National Ombudsman to Windward Islands

Showing his support and having the best interest of the people of the Windward Islands at heart, Dutch National Ombudsman Reinier van Zutphen will be visiting St. Maarten, St. Eustatius and Saba starting this Sunday.

Van Zutphen, who vis­its the islands regularly because as National Om­budsman he is responsible for the Caribbean Nether­lands, will first go to St. Eu­statius where he will spend all of Monday, June 11, and Tuesday morning, June 12. “I am very interested to see and hear how things have been going since Hurricanes Irma and Maria, and how the reconstruction is progress­ing. Are people satisfied with the process of recon­struction? Are there prob­lems with securing assistance from the Netherlands?” Van Zutphen said in an interview with The Daily Herald.

For the Ombudsman it is also important to see for himself how St. Eustatius is coming along after the intervention by the Dutch government in February. He wants to know whether there are complaints and how these are being han­dled. “Are things better now or is there still a lot to do? And are the concerns of the people being includ­ed in the process?”

Van Zutphen will have a meeting with Dutch Government Commissioner Mike Franco to discuss the developments. Van Zut­phen said that as Ombuds­man he found it important to hear whether attention is being given to the for­mal complaints that people file, but he also wanted to know whether people feel safe and confident enough to voice their concerns in a formal or informal way.

Asked his thoughts about the criticism of the financial supervision which has failed in St. Eustatius in the past years and the findings of the Committee of Wise Men, which partly blamed the Dutch government for the situation in Statia’s gov­ernment, Van Zutphen said he has been in contact with State Secretary of Home Affairs and Kingdom Rela­tions Raymond Knops re­garding this matter.

“I hear and notice that there is a willingness on the part of the Dutch gov­ernment to improve the situation in St. Eustatius. But these efforts have to result in concrete improve­ments for the people on the island, because they are who really count. Are the measures helping to make things better for the peo­ple?” he asked.

He will visit Gwendoline van Putten School for sec­ondary education to see how the complaint his of­fice received regarding the slow Internet connection which hampers the students in their lessons and studies is being tackled by the local authorities.

While in St. Eustatius, Van Zutphen will seek an update on the handling of another formal complaint, which regards the missing information the Caribbean Netherlands Pension Fund PCN needs for the pension allocation of Statia gov­ernment employees. The lacking information has af­fected multiple government employees and teachers.

Van Zutphen wants to know whether progress has been made in locating the missing information in the administration of the local government. “I was promised that this would be taken care of. I want to hear how much has been recovered, what is still lack­ing and when this matter will be resolved.”

The Ombudsman will be in Saba on Tuesday afternoon, June 12, and Wednesday, June 13. There are not many issues in Saba that require his urgent at­tention, apart from a few complaints about excessive noise. He will have a meet­ing with Island Governor Jonathan Johnson to dis­cuss the handling of these complaints, and he will visit the persons who filed a complaint to hear how things are going.

“Mostly I am there to talk with people, to take a look for myself and to listen,” said Van Zutphen, empha­sising that he would not be having official consulta­tion hours in Saba and St. Eustatius this time. A team from the National Om­budsman will visit the two islands in a few months to hold consultation hours.

Asked whether domes­tic violence and children’s rights had his attention, Van Zutphen said this was certainly the case, and that on this dossier there was close cooperation with the Children’s Ombudsman Margrite Kalverboer. “We are one team,” he said, adding that this has always been a theme and that the issue would certainly re­turn to the agenda of the Ombudsman and the Chil­dren’s Ombudsman.

Domestic violence, pov­erty and the infringing of children’s rights often go hand in hand. In the case of domestic violence, there is often a task for the police. Securing sufficient safety for families, eradicating poverty and defending chil­dren’s rights are important aspects, as are how the police handle cases of do­mestic violence and related issues, and how people can file a complaint if things are not going the right way.

Van Zutphen will close off his visit to the Windward Islands in St. Maarten on Thursday, June 14, and Fri­day, June 15. He will meet with St. Maarten Ombuds­man Nilda Arduin to dis­cuss current developments, the island’s reconstruc­tion and the agenda of the Kingdom Consultation for Ombudsmen in the Dutch Kingdom late 2018. Van Zutphen said hopefully an Ombudsman will be appointed in Aruba before the end of the year.

Even though the Dutch Na­tional Ombudsman formally has no task in the autono­mous country St. Maarten, Van Zutphen explained that a relatively large number of Dutch civil servants were working in St. Maarten, in­cluding police officers, pris­on personnel and members of the Royal Marechaussee.

Together with his col­league Arduin, he wants to see how the Dutch as­sistance is working out and what the process is in case of a complaint. Van Zut­phen will also meet with St. Maarten Parliament Chairperson Sarah Wescot-­Williams, Prime Minister Leona Romeo-Marlin and Head of the Dutch Rep­resentation in Philipsburg VNP Chris Johnson.

Van Zutphen will attend the Governor’s Symposium on Friday morning before his return to the Nether­lands on Friday afternoon. Even though the focus is on the formal talks, he said he would not forget about the people and the general de­velopments in St. Maarten since Hurricane Irma. “I am also curious to know how people are doing,” said Van Zutphen, who in the past has worked in the Dutch Caribbean as a Judge.

The Daily Herald.

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