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Claire wants ‘drama’ between Dutch, French over carrying weapons to stop

PHILIPSBURG--Windward Islands Chamber of Labour Unions (WICLU) First Vice President Claire Elshot says the "drama" between Dutch and French law enforcement officers over the carrying of weapons on the side of the island where the officers are not authorised to do so has to stop.

Elshot, who said she has both French and Dutch citizenship, said officers from either side of the island should be allowed to carry their weapon on whichever side they have to, when carrying out their duties.

Elshot's comments came after two of four French St. Martin Police Aux Frontiers (PAF) officers were asked by Dutch St. Maarten police officers to go back to French St. Martin after they were found to have firearms in their possession at SXM Princess Juliana International Airport on Wednesday. The French officers were at the airport in the process of having someone deported.

Wednesday's incident followed an incident on St. Martin/St. Maarten Day when the driver of a public official attending the official celebrations on the French side allegedly was asked to leave the French side because the driver did not have permission to carry a service weapon on that side of the island.

Elshot said the focus should not be on carrying weapons, but on fighting crime and bringing the island back to the days when crime was practically non-existent and people could leave their doors open and know that their homes were safe.

She said that if the laws were antiquated, authorities should address these to enable law enforcement officers to be able to carry their weapons on whichever side of the island they were on. This can be done locally and does not need to involve Europe, she said.

"This thing should stop," Elshot said. "People who wear uniform should respect each other and work together."

She said "seeing this drama" between the French and Dutch sides "hurts my heart."

During the incident that occurred on Wednesday, PAF officers were asked whether they had any permission through the Dutch-side Ministry of Justice to carry their weapons on the Dutch side. The officers said they did not and decided to return to the French side immediately with their weapons, because they did not have the necessary clearance to have their weapons on the Dutch side.

After finalising the deportation process of the person they had brought to the airport, the investigating officers escorted the French officers to their vehicles, which were parked in front of the terminal building.

They saw that during their absence unknown people had punctured one of the tires of each of the vehicles they were driving. The detectives were informed immediately and arrived at the scene to investigate the situation. After having the tires replaced the PAF officers were escorted the border.

Police officers of either side of the island can take their firearms to the other side of the island only if that has been approved in advance.

Children’s Rights Task Force presents first plan

THE HAGUE--The Kingdom Task Force for Children's Rights presented its plan of approach to improve children's rights in the Dutch Caribbean on Thursday. The plan was released at the Children's Rights Summit in Leiden and has been sent to the Dutch Parliament. Meanwhile, St. Maarten is setting up its own National Task Force to give local follow-up.

The most important priorities in the Kingdom Task Force's plan of approach are preventing violence against children, the central role of the family, the role of parents in the upbringing of their children, creating a safety net and activities aimed at children's development besides education and the presence of organisations, such as a children's ombudsman and children's hotline.

The plan was drawn up with the input of all four countries in the Kingdom. It advocates assistance close to children and families at schools, in neighbourhoods and at home. Assistance has to be clear and accessible. The point of departure for every child in need of help is one family, one plan and one person in charge.

The so-called broad school concept used in the Netherlands, which combines education with facilities such as afterschool care, sports and general wellbeing of children and their families, also can be applied in the Dutch Caribbean. This will contribute positively to children's development, also outside school, and provide relief for working parents.

The decision to establish a Children's Rights Task Force was taken at the Kingdom Conference in Aruba in April following the publication of the United Children's Fund UNICEF Nederland reports on children's rights in the Dutch Caribbean. The reports showed that children's rights were being violated on the islands, with poverty being one of the main reasons. UNICEF called for an integrated approach to improve children's rights.

The Task Force aims to stimulate cooperation within the Kingdom in the area of children's rights. Representatives of Aruba, Curaçao, St. Maarten and the Netherlands work together in the Task Force. The plan of approach released on Thursday is the first step for an action plan that will be ratified at the next Kingdom Conference in Curaçao in April 2015.

Dutch Minister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Ronald Plasterk called it "unacceptable" that children in the Dutch Kingdom were missing out on essential rights. He sent the Task Force's plan of approach to the Dutch Parliament on Thursday.

Plasterk mentioned the Task Force and the plan of approach in his video message at Thursday's Children's Right Summit in Leiden. "Last year we received a critical report of UNICEF Nederland. We didn't close our eyes and decided to take action," said Plasterk. The plan of approach was distributed at the summit.

St. Maarten Court of Guardianship Director Richelda Rodriquez-Emmanuel, also present at the summit in Leiden, told The Daily Herald St. Maarten was setting up its own Children's Rights Task Force under the guidance of Youth Affairs Director Shermina Powell-Richardson. The Task Force should be operational by the end of January 2015.

Rodriquez-Emmanuel and Powell-Richardson attended Thursday's summit along with Connie Francis-Gumbs of the St. Maarten Youth Council Association. Rodriquez-Emmanuel and Powell-Richardson attended the roundtable discussion on children's abuse. Earlier this week they were also at a three-day conference on children's rights organised by University of Leiden.

While in the Netherlands, Rodriquez-Emmanuel and Powell-Richardson are making use of the opportunity to meet with UNICEF and foundations working on behalf of children's rights. They hope to come to concrete agreements as part of the Kingdom Task Force's plan, including the Children's Ombudsman and the Children's Hotline.

Youth care in St. Maarten has been facing many challenges, said Rodriquez-Emmanuel. There is a lack of manpower and setting up a professional staff with the proper expertise continues to be difficult. "We have been pulling hard with the limited means that we have, but there are many gaps," she said.

Youth care should receive a higher priority from government, also where it comes to allocating funds in the budget, said Rodriquez-Emmanuel. "It is true that the youth are the future, but then they also should be set as a priority." Prevention should play a key role in this.

Francis-Gumbs, who attended the roundtable discussion on children in the Kingdom, said that fortunately there was more awareness of children's rights in St. Maarten. "There is a growing need to structure ways to implement and protect these rights," she said in an invited comment.

Francis-Gumbs said the Children's Rights Summit was a good way of learning what others in the Kingdom were doing to improve children's rights and to do some networking. While in the Netherlands, she will meet with several non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in the youth and children's rights sector.

According to Francis-Gumbs cooperation between government, NGOs and the private sector is imperative in the exercise to improve children's rights. Projects and efforts need to interconnect and be integrated. These initiatives are currently too fragmented, she said. The St. Maarten Development Fund should play a key role in this process.

PvdA proposes family allowance for islands

THE HAGUE--The Labour Party PvdA in the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament will present an amendment next week to introduce an allowance for families with children (kinderbijslag) in Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba of US $38 per month per child.

The proposal to introduce a family allowance came from PvdA Member of the Second Chamber Roelof van Laar, the party's spokesperson on Kingdom Relations. Van Laar's colleague Roos Vermeij will submit the amendment during the handling of the 2015 draft budget of Social Affairs and Labour next week.

The family allowance, if approved by the Second Chamber, would replace the current fiscal incentive for children which provides families a tax deduction of US $38 per child per month. However, the low income families don't benefit from this arrangement because they don't pay income tax.

With the PvdA proposal all families in the Caribbean Netherlands would receive a monthly contribution of US $38 per child. The allowance would cost the Dutch Government some 800,000 euros per year, to be funded through the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labour. The Netherlands already has an allowance for families with children.

Voting on the amendment would take place in two weeks, the week after it has been submitted. However, it remains to be seen whether the proposal will receive a majority support in the Parliament.

PvdA's governing partner, the liberal democratic VVD party, didn't respond too enthusiastic to the plan. "Saint Nicholas is in town again," stated VVD Member of the Second Chamber Anne Mulder in a reaction.

Member of the Second Chamber Gert-Jan Segers of the ChristianUnion (CU), a party that has been advocating to raise the level of social provisions on the islands for several years, said he was "very happy" to learn that the PvdA agreed that introducing an allowance for families with children was important.

"We have always said that all residents of the Netherlands, including the Caribbean Netherlands deserve a decent level of social provisions," Segers told The Daily Herald on Thursday. He said that the social ills that his predecessor Cynthia Ortega-Martijn had documented in the Caribbean Netherlands showed that tangible action is needed to fight poverty.

According to Van Laar, the allowance for children of low income families is direly needed so children don't end up being the victim of poverty. He pointed out that social provisions are much lower on the islands than in the Netherlands.

Van Laar and Segers also presented an amendment early October during the handling of the 2015 draft Kingdom Relations budget to make 3 million euros available to improve children's rights in the Caribbean Netherlands. This amendment, which will also be voted on in two weeks, is very likely to be carried.

The Caribbean Netherlands, but also the Dutch Caribbean countries Aruba, Curaçao and St. Maarten, are facing serious poverty issues. An estimated 60 per cent of the families in Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba are living below the poverty line. According to 2011 figures, 20 per cent of families live below the poverty line in St. Maarten and 25 per cent in Curaçao.

Van Laar called on the Dutch Government to ensure that children's rights are duly lived up to in the Caribbean Netherlands, which are a responsibility of the Netherlands as Dutch public entities. He did so at Thursday's Children's Rights Summit of the United Nations Children Fund UNICEF Nederland in Leiden.

Fire destroys house in Sandy Ground

page3a156MARIGOT--A house on Rue Jack Fish, Sandy Ground, was completely destroyed by fire on Thursday afternoon and now leaves a family of four homeless. Despite some smoke inhalation, there were no reports of any injuries.

The fire started around 4:30pm at 10, Rue Jack Fish, and quickly consumed the wood and zinc sheet-roofed house. The house, already damaged from Hurricane Gonzalo, belonged to Karine Godet, who had been living there with her uncle, Mario Zabata, and two children for over 20 years.

A close friend of the victims said the fire started when the television suddenly exploded. A resident who also works for Erick Ambulance immediately called the fire brigade, which arrived with two fire trucks.

As is the case in this impoverished area of Sandy Ground, getting access to a house fire through the narrow alleys is not easy. One fire truck was positioned on Rue Lady Fish and the other approached up the alley as far as it could from the main road on the lower side. Several residents helped the firemen with their hoses.

The burning house was perilously close to other houses, but the firemen had the blaze under control, preventing the fire from spreading. It took about 45 minutes to completely extinguish the fire.

Territorial Police, who were also on the scene with Gendarmes, said the victims will stay with a relative tonight. The Collectivité will find alternative accommodation for them today, Friday. None of the family's possessions could be saved.

Representative of district six Georges Richardson said it was not the first time there has been a house fire in the area.

"When the Fire Department was moved out of Marigot to La Savane, I asked the Collectivité to have two electrical pumps for water, one from the ocean and the other on the lower side from the pond, for this same situation we are witnessing today. Sea water could have been used and pond water. But it didn't happen. Having those pumps working could have made a few minutes difference and saved a house from being destroyed.

"After this, I hope the administration will understand that we need clear access in case of fire, and for trucks not to be blocked by old cars. We need to revisit fire precautions here because lives are at stake."

The Gendarmerie is investigating the cause of the fire.

Plastkerk, Asjes discuss a dispute arrangement

WILLEMSTAD--It is the wish of both Curaçao Prime Minister Ivar Asjes and Dutch Kingdom Relations Minister Ronald Plasterk to finally come to a dispute arrangement between the four kingdom partners.

The two men discussed the issue on Tuesday. “The last time we tried things didn’t work out because there were differing views on the content,” said Plasterk.

A procedure now has been agreed on to tackle the matter. “It could be that each country appoints someone to enter into discussions on their behalf. The Kingdom Charter says there should be a dispute regulation, but it doesn’t specify who has to establish one, where one must go in case of a dispute and how such an arrangement is to be given content,” Plasterk added.

He said one of dilemmas was that any regulation based on the number of inhabitants would make the Netherlands “a very big party,” but on the other hand, if the four countries were given equal weight the average European Dutchman would have far less to say. “You have to find a solution for that and we will look at it seriously.”

Plasterk recognised that the recent discussions with Aruba and St. Maarten on instructions had increased the urgency for a dispute arrangement. He hopes something will be on the table for the 2015 five-year Evaluation Conference agreed on when the constitutional reforms took effect on 10-10-10.

“It has been talked about for years already and I’m not saying it will work this time, but it’s not desirable that things remain unresolved. If the Kingdom Council of Ministers takes a decision and a country thinks it’s not lawful there must be a place to go,” the Dutch minister said.

Asked whether instructions like the ones for Aruba and St. Maarten did not put the governor in a difficult position, Plasterk answered that governors were people with backbone who were fully capable of carrying the responsibility that came with the office.

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