THE HAGUE, March 21 -- The bulwark that Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte built against populists is showing cracks, with his governing coalition poised to lose its one-seat majority in the Senate in the face of expected strong showings from euroskeptic groups.
When the Dutch go to the polls on Wednesday, Rutte's four-party coalition - comprised of his liberal VVD, the Christian democratic CDA, the centrist D66 and the smaller Christian Union -- may win just 28 seats in the 75-member Senate, down from 38, according to a Peilingwijzer aggregate poll published on Tuesday evening. The vote in one of the European Union's six founding members can be seen as both a report card for Rutte's government and a gauge of populist sentiment in the bloc. The anti-EU Forum for Democracy is set to post the largest gains, which could make it harder for Rutte to follow through on his policy agenda at a time the EU is pushing to reassert its strength in a turbulent global environment that's seen transatlantic relations on the rocks. Voters across the Netherlands will be casting their ballots in provincial elections, which dictate the make-up of the upper house. Polls close at 9 pm and a first indication of seating in the Senate is expected after midnight.
Baudet also claims that his party is the only one that advocates a drastic revision of the Dutch political system, aiming to break what they call the "party cartel" of those in charge.
Even though Wednesday's is a provincial election, national issues hijacked the campaign, with a debate on the distribution of costs between corporations and citizens linked to targeted cuts in CO2 emissions dominating discussions. The Dutch government aims to lower emissions by 49% in 2030, a goal the country will be unlikely to reach, according to a government research institute. In response, Rutte said that measures would be announced in April, including steps to lower taxes on consumers' energy bills and a "sensible" CO2 levy on companies. Such policy items may help Rutte's coalition win support in the Senate of new partners, such as the Greens, which they'll need to push through legislation if their majority is lost. And Rutte needs all the friends he can get now, because if a general election were held now, his VVD party could lose as many as nine seats in the lower house, according to a Peilingwijzer poll from February.
JOHANNESBURG, March 20 -- This below analysis should form the base of a case study of how a misguided interpretation of statistics can result in a skewed and unrealistic picture of what’s really happening on the ground.
It makes the job of journalists in today’s world that much more important as they need to critically think about the statistics they report on before hitting the publishing button. (The analysis below first appeared in Politicsweb and is republished here with permission.) – Gareth van Zyl
On Tuesday this week Police Minister Bheki Cele released the South African Police Service’s crime statistics for 2017/2018. The information contained in the SAPS’ presentation detonated a small explosion beneath a claim repeatedly made, over the past month, by some of the world’s most prestigious newspapers, authoritative “Fact Checkers”, and most brilliant diplomats. How this came to pass is an interesting case study in how, in our current age, a falsity can still travel halfway around the world, and back again, long after the truth has put its boots on and kicked the damn thing to death. The story begins with a reply to a parliamentary question from Freedom Front leader Pieter Groenewald MP by the Minister of Police on the 3rd of May 2018. In it Bheki Cele provided detailed data from the SAPS on the provincial breakdown of farm murders and farm attacks by year from 2012/13 to 2017/18. This was useful information as it suggested that the burden of this type of crime fell disproportionally on farms and small holdings in the eastern half of the country, and that any analysis of this phenomenon needed to take this into account.
The figures were not unproblematic however. The national totals for farm murders in the 2015/16 and 2016/17 periods were significantly lower than official figures earlier released by SAPS. The figure of 47 farm murders for the 1 April 2017 to 31 March 2018 period (down from 74 the year before) also seemed implausibly low. One likely explanation for this was simply that the figures had been compiled only a month after the end of the reporting year, and were not complete. As Sally de Beer of the SAPS had told Africa Check the year before “the database is a ‘live’ system, meaning that the statistics derived from it are subject to change if new information on cases emerges. The database is not primarily intended as a source of statistics, but as an operational tool.” The fact-checking site cautioned in its 2017 fact-sheet on this issue that, “As such, statistics for certain years may change.” There was thus good reason not to put any weight on this last, probably provisional, national figure.
Then on the 31st May 2018 Agri SA released a report on farm attacks. This contained the following graph:
The source given for the data is clearly “SAPS” (see arrow). The person compiling the graph had merged the data provided to Pieter Groenewald at the beginning of the month with other previously released SAPS statistics. Where they conflicted – for 2015/16 and 2016/17 – Agri SA went with the significantly lower figures from May. The Agri SA report commented: “When police statistics, as announced in Parliament for the past six years, are viewed more closely, it appears that farm attacks had increased while murders declined on a year-on-year basis.” The number of “47” is contained in the graph, but not in the text of the report. Despite Agri SA’s clear admonition to “treat farm attack statistics with caution”, News24 ran a massively hyped-up story the same day asserting that “Farm murders have decreased to their lowest level in more than 20 years, a report by agricultural organisation AgriSA has found.” It made the claim that “According to AgriSA’s statistics, farm murders decreased from 66 recorded incidents in 2016/2017 to 47 in 2017/2018. This was less than a third of the record highs recorded in the late 1990s, when 153 murders were recorded in 1997/1998.” In this way the questionable SAPS numbers released earlier that month were now magically transformed into gold standard statistics from Agri SA. As a Ratcatcher article (published within hours of the News24 report first appearing) noted, the SAPS data Agri SA had used for the past three years was not reliable, and the figure of “47” for 2017/18 was simply wrong. A quick and dirty analysis of the SAPS figures for three provinces revealed at least eight clear cut farm murder cases, reported in the press, which could not have been included in these figures. The article noted:
“Given that a brief news search could establish eight cases missed by the SAPS the true under-count must be substantial. The SAPS figures should also be more not less comprehensive than press reporting. The News24’s headline then is based upon a SAPS figure which was implausible to begin with, and which is provably wrong.”
AfriForum, which collects its own data on farm murders and farm attacks, also vehemently disputed this figure. The assertion that there were only 47 farm murders in 2017/18 and therefore at their “lowest level in more than 20 years”, should have been quietly buried, and left to rest in peace from then on.
Rise of a zombie factoid
In late June 2018 however Jason Burke of the Guardian of London decided to disinter this claim, and the number on which it was based. In an article on the 27th June 2018 he stated that “Forty-seven farmers were killed in 2017-18, according to statistics compiled by AgriSA, an association of hundreds of agricultural associations across South Africa … The new lower totals contradict recent reports in Australian and other western media describing white farmers in South Africa facing “a surge in violence’.” The opening sentence of Burke’s piece contained three factual errors. It conflated farm murders with murders of farmers (not always the same thing), cited a figure that had been already shown to be false (47), and claimed that these statistics had been compiled by Agri SA (they were from the SAPS). This zombie-like factoid – that farm murders were at a “twenty year low” – began massively replicating itself after US President Donald Trump tweeted, following a Fox News broadcast by Tucker Carlson on looming land seizures in SA, that he had “asked Secretary of State @SecPompeo to closely study the South Africa land and farm seizures and expropriations and the large scale killing of farmers.” In the subsequent rush to debunk Trump’s comments on farm murders this claim was repeatedly invoked by US and British publications, often linking back to Burke’s Guardian article as the source.
For example an article in the New York Times on the 23rd August 2018 by Kimon de Greef and Palko Karasz stated that: “The number of killings of farmers, including farm workers, is at a 20-year low, 47 in the fiscal year 2017-18, according to research published in July by AgriSA, a farmers’ organization in South Africa.” This same claim was then repeated in an editorial in the publication denouncing Trump, which added that the “numbers have been declining steadily since peaking in 1998, when 153 were killed.”
In an article for the Financial Times Joseph Cotterill stated that “Agri SA, a farmers’ organisation, said in May that farm murders were at their lowest level in two decades. There were 47 murders between 2017 and 2018 compared with 66 over the previous period, it said.” It was also credulously accepted by the American and British Fact-Checking establishment.
The Washington Post Fact Checker wrote that “the government’s farm-murder statistic has been declining steadily from its peak in 2001-2002, when the total was 140. Separate figures from Agri SA show that murders of farmers are at a 20-year low, with 47 recorded in the year from April 2017 to March 2018 period, the Guardian reported.”
The BBC’s “Reality Check” claimed that “AgriSA, an association of agricultural organisations, also records murders and attacks on farms. It found that in the year to April 2018, there were 47 murders, with their data showing a decline from a high in 1998, when 153 people were killed.”
Politifact repeated the claim that “there were 47 farm murders in the 2017-18 financial year” and they “have been declining over time.” But to its (partial) credit it correctly attributed the source of this information to the SAPS, not AgriSA. The internet myth-busting website Snopes meanwhile reposted the AgriSA graph above and also stated that “the number of farm murders in South Africa hit a 30-year low point in 2017-18, according to a report released by the South African Agricultural Industry (AgriSA) that cited South African police data.” Then, at the end of August, Foreign Policy ran an article headlined “In Tacit Rebuke, U.S. Embassy in South Africa Rejects Trump Tweet: Internal cable cites report that farm murders in South Africa are at their lowest level in 19 years”. Robbie Gramer and Colum Lynch reported on the contents of a leaked cable to Washington DC from US diplomats in South Africa which was headed ““Despite Crime Epidemic, Farm Murders Down.” The authors reported that the cable had “cited a recent report by AgriSA, a nonprofit industry group that represents 70,000 commercial farmers, that estimated that there were 47 farm murders from 2017 to 2018, fewer than at any time in the past 19 years.”
None of these journalists, diplomats or Fact Checkers though it worth cautioning that the number of 47 had long been shown (by a body-count) to be too low, or even that it was contested. Although implausible to begin with – and long disproven by the time it started feasting on the brains of British and American intellectuals – this factoid was apparently too convenient not to unleash upon readers as well. It was further invested with bogus authority by simply asserting that the number came from Agri SA, rather than highly provisional police figures. News24’s hyped up interpretation of Agri SA’s somewhat more cautious analysis were also presented as reflecting the latter organisation’s own view.
End of an error
On Tuesday the South African Police Service, during their press briefing, released updated figures for the number of recorded farm murders (though not attacks) for 2017/18. The SAPS presentation stated that there were, in fact, 62 farm murders last year, not 47. The SAPS added that 42 of the murders occurred on farms, 15 on small holdings and one at a cattle post. 46 victims were white. If one compares the provincial breakdown with the information released on the 3rd May there was an under-count of eighteen murders in eight provinces (three of which had been identified by the Ratcatcher) and an over-count of three in one (the North West.)
UTRECHT, March 19 -- Dutch authorities said on Tuesday they were seriously considering a terrorist motive behind Monday's deadly shooting on a tram in the city of Utrecht.
Three people were killed and five wounded in the attack, and a 37-year-old Turkish-born man identified as Gokmen Tanis was arrested after a seven-hour manhunt. Police said two other suspects were also in custody but their role was unclear. "Up to this point, a terrorist motive is seriously being considered," prosecutors said in a statement, citing "the nature of the shooting and a letter found in the getaway car." But it remained unclear whether Tanis, who has a history of run-ins with law enforcement, was acting on political beliefs or a personal vendetta. "Other motives are not being ruled out," the statement said. He was convicted for illegal weapons possession in 2014 and for shoplifting and burglary earlier this month. He was released from custody on March 1, after having been detained on suspicion of rape, the Utrecht District Court said in a statement released after his arrest on Monday. Under Dutch law Tanis must be brought before a judge by Thursday but he does not yet have to be charged.
The three Dutch victims were identified as a 19-year-old woman and two men aged 28 and 49. Three others, ranging from 20 to 74 years old, were critically injured in the shooting. Prosecutors said they had so far not been able to establish a connection between the victims and the suspected gunman. Flags flew at half mast on government buildings across the Netherlands on Tuesday and a minute of silence was observed in the Dutch parliament in tribute to the victims.
UTRECHT, March 18 -- Gökmen Tanis, 37, was arrested this afternoon following a large-scale manhunt in the Netherlands.
The main suspect for the shooting on a tram in Utrecht this morning which left three people dead has been arrested. Gökmen Tanis, 37, was arrested this afternoon following a large-scale manhunt. Turkish-born Tanis was wanted by police after three people were killed and five others injured in a shooting on a tram in the Dutch city. It is not known where and how he was arrested at this stage. Police are investigating if the shooting was a terror attack although reports from Turkey have indicated the gunman may have known one of the victims.
UTRECHT, March 18 -- Dutch police were hunting down a suspect after a shooting Monday on a tram in the central Dutch city of Utrecht that left a dead body on the ground and multiple people injured, according to police.
Authorities immediately raised the terror alert for the area to the maximum level and said they are considering the possibility of a "terrorist motive" in the attack. Dutch military police went on extra alert at Dutch airports and at key buildings in the country as the Utrecht manhunt took place. Police, including heavily armed officers, flooded the area after the shooting Monday morning on a tram at a busy traffic intersection in a residential neighborhood. They later erected a white tent over an area where a body appeared to be lying next to the tram.
Utrecht police said trauma helicopters were sent to the scene and appealed to the public to stay away.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte called the situation "very worrying" and the country's counterterror coordinator said in a tweet that a crisis team was meeting to discuss the situation. Police spokesman Bernhard Jens said no one had been detained yet in the shooting, and one possible "explanation is that the person fled by car." He did not rule out the possibility that more than one shooter was involved in the attack. "We want to try to catch the person responsible as soon as possible," Jens said. The Netherlands' anti-terror coordinator raised the threat alert to its highest level around Utrecht. Pieter-Jaap Aalbersberg said the "threat level has gone to 5, exclusively for the Utrecht province." "The culprit is still on the run. A terror motive cannot be excluded," he said in a Twitter message.
THE HAGUE, March 18 -- Police in the central Dutch city of Utrecht say on Twitter that "multiple'' people have been injured as a result of a shooting in a tram in a residential neighbourhood.
Utrecht police say that trauma helicopters were sent to the scene on Monday and they are appealing to the public to stay away to allow first responders to do their work.Prime Minister Mark Rutte said he was "deeply concerned" about the incident and the Dutch government is now holding "crisis talks".
"Several shots were fired in a tram and several people were injured. Helicopters are at the scene and no arrests have been made," said police spokesman Joost Lanshage.
Local broadcaster RTV Utrecht quoted an eyewitness as saying he had seen a woman lying on the ground amid some kind of confrontation. Several men ran away from the scene, the witness said.
The Utrecht police said The October 21st square, a tram station stop outside the city centre, had been cordoned off as emergency services were at the scene. Dutch radio is saying they have increased security in the Hague as a precaution.
AMSTERDAM, March 14 -- German engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) firm Pfalzsolar GmbH said Wednesday that it is getting ready to start construction of a 34-MWp solar farm in the Dutch province of Flevoland.
Pfalzsolar will build this solar park after winning a tender launched by local non-commercial waste management company HVC and project developer Sunwatt. Upon completion, the plant will be operated by Zuyderzon Almere, a project company established by HVC and Sunwatt. The German EPC contractor said it will begin construction work on March 21 and that the process will last four months. The so-called Almere project will be realised in an industrial area and once the plant is finalised it will be generating some 30 million kWh of electricity per year. Zuyderzon Almere will receive a feed-in tariff (FiT) under the Dutch SDE+ subsidy programme for each kilowatt hour fed into the grid.
Pfalzsolar has built three solar parks on disused landfills, totalling 9 MWp, for HVC over the past few months, it said.
THE HAGUE, March 13 -- Proposals to fight climate change will cost the Netherlands around 5.2 billion euros ($6 billion) over the next decade but will not be enough to meet its emission reduction goals, the government’s top advisory body said on Wednesday.
The Netherlands is one of the most polluting countries in Europe, with higher CO2 emissions per citizen and a lower use of sustainable energy than almost everywhere in the European Union.
The Dutch government is expected to decide by the end of April on what action to take to tackle climate change after a consultation led to a series of measures proposed by businesses, activists and other groups.
Government adviser CPB said these are expected to reduce gross domestic product by around 0.5 percent by 2030, but will most likely not enable the government to meet its target of reducing CO2 emissions by 49 percent in 2030 from 1990 levels. Dutch CO2 emissions are expected to be 21 percent lower than in 1990 next year, missing the goal of a 25 percent reduction which was ordered by a Dutch court last year.
“These policies could significantly stimulate the energy transition, but a lot still needs to be done”, CPB said of the around 130 measures which were put forward. These include higher taxes on the use of gas for heating and on airline tickets, subsidies on electrical cars, increased use of wind and solar power, and incentives for industry to cut emissions and homeowners to better insulate their houses. Of the total cost, around 3.2 billion euros would have to be paid by households, CPB said.
KUALA LUMPUR, March 8 -- The Coroner’s Court here has questioned the motives of an investigating officer (IO) tasked with the Ivana Smit case, following its ruling earlier today that the Dutch model’s death was a misadventure.
Coroner Mahyon Talib, who made the ruling, said Faizal Abdullah could have done a better job when the case unfolded in 2017. She also asked why he had not changed the sudden death report (SDR) to an investigation paper (IP). “He could have taken more evidence (with an IP). Why didn’t he do this? “He should also have checked the unit for any alcoholic drinks and so on and passed this to the forensics department for analysis and DNA testing. This was not done.” Mahyon also said Faizal had failed to order the first IO for the case, Sergeant Haliza Hamdan, to do so despite it being common practice for the police.
An SDR is usually opened when the deceased is believed to have died due to natural causes. IPs are more general in nature and take into consideration other causes of death such as murder and foul play. An SDR was opened before the police went to the scene on Dec 7, 2017. SN Nair, who represented Smit’s family, had questioned Faizal during the inquest into her death last year for not choosing to open an IP. Despite the testimony of three police witnesses at the crime scene that Smit was found in suspicious circumstances, Mahyon had acknowledged that the SDR was opened on the instruction of Faizal’s superiors. She also criticised Faizal for failing to further question American-Kazakh couple Alex Johnson and Luna Almaz despite their “suspicious” statements on their activities on Dec 7.
“It is a mystery and definitely a tragedy that Faizal rejected this and did not do the right thing,” she said in her written judgment, referring to their statements to the police. Smit had been staying with the couple in their 20th-floor unit at CapSquare Residence near here on the day she was found dead. They were the last people to see Smit alive. Smit, 18, was found sprawled in the nude on the balcony of a sixth-floor unit on the afternoon of Dec 7. Faizal had concluded, among others, that the couple was innocent and required no further investigation. Shortly after, they fled the country. They did not return to testify in the inquest. Mahyon also criticised pathologist Dr Nurliza Abdullah whom she said had made assumptions on how Smit died based on pictures of the scene instead of going there to see it for herself. She also reiterated her belief that Smit had been alive at 6.50am, as the latter was talking to her boyfriend, Lukas Kramer, at the time. She said the opinion of Dutch pathologist Dr Frank Van der Goot that the injuries at the back of Smit’s neck and on her hands were older than the rest of her bruises tied in with her opinion on when rigor mortis set in. She said rigor mortis began at 2pm on Dec 7, estimating that it had taken four hours from either 10am or 11am to commence, based on the exterior tropical climate. She said this, together with how Smit’s hands which looked like they were placed on a blanket when she was found, would have made it impossible for her to be dressed, which would explain why the model was found naked.
Mahyon earlier said that there was no criminal element found in Smit’s death. She also said Smit had died between 6.50am and 2pm, and had likely fallen to her death from a high place. She said hyperthermia could have occurred, as testified by a witness, as bottles of apple cider were found at the scene which could have been laced with drugs. But Mahyon said she had ruled the model’s death as a misadventure as the court could not determine what had happened between Smit, Alex and Luna on Dec 7.