Councils to announce election results in public to improve transparency

Timmermans urges ‘brave’ victims of sexual abuse to keep up pressure

Local councils will be required to announce election results in public meetings and publish them on the internet from next year as part of a plan to make the system more transparent. The government aims to have the new rules in place by March 2019, in time for the next provincial assembly elections which also determine the make-up of the Senate. At present election results are announced by mayors but there is no requirement to publish the outcome in full. The measures are expected to lengthen the time it takes for representatives to be sworn in after election day from eight days to 13. Other reforms include a ban on election candidates working at polling stations in order to prevent conflicts of interest. Around 14,000 votes cast in this year's general election in March were wrongly counted as a result of mistakes made by the central counting office in each of the 20 electoral districts, the electoral council reported. The government ordered all votes in the election to be counted by hand in response to concerns that electronic or digital counts were vulnerable to hacking.  More >

Lack of candidates encourages criminals

Timmermans urges ‘brave’ victims of sexual abuse to keep up pressure Political parties are having a hard time finding candidates to stand in the local elections of March next year, making local government vulnerable to criminal infiltration, the NRC reported on Friday. The paper looked at 75  parties in 35 towns and cities, and found half of them were having trouble recruiting enough potential councillors. Small local parties are particularly strapped for candidates. Parties are advertising or recruiting via social media in an effort to fill their electoral lists. Fewer than half of the parties do not ask for a certificate of good conduct which would flag up any criminal acts a person has committed, the NRC said. The association of councillors and the king's commissioner in Gelderland warned earlier that the lack of candidates makes is relatively easy for criminals to gain a foothold in a local council. They can then use confidential information about such things as zoning plans, licenses or local crime fighting measures to their own advantage, the paper writes. In 2014 40.2% of councils had ‘some to a lot of trouble’ finding potential councillors.    More >

'Officials altered cannabis research'

Timmermans urges ‘brave’ victims of sexual abuse to keep up pressure Senior justice ministry officials directly interfered with independent research into the ministry's own soft drugs policy, current affairs programme Nieuwsuur said on Wednesday night. The programme said that researchers altered unwelcome conclusions and reformulated research questions at officials’ request. The aim, Nieuwsuur said, was to manipulate the findings to ensure they supported existing policy rather than criticised it. Nieuwsuur based its findings on conversations with a whistleblower, who made a complaint about the interference in 2014, and on internal ministry documents. The programme looked at research carried out by the ministry’s own independent research unit WODC into coffee shops and the nuisance caused by drugs tourism and on the legalisation of cannabis cultivation. The researchers concluded that that a policy based on repression and banning sales to foreigners was not solving any problems because there is actually very little nuisance from drug tourism in many places. Politically sensitive But according to an email from a civil servant, that conclusion was ‘so politically sensitive’ that it had to be revised. 'We cannot accept the conclusions as they now stand,' one official is quoted as saying. Officials deleted research questions, made notes in the margins of the study and removed an entire chapter with conclusions and recommendations on how government policy could be improved. The then justice minister Ivo Opstelten later told parliament the study supported his policy. Current justice minister Ferdinand Grapperhaus told Nieuwsuur in a reaction: ‘Policy has to be separate from scientific research. The policy-making officials must not involve themselves with the outcome of that research.’ Protocols have since been sharpened up, Grapperhaus said. Later on Thursday the minister announced that he had commissioned an external inquiry to find out if pressure had been placed on researchers charged with compiling the two reports.  More >

Trump on Jerusalem is 'unwise', say Dutch

Timmermans urges ‘brave’ victims of sexual abuse to keep up pressure The US decision to recognise Jerusalem as capital of Israel and move its embassy there from Tel Aviv is unwise and counterproductive, Dutch foreign minister Halbe Zijlstra said on Twitter. 'The two-state solution remains the Dutch objective,' Zijlstra said, adding that the UN Security Council resolution is clear: ' The annexation of east-Jerusalem is illegal,' the Dutch minister said. The foreign affairs ministry has also altered its official travel advice to Israel, warning visitors to remain alert and follow what is happening in the local media. Visitors are also being urged to avoid demonstrations and places where lots of people gather. Two of the three other cabinet parties have also condemned US president Donald Trump's move. 'It's like waving a match over a barrel of oil, letting it drop and hoping the wind will blow it away,' said D66 foreign affairs spokesman Sjoerd Sjoerdsma. PVV leader Geert Wilders by contrast welcomed Trump's decision. The party submits a motion to parliament every year calling on the Netherlands to move the Dutch embassy to Jerusalem. This year the motion was supported by the two minor Christian parties SGP and ChristenUnie (now part of the coalition) as well as the Forum for Democracy. Kees van der Staaij, leader of the fundamentalist Protestant SGP said on Twitter: 'Jerusalem is special to everyone but as the city of king David, it is without doubt the capital of the Jews... the Dutch embassy should also be in Jerusalem.'  More >

Knops: Sint Maarten repair bill 'to rise'

Timmermans urges ‘brave’ victims of sexual abuse to keep up pressure The repair bill for the Caribbean island of Sint Maarten after it was devastated by Hurricane Irma is likely to be higher than the initial estimate of €550 million, junior home affairs minister Raymond Knops has warned. On his first visit to the island since taking office, Knops said the scale of the task was clear. 'We're talking about a huge disaster with a great deal of damage. I'd almost say that whatever amount we send will never be enough, but for the time being it is a very substantial sum: twice as much as everyone on the island earns per year put together.' Knops's trip was partly designed to repair relations between the Netherlands and the Caribbean island, which is an autonomous nation within the kingdom. The previous prime minister, William Marlin, was dismissed by parliament after getting into a row with Knops's predecessor, Ronald Plasterk, about the terms and conditions attached to Dutch aid. The minister said he and prime minister Mark Rutte were in discussion with their French counterparts about co-ordinating efforts with the French-administered part of the island, Saint Martin. The two territories have a great deal of shared infrastructure in sectors such as agriculture, waste disposal and tourism. A deal also needs to be concluded with the World Bank, which will be carrying out the reconstruction programme. 'We want to sort this out as quickly as possible,' said Knops. 'The next hurricane season is on its way so we need to make haste.'  More >