Minister lauds Windward Islands law enforcement

Dutch Minis­ter of Justice and Security Ferd Grapperhaus on Thursday ex­pressed his deep appreciation for the law enforcement personnel in the Windward Islands, but also for the St. Maarten people who have shown such resilience after Hurricane Irma.

He shared his positive message during a general debate with the Permanent Committee for Jus­tice and Security of the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parlia­ment on Thursday to discuss the state of affairs of the law enforce­ment system in Bonaire, St. Eu­statius and Saba. Grapperhaus is responsible for justice in the Dutch public entities.

Minister of Justice and Security Ferd Grapperhaus (right), Stale Secretary of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Raymond Knops (centre) and Director-General of King­dom Relations of the Ministry of Home Affairs and King­dom Relations Henk Brons during the general debate in the Second Chamber on Thursday (Suzanne Koelega photo)

The minister, who visited the three Windward Islands early May this year, complimented the law enforcement personnel in St. Eustatius and Saba for the work they do with limited means. He also complimented St. Eustatius and Saba for their quick actions to rebuild their islands after Hur­ricanes Irma and Maria.

Grapperhaus’ visit to St. Maarten left a deep impression on him and he spoke from the heart during Thursday’s debate when he de­scribed the devastation that Hurricane Irma caused. He es­pecially felt for the poorer part of St. Maarten’s popu­lation, who were the hardest hit. “I was deeply moved by what I saw and heard. But I was also impressed by the resilience of the people.”

He also lauded the work of Dutch law enforcement officers who have been sta­tioned in St. Maarten since the hurricane. Personnel of the Dutch Judicial Institu­tions Service DJI have been assisting at the heavily dam­aged Pointe Blanche prison, while Dutch police officers have been temporarily as­signed to the St. Maarten Police Force KPSM. He complimented everyone for their cooperation. “My im­pression is that St. Maarten is benefitting from the assis­tance.”

State Secretary of Home Affairs and Kingdom Rela­tions Raymond Knops said the minister’s visit to the Windward Islands had been very positive. He said it was important for the individual ministers to visit the islands so they could get acquaint­ed with the local situation and meet with authorities. Knops too lauded the work of the law enforcement personnel in the Windward Islands who work under dif­ficult circumstances.

He gave an update on the hurricane season preparations in St. Eustatius and Saba and the developments after last year’s storms. He said Saba had handled its issues swiftly after the hur­ricanes and the crisis man­agement system was func­tioning well.

The Fort Bay Harbour, to which he referred as Saba’s lifeline, suffered extensive damage. The Dutch govern­ment is looking at ways to financially assist with funds from the Regional Enve­lope to help pay for the har­bour project.

Sizable steps are being tak­en in St. Eustatius, where the Dutch government has taken over since February this year. The reconstruc­tion of damaged homes should be completed by August, while a large num­ber of car wrecks are being removed. Knops said he was under the impression that St. Eustatius was prepared for this hurricane season.

Telecommunication

Several Members of Par­liament (MPs) brought up the issue of telecommuni­cation and accessibility of St. Eustatius and Saba after a hurricane during Thurs­day’s general debate. Grap­perhaus announced in a let­ter earlier this week that an investment would be made for a satellite installation in St. Eustatius and Saba that the local authorities could use for emergency purposes when the regular means of communication had been cut off.

MPs Nevin Ozütok of the green left party Groen­Links, Foort van Oosten of the liberal democratic VVD party and Antje Diertens of the democratic party D66 wanted to know whether the investment in the satellite installation would prevent a cutting-off of the islands as happened after Hurricane Irma due to the damaged telecommunications in St. Maarten.

“How robust is this sys­tem? The hurricane has shown that the telecommu­nications on the two smaller islands function reasonably under normal circumstanc­es, but certainly not when a big natural disaster hits,” said Van Oosten.

Grapperhaus assured that with the satellite installa­tion a sizeable emergency facility for acute situations would become available for Saba and Statia, which also makes the islands less de­pendent on St. Maarten. He said sufficient coverage had now also been realised with the acquiring of new mobile phones for police.

He announced that a re­port would be forthcoming very soon about the crisis management on Statia and Saba in connection with the 2017 hurricanes. The Sec­ond Chamber asked Grap­perhaus to provide the re­sults of an evaluation of the investments in telecommu­nication on the two islands after the hurricane season.

Domestic violence

MP Ozütok mentioned another area of the minis­ter’s political responsibility: domestic violence and child abuse in the Caribbean Netherlands. She referred to this issue as a “multi­headed monster” that re­quired a structural, integral and multi-disciplinary ap­proach. She said tackling poverty and addressing the income aspect was impor­tant as well, as this related to domestic violence and child abuse. “Poverty causes a lot of stress. It is important that the minister also has at­tention for that aspect,” she said.

Grapperhaus agreed that this was indeed a very im­portant issue. He said that during his visit to Saba and Statia early May, he had a long conversation with au­thorities and stakeholders on this matter. He said the report of the Dutch Chil­dren’s Ombudsman had also confirmed that there were very bad situations on the islands where it con­cerned child abuse and do­mestic violence.

He mentioned the poverty situation in Saba. “The is­land looks very picturesque from the outside, but behind the doors of people’s homes there are great problems. Often, many persons reside in one house. It is a small community. A solution for this issue demands coop­eration with all stakeholders and a tailor-made approach per island,” he said.

The Ministry of Justice and Security has set up a pilot project to improve the co­operation within the justice system to tackle domestic violence on the three public entities. Grapperhaus said one of the problems was the lack of connection between the partners in the justice system. He mentioned a workshop that was held in St. Eustatius last week where domestic violence and child abuse was the central theme.

Corruption

Corruption and the quality of the government adminis­tration on the three islands also came up during Thurs­day’s meeting. Knops said Saba was doing very well with a small team while fac­ing big challenges.

Responding to questions by MP Van Oosten who urged intervention in Bo­naire if indeed large-scale corruption was taking place there, Knops said it was im­portant to discuss this mat­ter thoroughly with the lo­cal government and to urge them to take action against corruption and bad govern­ance. He made clear that intervention was certainly not his first choice and only an option if all other means had been exhausted. “Bo­naire is not the same as St. Eustatius,” he said.

Checks and balances are pivotal in government proce­dures to prevent corruption, but it starts with the notion of the local government rep­resentatives that corruption is unacceptable, he said. Grapperhaus added his two cents. He emphasised the importance of prevention and active tackling of cor­ruption, “a policy of tackling of corrupt genes, persons and the structures within which they work. That is very far from administrative intervention. There is a role for me as minister to combat subversive activities.”

The Daily Herald.

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