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EU Head of Delegation Van Nes visits Saba.

eudelegation26012023SABA:--- European Union (EU) Head of Delegation René van Nes paid an official visit to Saba on January 23 and 24 for meetings, site visits, and the signing of a 4.1 million euros financing agreement to support Saba’s renewable energy infrastructure.
On Monday, January 23, Ambassador Van Nes, who was accompanied by EU Delegation Program Manager Kristina Sevastou, met with a delegation of the Public Entity which included Island Governor Jonathan Johnson, Interim Island Secretary Henk de Jong, and Policy Advisor of the Public Entity Saba Courtney Hassell.
At the end of the meeting, Van Nes and Johnson signed the 4.1 million euros financing agreement as part of the new EU budget support program on sustainable and resilient energy to continue Saba’s renewable energy infrastructure.
After the signing, the EU Delegation had a meeting with the management of the Saba Electric Company (SEC), Director/CEO David Leonce and Managing Director Mark Zagers, and Commissioner Rolando Wilson for a presentation on SEC’s renewable energy projects. SEC is preparing the Phase 3 renewable energy project and is researching the feasibility of wind energy along with additional solar energy in combination with more battery storage. This project will enable Saba to advance its long-term vision of 100% sustainable energy and reduce its reliance on fossil fuels for electricity generation by 2025.
In the afternoon, the EU Delegation had a meeting with the Saba Conservation Foundation (SCF) to talk about nature preservation and management of Saba’s National Park and Marine Park and to discuss the Resilience, Sustainable Energy and Marine Biodiversity (RESEMBID) regional program for Caribbean Overseas Countries and Territories (OCTs), which is funded by the EU. SCF Managing Director Kai Wulf gave the EU Delegation a tour of the Botanical Garden.
On Tuesday, January 24, David Leonce and Mark Zagers of SEC provided a tour of the solar park located next to the airport. The solar parks were financed by the European Development Fund (EDF) with partial funding from the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate (EZK).
Veronica Zaegers, Overseas Countries and Territories (OCT) Youth Member, who serves as Saba’s youth ambassador in the EU, accompanied the EU Delegation during their visit, attending the meetings and site visits.
Ambassador Van Nes, who was accompanied by his wife Jeanette, said his first visit to Saba was a “fantastic experience.” He lauded being received with “great warmth.” “I was shown around, and told the stories about Saba and its efforts to become a climate-neutral island. It seems like a dream, but it is a dream that Saba is actually making a reality,” he said.
Van Nes said he was content to have signed the financing agreement with Saba. “The EU has been able to make a small contribution to that with the funding of the first solar parks and the next project that I signed here which will make it possible to precede that. With this program, Saba will have 89% of renewable energy by the end of 2025which is a truly remarkable achievement. Saba is a little pearl in the Caribbean and I can’t wait to come back to visit again, and celebrate its successes.”


Minister Richardson & UNOPS gives detailed presentation to Parliament

annaunopsreps26012023PHILIPSBURG:---  Today, Wednesday, January 25, 2023, the Honorable Minister of Justice Anna E. Richardson attended an urgent public meeting of Parliament to discuss the flow and management of the inmates at the Point Blanche Prison and House of Detention. In attendance together with the Minister, were Prison Director Steven Carty, Senior Policy Advisor Johishi Romney, Policy Advisor Demi Bute, and representatives of UNOPS currently in Sint Maarten with the purpose of stakeholder engagement and logistical preparations for the first phase of the new prison project. During the meeting, Minister Richardson took the opportunity to render a detailed presentation on the developments surrounding the prison facility and invited the representatives of UNOPS to present an update on their current mission.

Minister Richardson began her presentation by outlining the main challenges of the 33-year-old prison facility and addressing the various points raised by the Inmate Association via media reports. She told the members of Parliament that for security reasons, the Ministry is not always at liberty to disclose information surrounding the facility so this can lead to persons drawing the wrong conclusion concerning the developments at the prison.

The Minister explained that the Point Blanche prison has a capacity for 80 males and 6 females. The cells which are all occupied, hold a maximum of two inmates per cell to be in compliance with the international and European standards regarding the advised requirements of living space (m2) per inmate as well as to prevent overcrowding. She stated that the current facility built in 1990 was considerably damaged by the passage of category 5 hurricanes Irma and Maria in September 2017, directly impacting the buildings, equipment as well as the prison staff and inmates. This led to some of the high-risk inmates being transferred to other prisons within the Kingdom for security reasons. “Although repairs were made to the damaged infrastructure since then, the lack of structural maintenance to the facility for many years has now made the need for a new prison structure even more pressing,” Minister Richardson stated.

During the presentation, Minister Richardson delved into the positive developments executed thus far to tackle these challenges. She explained that the first step was to establish a stable and experienced prison management team and prison director that was capable to take on these obstacles. Since 2020, there has also been increased cooperation with the Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations (BZK) which has led to providing financial and technical support for the improvements needed within the prison. Minister Richardson expressed that over the past two years, there have been infrastructural improvements, increased rehabilitation programs, safety and security enhancements, certified prison guard training, and more.

Infrastructural improvements

In terms of infrastructural improvements, over the past months, the spaces were renovated together with the inmates. Some of these spaces include the gym facility, the computer room, airspaces, the laundry room, and central housing area, cells, a barber shop, music room and sewing room. Pictures were displayed of these renovations during the Parliament meeting.

Rehabilitation Programs

The overall day-time program for the inmates has been met with some developments and enhancements. This includes but is not limited to reintroducing educational and sport programs as well as expanding the labor possibilities for the inmates. The programs include the Prison Education Program, Family fun days, sewing classes, and increased sports and labor activities. Currently, the educational services are being tendered for 2023-2025, as such, Minister Richardson encourages those who are part of the program to continue and other inmates to join once the program resumes.

It is also the goal to intensify cooperation with Probation services to provide a more individualized rehabilitation program for the individual inmate that will positively contribute to the inmates’ reintegration. In addition, labor opportunities have increased with inmates now gaining the opportunity to work in the kitchen, the library, or on the cleaning or maintenance team. The prison’s intention in 2023 is to increase the number of inmates that can participate in such activities as well as to create the opportunity for inmates to work outside the prison walls on projects.

 Safety and Security

The overall safety and security of the facility have also been tackled over the last couple of months with the installation of new heavy-duty cell locks, a fire alarm system, and a new entrance gate. In addition, a new electronic monitoring provider (Buddi) was also selected and has gone into effect as of February 1, 2022. This new provider is fully operational and works well. In 2023, it is also the prison’s intention to further enhance the safety and security systems such as detection ports, access scanners, perimeter security and more.

Personnel

Over the course of years, the prison has dealt with many challenges in regard to structural staff shortage, which in turn leads to a higher workload resulting in an increase in the number of sick reports and absenteeism. In order to break this vicious cycle, Minister Richardson stated that it was necessary to produce data regarding this phenomenon to understand the trends surrounding absenteeism.

Based on the analysis carried out, only an estimated amount of 50% of the staff are deployable due to sick leave or persons taking up other functions or transferred to other departments within the Ministry of Justice or the government. This creates a strain on the organization, however, with the current placement process underway, these matters will be addressed. To reduce the high percentage of sick leave in the prison, the decision was made to collaborate with MedWork. MedWork's efforts are aimed at ensuring that prison staff can be put back to work as quickly and responsibly as possible.

 Prison guard training

A positive development in the area of personnel is the prison guard training program that began in September 2022, in cooperation with the Dutch Custodial Agency in the Netherlands (DJI). All prison guards have been given the opportunity to join the training that covers different areas: integrity, self-defense, security, aggression regulation, prison law and more. This is a great step that the ministry is immensely proud of as it has been more than a decade since the prison guards have gotten the opportunity to enhance their skills and develop their knowledge in their field of profession.

Leave and Conditional Release

Another matter that was addressed by the Minister is that every inmate has the opportunity to submit a formal request for a ‘leave of absence’ to the prison director. Once a request has been submitted formally, an assessment is done about the possible safety risks involved in granting the ‘leave of absence’. This regards not only potential safety risks for the community and the prison guards, but also for the inmate him- or herself. Based on the assessment, a formal decision is made by the Ministry of Justice. 

In terms of granting conditional release (voorwaardelijke invrijheidsstelling - VI), it is relevant to state that inmates may be eligible for VI after they’ve served two-thirds of their detention sentence, however, a verdict must be irrevocable. An inmate does not automatically have a right to be released on early VI with an ankle bracelet. The behavior of an inmate during detention is an important factor in the decision-making about VI. For the year 2023, there are 5 inmates that will be eligible for conditional release.

 

Medical services

In terms of medical care of the inmates, the well-being of all inmates is of great importance to the Ministry of Justice, and it is the prison staff’s duty to attend to all inmates with medical inquiries. The statement made in the media that medical staff is not on call to assist during “off-the-clock” emergencies is incorrect. The prison’s medical staff is on call 24/7 and responds to emergencies in the promptest manner. In terms of the medical intake and screening, the first assessment is carried out within the first 24 hours of arrival followed by an in-depth assessment within 30 days. The in-depth medical assessment includes a visual observation, a general assessment of medical history, a mental health assessment, and a blood test which generally includes an HIV screening.

Following Minister Richardson’s detailed presentation on the developments at the prison, she welcomed Mr. William Squier Gonzalez, currently leading the UNOPS mission on Sint Maarten to provide an update on the developments surrounding the new Rule of Law Facility prison project. Gonzalez’s presentation provided information on the plan of action, projected timelines and stakeholder engagement agenda. The mission ends on January 27, 2023, after laying the groundwork for the establishment of a continued presence in Sint Maarten.

Minister Richardson expressed that management of the prison will be focusing on the following areas this year. This will include the refurbishing of the recreational room, an addition of a small kitchen area, expansion of the rehabilitation and reintegration programs, and improvement of the overall medical and forensic care. The meeting ended with questions posed by the members of Parliament to be answered by the Minister during the following meeting surrounding the prison.

“Since becoming Minister of Justice, my focus has been on our detention system and on making the necessary improvements to our prison. As I have in the past, and have done today, I will continue to update Parliament and the people of Sint Maarten of the steady progress that is being made in our detention system. Despite claims to the contrary, I have shown that a lot of things have changed in the Point Blanch prison for the better. The false claims made have no basis in fact. I have read that “the Minister of Justice is allowing the situation at the prison to fester”, that “the situation in the prison is deteriorating”, that I have been asked to “address the situation at the prison for the past two years, but things seem to be getting worse”, that “human rights are being violated”, “that events at the prison are a clear indication that nothing has really improved,” and I can go on.

“These kinds of statements capture the headlines by creating a false narrative of inaction from this Minister, but this could not be any further from the truth. The idea of using the Point Blanche prison as a political tool is a very dangerous one as Parliamentarians run the serious risk of riling up those inmates who have been exhibiting poor behavior, as they may feel strengthened or emboldened by your words. This jeopardizes not only the safety of the prison’s employees, but also other prisoners. As such, I ask that you consider this carefully.

“I understand the political season that we are in and that there are powers who may not be interested in recognizing the positive strides that we are making or who do not want to see a new prison built for that matter. I am sorry to disappoint all who are seeking for us to fail, but my team and I will continue on this positive path,” stated Minister Richardson.

VOG online application platform is processing VOG applications swiftly.

annarichardson08042020PHILIPSBURG:--- Following the launch of the online application platform for the Declaration of Conduct (VOG) on January 9, 2023, the Ministry of Justice reports a significant improvement in the overall handling of VOG requests with increased visibility and monitoring and quicker delivery times. The Ministry has received a total of five hundred and twenty-nine (529) online applications of which one hundred and five (105) have been completed with clients receiving their VOGs via email. Persons who applied for a VOG via the Public Service Center prior to the platform’s launch are being contacted by the Ministry of Justice to retrieve their VOG at the department of Judicial Affairs which is situated at Illidge Road above the Immigration Department.

Presently, there are one hundred and ninety-six (196) applications awaiting payment. This means the applicant is to upload proof of payment in order for the actual screening process to begin. The public is therefore reminded that the actual process does not begin until all the required documents are uploaded. These include a valid form of identification, a valid registration form, and proof of payment.

Two hundred and three (203) applications are being processed at the Attorney-General’s Office. The attorney general’s office checks the judicial documentation (criminal history) of the applicant. Based on the most recent statistics, on average it takes the attorney general’s office seven (7) working days to check the judicial documentation of the applicant.

The online application process includes four (4) steps outlined below.
Step 1: Payment Confirmation - Upon submitting an application the requestor must provide proof of payment of the processing fee of Naf 50 in order to begin the vetting process.

Step 2: Vetting/Reviewer - The back office of the Ministry of Justice performs a vetting of the supporting documents and verification of the processing fee payment. Non-compliant applications are rejected, and clients are notified by email.

Step 3: Prosecutor Review - The final screening is done by the attorney general’s office. For applications with no objections, the attorney general’s office updates the digital application, allowing the client to receive their VOG immediately.

Step 4: Review Committee of the Ministry of Justice - If the attorney general’s office finds judicial documentation (a criminal record) on the applicant, the application is forwarded to the Review Committee of the Ministry of Justice. This Review Committee weighs the criminal record against the purpose of the VOG application. The VOG policy as well as the relevant legal framework provides the necessary guidelines for the weighing process. Based on the assessment made a VOG can either be still issued or denied. The applicant is informed by email about this decision.

To apply online for a VOG or for more information about the online application process, please visit the website of the Ministry of Justice, www.ministryofjustice.sx.

Duncan, Gumbs and Heyliger-Marten Call for Urgent Public Meeting on Heritage Preservation.

PHILIPSBURG:--- On Wednesday, January 25, 2023, Independent Members of Parliament S. Ludmila Duncan and Grisha Heyliger-Marten, as well as Party for Progress (PFP) Member of Parliament Melissa Gumbs submitted a request for an urgent public meeting on the matter of heritage protection.

Following the recent demolition of the ruins at Diamond Estate in Cole Bay and the outrage by persons in the community, the Members have moved quickly to request a public meeting to discuss the incident but more importantly the regulations that would prevent such from occurring again in the future.

The Minister of ECYS and the Minister of VROMI have been requested to come to Parliament to debate the current legislation and policies regarding the preservation and management of heritage as well as to provide updates on the current work of the Monument Council and the long-awaited Monument Fund.

“What is extremely disappointing is that this year marks the 160th Anniversary of the Proclamation of Emancipation. The reenactment of the Diamond 26 Run for Freedom has become a valuable source of pride and ancestral connection for me and many others. We are also currently in discussion throughout the Kingdom on the impact of slavery and colonialism and how we need to move forward as a people and yet, on this island, we continue to let our heritage be destroyed in the name of capitalism and overdevelopment.”

“I am looking forward to an in-depth debate on the bottlenecks facing the Government to ensure that such a blatant act and disregard for heritage is never repeated. Marcus Garvey once said, ‘if we as a people realized the greatness from which we came we would be less likely to disrespect ourselves.’ When will we stop disrespecting ourselves?” concluded Duncan.

Gumbs expressed similar sentiments, noting that at some point, members of society also have to decide if they are intent on protecting the country’s historical assets and legacies. The ruins at Diamond Estate were on private land, which had been sold by the original owners.

“We very often see privately-owned buildings and plots of land sold to investors or otherwise,” Gumbs said, “but even in this scenario, persons can be more discerning with who they engage for these purchases. We talk a lot about the responsibility of outsiders towards us, but never about our responsibility towards each other and towards the country. It’s just one in a long line of slaps in the face.”

Heyliger-Marten added that her main concern is about Government not taking the necessary measures to preserve heritage sites.

“Heritage provides footprints to our past and shows how our society has evolved. It helps us to examine our history and traditions and enables us to develop an awareness about ourselves. This is key in understanding where we come from. To also quote Marcus Garvey; ‘a people without a knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots’ and I believe wholeheartedly in preserving what’s left of our heritage.”

MP Angelique Romou Tables and Chairs the Discussion of Period Poverty in Parliament.

angeliqueroumou25012023PHILIPSBURG:--- MP Angelique Romou requested and chaired an Education, Culture, Youth, and Sports Affairs committee meeting on the topic of “Period Poverty Legislation“ on Wednesday morning. Minister of Education, Culture, Youth and Sports and Minister of Public Health were in attendance to update Parliament on the status of the topic and future plans within their respective Ministries.
In September 2021, The Teen Times organization submitted to MP Romou a proposal for the need for Period Poverty Legislation. In this proposal, Teen Times shared their concerns regarding Period Poverty as a Public Health Crisis, the need for equal access to feminine hygiene products for all, their ideas on period poverty legislation and which areas it should tackle, and suggestions on what can be done in the ad-interim in the absence of legislation. MP Romou then requested an ECYS Committee Meeting with agenda point “Discussion on Period Poverty Legislation Submitted by Teen Times”.
Mp Romou stated: “In September 2021, The Teen Times submitted to me as Member of Parliament a proposal for the need of Period Poverty Legislation, a move that I wholeheartedly commend. I must say, prior to this, the topic of period poverty did have my attention as it has been a debate, maybe one that we don’t have enough of, for some time now” MP Romou stated in her opening remarks.
“This topic is not a local one, it is a global one! To give context to the word period poverty – Period Poverty for women can be simple as going to the supermarket and having to choose whether you can buy food or a box of sanitary napkins. Period Poverty is not being able to afford menstrual hygiene products. Mothers have to choose to either feed their families or purchase sanitary napkins. Young girls not having access to these items and having to use rags, toilet paper, or even reused pads. This is a reality and one that demands our attention” MP Romou continued.
“Just last year in August 2022, Scotland became the first country to offer period products free for all through their Period Products Free Provision Bill. This bill also mandates that education providers ensure period products are obtainable, free of charge for students. In the US, Sixty state laws and 2 federal laws have been enacted. The laws include eliminating the menstrual tax, making menstrual products more accessible by requiring them in schools, prisons, correctional facilities, and shelters; and addressing the safety of these products by requiring ingredient disclosure. The reason I’m giving these statistics is that if these big countries can do it for their population, we sure can make provisions for our 16 square miles”.
PHILIPSBURG:--- MP Romou believes the first focus in tackling period poverty and promoting period equity is to start with our schools. She elucidated that “We need to ensure our young girls have access and access in a manner that it is not shameful for them. Then we can look at our community and study which touch points in our community can assist with leveling period poverty. In certain countries, businesses offer access to sanitary napkins free of charge in their establishments as a gesture of goodwill. We can look at our community helpdesks, Women's Desk, and other organizations that
can band together and ensure that the days of mothers and women having to choose between basic necessities and their basic human rights are no longer”.
MP Romou indicated that before her questions were posed to the ministers, she had received, a notification from the teen times that they were following the meeting and they indicated that the teen times had received requests from two elementary schools so far to be part of their period poverty program, namely the Marie Genevieve de Weever and Oranje School, because they have challenges with this issue, and that it should be noted that the stigma surrounding period poverty prevents most girls from going to the schools’ offices to ask for sanitary napkins.
In the question round, MP Romou posed several questions to the Minister of Education, Culture, Youth and Sports pertaining to possible statistics and data that the Ministry may have regarding absenteeism amongst girls in schools related to their monthly cycle, average days of school missed by young girls as a result of their menstrual cycle and accessibility of sanitary napkins to girls in schools and where can girls access sanitary napkins in school if needed? She also questioned on the existence of any past projects that covered or touched on the topic, the Minister’s ideas when it comes to funding free menstrual products in schools and how students are being educated on menstruation and de-stigmatizing menstruation through our curriculums.
MP Romou submitted questions to the Minister of Public Health pertaining to the number of active community helpdesks there are on the island and their operation hours to the public, possible incoming community requests submitted for the need for feminine menstrual products, the accessibility of feminine hygiene products being accessible for free at a functioning shelter(s) on the island and how the Minister can envision organizations like Women’s Desk or any other organizations that are funded, subsidized or work along with VSA to contribute to the achievement of period equity.
Both ministers will return to Parliament to answer the questions posed in the committee meeting and further discuss what can be done in both the executive branch as well as the legislative branch as it relates to period poverty.
“I found the preliminary discussions we had today in Parliament to be a step in the right direction and I want to assure the public of St. Maarten and in particular the youth and the Teen Times, that I will continue to work on this topic as I also sought information on legislation and policies already in use from colleague MPs in the Caribbean Region and continue to work on any needed initiatives or parliamentary motions that can decrease period poverty and increase period equity. Our women of this country deserve it” MP Romou concluded.

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