Van Zutphen: Children’s Ombudsman is for the entire Netherlands

POSTED: 04/18/16 12:48 PM

 

Reinier van ZutphenNational Ombudsman Reinier van Zutphen in Bonaire. Photo Caribisch Netwerk / Janita Monna

 

KRALENDIJK – The National Ombudsman received citizens in Bonaire this week to listen to their grievances. On Thursday morning it is busy. Four associated are continuously talking to people, residents from all levels of the population, who have complaints about the government or a government agency, Janita Monna reports on Caribisch Netwerk.

The National Ombudsman, Reinier van Zutphen is at hand as well. He visits Caribbean Netherlands for the first time since he took office a year ago.

The woman who steps into the small building in Antriol, is happy that she is able to tell her story. She has been waiting for an answer for seven years. She sent letters and emails but the silence continued. Now she is at the ombudsman with her complaint about a land dispute. She has an envelope stuffed with documents with her.

The woman has a problem with the government. “I have been busy with this since 2009, she says. The civil servants let it be. Nobody informs me, I hear absolutely nothing. I hope that the ombudsman is able to function as a crowbar.”

Yvonne Kraan, an employee of the Ombudsman, received around thirty complaints during the past couple of days. “They are about the healthcare insurance office, the Marechaussee, the immigration department and the public entity Bonaire.” On this day, many complaints are about land disputes.

An elderly man does not know if he is able to pay the increased land tax from his pension. Kraan studies the paperwork the man has brought with him. “It looks like this increase is due to a new fiscal system. I do not know whether the ombudsman is able to help you, but I will double-check.” She explains: “If a government office works according to the rules, the Ombudsman is not able to do much. But sometimes those rules are flexible.”

Van Zutphen shares the opinion that the civil service could be more flexible with the rules. “Sometimes it makes me sick when I see how strictly they are applied. Saba and Statia need a rent committee. According to the rules, that committee needs a jurist, but there are not many of them on these islands. Those are the moments when you could consider doing things in a different way.”

For many cases, the Ombudsman first makes a phone call, Van Zutphen says. “Then we ask: have another look if you are able to solve this.” But when complaints are persistent or show a pattern, we start an investigation. We scrutinized for instance the slow pace at the public entity Bonaire in handling complaints.”

The report about this investigation will not disappear in a drawer, Van Zutphen says. Before he came to the walk-in session with residents, he spoke about the issue with the Executive Council. “The government wants to do something with it. But if nothing happens, I’ll be right there.”

The Ombudsman spoke during his visit also with a group of secondary school students. “I became gloomy from their problems and at the same time I was happy that they stood up for their own problems.”

But the National Ombudsman cannot do much for the children. “I only have the authority to say something about government agencies. I cannot do anything with children who have a problem with their school or with youth care.”

This is why it would be good if the Children’s ombudsman also came to Bonaire, Van Zutphen said. “He is allowed to do more and he will make sure that the children get a voice.”

For the time being there is no additional budget for this and that amazes Van Zutphen. “If The Hague has children’s rights marked as a priority, then it comes with an obligation. The children’s Ombudsman is for the entire Netherlands. You cannot just skip a part of that country.”

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