VVD will have 34 MPs rather than 35 as thought earlier.

D66 will have 24 seats in the 150 seat lower house of parliament and four newcomers – Volt, JA21, Bij1 and BBB – are all confirmed to have won enough votes to debut.

The Dutch election council will publish the formal results on Friday, but so far it appears three MPs have won enough preference votes to take seats, even though they were lower down the candidate list.

GroenLinks hopefuls Kauthar Bouchallikht and Lisa Westerveld, who were nine and 10 on the list, will now oust the numbers seven and eight. And new party Volt sees Marieke Koekkoek overtake the party’s number three.

The new look parliament will have 59 women and 91 men, an improvement on 2017 when fewer than one third of the seats were held by women. Nevertheless, Devika Partiman of the Stem op een Vrouw (vote for a woman) organisation said that there is little improvement in right wing parties.

Women make up almost half of the MPs in centre left parties but just 33% on the right, she said.

Party             2021       2017     change

VVD                 34           33         +1

D66                 24           19         +5

PVV                 17           20         -3

CDA               15           19         -4

PvdA                 9             9         –

GroenLinks       8           14         -6

SP                     9           14         -5

FVD                   8             2       +6

PvdD                6             5       +1

ChristenUnie      5             5       –

Volt                   3             0       +3

SGP                 3             3         –

JA21               3             0       +3

DENK              3             3       – 50

PLUS                 1             4         -3

BBB                   1             0       +1

BIJ1                 1             0       +1

In total, just over 63,500 Dutch nationals who live abroad voted in the election, and the VVD was the winner among them with 22.7% support. D66, which won the expat vote in 2017, took nearly 18% of the votes this time round.

The VVD was the biggest party in The Hague but D66 won in Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Utrecht. The new look parliament will have seven MPs with Moroccan roots and three with a Turkish background, two with Surinamese antecedents and two with other ‘non-western’ origins, news agency ANP said.



Junior minister Mona Keijzer ‘feeling well’ after testing positive for coronavirus

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Junior economic affairs minister Mona Keijzer has gone into self-isolation after becoming the second member of the government to test positive for coronavirus.

Keijzer, a Christian Democrat (CDA) member of the caretaker coalition, said on Twitter she was feeling well and would work from home during the isolation period, which is a minimum of seven days.

Last November junior defence minister Barbara Visser was the first member of the cabinet to contract the virus.

Health minister Hugo de Jonge went into quarantine on election day last Wednesday after a member of his staff had a positive test, but De Jonge tested negative on Saturday.

Education minister Arie Slob had to abandon a meeting in parliament last October and go into quarantine when he received a CoronaMelder app alert that he had been in contact with an infected person.

He did not develop symptoms and was not tested, in keeping with the rules that applied at the time.




SINT MAARTEN (POND ISLAND) - Minister of Finance, Ardwell Irion and President of the Overseas Collectivity of St. Martin, Daniel Gibbs, together with their delegation, met on Friday March 19th to discuss how both sides of the island could achieve tax cooperation. With the support of the department of Foreign Affairs, both parties expressed the desire for research into areas of possible tax harmonization, highlighted gaps in the systems and presented possible solutions.

During the meeting, there were discussions about a system where both governments can have access to certain data that would be beneficial to both parties and improve on leakage. 

Topics such as turn over tax, transactional tax, income tax and sin tax were discussed. A follow-up meeting will be organized in quarter two.

The reality of two countries sharing one island with an open border brings with it complexities as it relates to taxes. These discussions are therefore crucial and necessary as we continue the tax reform process.  

The goal with the tax reform is to simplify the process, minimize tax evasion and increase revenue.

minfin meet french sxm grp meet





124 traffic accidents for February. Police to crack down on wreckless scooter/motorbike driving

SINT MAARTEN (PHILIPSBURG) - The Police Force of Sint Maarten (KPSM) conducted a review of traffic accidents that took place on the island of Sint Maarten in the month of February.  In total there were about 124 road accidents registered with the Sint Maarten Police Force between February 1 and the 28 2021, the police said on Monday in its traffic accident report.

The most of these vehicle accidents happened between the hours of 12.00 pm and 01:00 pm at different locations on the island.

One common trend observed in the month of February was serious injuries sustained by individuals riding on Scooters. Most of the accidents involving the scooter have to do with the ongoing epidemic of risky behavior being shown by some of the riders.

Riders have become more brazen and callous with their behavior on the public road.  Some individuals seem to be getting a kick out of driving reckless between other vehicles, videotaping, and posting it on their Social Media pages.

The KPSM makes it known that this behavior is not boding well with us or the general public.  Police are not going to tolerate this level of behavior on the road. If the scooter riders intend to run the gauntlet, then they will suffer the consequences when caught.

Again, it was revealed that the human factor appears to be the most prevalent contributing factor of road traffic crashes. This includes both driving behaviors such as reckless driving and violating the traffic law of Sint Maarten.

Reckless Driving

Speeding, changing lanes without looking, hopping off scooters and motorbikes, and ignoring road signs are all classic signs of reckless driving.  Illegal driving habits are one of the most common cause of road accidents on our island.

Reckless driving usually involves a motorist that is less concerned about other road users than they are. Abide by the traffic rules, it may save your life. (KPSM) 

police accident scooter wreckless




Heavy security at Amsterdam’s Bunker as ‘Marengo’ gangland murder trial begins

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – One of the biggest murder trials in the history of the Netherlands is getting under way under tight security on Monday morning. Two helicopters, armed police in bulletproof vests and a fleet of armoured vehicles thronged the fortified courthouse in Amsterdam known as the Bunker on the opening day of the so-called Marengo trial.

The best known of the 17 suspects is Ridouan Taghi, 43, for several years the Netherlands’ most wanted man, who is accused of ordering six assassinations between 2015 and 2017 in the so-called ‘Mocro mafia’ drugs war.

He is also suspected of ordering the murder of Amsterdam-based lawyer Derk Wiersum in September 2019, though that killing is not part of the Marengo trial. Wiersum was acting for Nabil B., one of the key witnesses in the case against Taghi.

Taghi has been detained at the high-security jail in Vught since December 2019, when he was deported from Dubai after being arrested at a private villa where he was living with his wife and six children.

At the time Dubai police chief Abdullah Khalifa Al Merri described him as ‘one of the world’s most dangerous and wanted men … listed on Interpol for his connections to serious organised crime.’

The first day of the trial proceedings will focus on the testimony of Nabil B., who agreed to co-operate with authorities after he was involved in a mistaken identity murder in January 2017.

The victim, Hakim Changachi, was wrongly targeted instead of an Utrecht criminal and B., who arranged the getaway car, admitted his involvement to Changachi’s family. His confession angered his associates in Taghi’s gang and B. agreed to testify against them in exchange for protection for him and his family.

His brother, Redouan B., was shot dead at his office in Amsterdam in April 2018 by a hitman posing as a job applicant. The 17 defendants on trial are suspected of planning a total of 13 gangland murders, of which six were carried out. Saïd Razzouki, who is accused of being Taghi’s second in command, was arrested in Colombia in February last year and is awaiting extradition. He is being tried in absentia.


Ridouan Taghi on a photo issued by the police.



MP Heyliger-Marten (UPP) congratulates MFK and the people of Curaçao

SINT MAARTEN (PHILIPSBURG) - “On behalf of the United People’s Party (UPP), I want to extend my heartfelt congratulations to the MFK party in Curaçao and their leader MP Gilmar “Pik” Pisas for the convincing election victory on March 19th,” Member of Parliament (MP) Grisha Heyliger-Marten, faction leader of the United People’s Party (UPP) said on Sunday evening in a media statement. The people of Curaçao have spoken loud and clear, and are the ultimate winners of this and any election.

From what I have observed and been told, I think it is safe to conclude that the elections were basically a contest between the proponents of the CRE, and those who believe it is unconstitutional and violates the autonomy of the island among other objections.

The time it took for the Council of State to provide an advice on the proposed CRE/COHO, raises the question if this highest advisory body in the Kingdom acknowledged the objections brought forward by the islands and pointed these out to the Dutch Government.

The election results clearly show that the large majority of the people of Curacao are against the conditions as imposed by Holland in return for financial aid. In a bigger context, this also means that the people of Curacao are against any attempts by the Dutch Government to trample on the island.

The victory of the MFK and other parties who have raised objections against the CRE should not come as a surprise. The most recent poll leading up to the elections was already pointing in that direction, and the petition filed at the Decolonization Committee of the United Nations last year by a large cross-section of the population was also very telling.

It is ironic and almost symbolic that State Secretary Knops’ CDA party lost as many seats during the elections on March 17th, as Mr. Pisas and the MFK won only two days later, namely four (4). The CDA’s loss of seats in the Dutch Parliament was a very expensive one for Mr. Knops and his party. It happened despite the last-minute multi-million dollar pledges to the islands, so using these Dutch tax-payer’s monies to convince voters to vote for him clearly did not pay off for Mr. Knops and his CDA party.

Mr. Pisas and his team will face many challenges during the coming months and years. I am convinced that with wisdom, perseverance, and patience, they will be able to deliver for the current and future generations of Curacao.

As faction leader of the United People’s Party, I look forward to a good working relationship with the new Parliament and Government of Curaçao as both islands continue to work in the best interests of the people who voted to represent them and treat their interests as paramount.


UP Party to relaunch “UPdate” to deliver critical info

SINT MAARTEN (PHILIPSBURG) - Parliamentarians and Ministers of the United People's UP Party will relaunch its information live Facebook program “UPdate” to inform the public about the Party's work in Parliament and the Council of Ministers via the "UP Party St Maarten" official page, starting March 31.

Local Radio personality Alston Lourens will host the talk show "UPdate," which will feature UP Party Ministers and Parliamentarians who will discuss various interest issues to the community. The UP Party presently has two Ministries in the United People's Party/National Alliance Coalition Government, Tourism, Economic Affairs, Transport & Telecommunication (TEATT) headed by Minister Ludmila De Weever and Public Health, Social Development and Labor (VSA) led by Minister Richard Panneflek.

The talk show will also feature other guests to help discuss various topical issues and answer pertinent questions. The goal of the Party is to lead the discussion and provide the correct information first. 

The UP Party is also represented by four of its members in Parliament on St. Maarten, MP Rolando Brison, MP Grisha Heyliger-Marten, MP Omar E.C. Ottley and MP Sidharth "Cookie" Bijlani.   

The new program will be aired live on a bi-weekly basis and tackle the different topics of interest to the community and dissect them to be palatable to all ages. "We want the discussion on every subject to be one in which every citizen can participate. We will arm you with the right information to ensure that you can see rhetoric and fear-mongering for what it is and separate the loud noise from reality," the release stated.

In a press release issued Sunday, UP Party Leader and President of Parliament MP Brison said, "We have received an outpouring of support for the efforts of the Ministers of the two portfolios we hold in Government for their efforts to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and boost economic activity. However, "we hear you," and we agree that more information in general and especially information regarding topics as important and sensitive as decolonization and the Airport reconstruction is taking too long to reach the masses."

During the live program, viewers will have the opportunity to post questions for the guests and comment on issues impacting them. "We are dealing with multiple issues at the same time presently on St. Maarten, but that does not mean that the people should be kept in the dark. By not providing accurate and upfront information, we have seen others take advantage of the silence and attempt to spin the narrative to fit their agendas. Our Party stands by its goal of being the voice for the voiceless, and we will bring a voice to the people of St. Maarten through this program," the UP Party stated.


Riot police break up second Amsterdam anti-coronavirus demo

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – For the second day in a row riot police used water canon to break up an illegal demonstration by anti-coronavirus measure campaigners in Amsterdam’s museum district.

Campaign group Nederland in Verzet had called for the demonstration – ostensibly to drink a cup of coffee for freedom – in defiance of mayor Femke Halsema’s ban. The city had said the demonstration could be held in the Arenapark but the demonstrators came to Museumplein nevertheless.

On Saturday too, police broke up a demonstration and march, arresting 58 people in the process.

Elsewhere in the city, some 500 people attended a peaceful demonstration to mark International Day against Racism. That demonstration was held in the city’s Westerpark and passed off without any problems.

The demonstration was attended by a broad spectrum of different groups. ‘It is great that so many different people come together and let their voice opposing the far right be heard,’ Tayfun Balcik from the organizing committee Comité 21 March, told broadcaster NOS.

This is especially important because the far right grew so much in last week’s general election, he said. Far right groups now have 28 of the 150 seats in the lower house of parliament.


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