Advice: Increase of free remittance for islands

The Daily Herald writes that the annual free remittance (“vrije uitkering”) of the Dutch Government for Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba should increase by US $1.8 million for St. Eustatius, US $1.1 million for Saba, and US $4.9 million for Bonaire. Inflation correction should become standard. This is the advice of researchers who assessed the Caribbean Netherlands BES Fund on the request of the Ministry of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations BZK.
The assessment was carried out by the independent consultancy bureau IdeeVersa. The 55-page report was drafted late February, and sent to the Dutch Parliament on Tuesday. The researchers not only advised to increase the free remittance, which is paid through the BES Fund to help the island governments in executing their tasks, but in the future to also add $1.4 million to the free remittance for St. Eustatius, $1 million for Saba and $5 million for Bonaire to cover the costs of legal tasks depending on the plans and agreements with The Hague.
It was advised to automatically correct the free remittance based on the inflation figures of the Central Bureau for Statistics (CBS), and to monitor this allowance every two years on important developments in the tasks and costs of these tasks, as well to adjust the amount if necessary.
Furthermore, Saba should be able to repay an old debt, dating back to 2008, of $600,000 through an interest-free loan. In 2012, the free remittance for the Caribbean Netherlands in total was increased from $34.7 million to $42.9 million, whereby Bonaire received $24.9 million, St. Eustatius $9.2 million and Saba $8 million. In the period 2013-2015, the Dutch Government made an average of $15.1 million additionally available to help cover the tasks that the local governments carry out on the three islands. More than $120 million is paid for investments on the islands.
Researchers of IdeeVersa got the impression that the base of the reference frame of the free remittance was deemed insufficient. The islands are also investing in the backlog of maintenance, which puts an additional burden on the local budget. The main reasons for the current increase in costs of the insular tasks were the developing to a facility level (voorzieningenniveau) that was higher than the base of the reference frame, the increase of construction prices and the costs associated with demographic developments.
The researchers concluded that the way in which the insular tasks were being paid for were insufficiently transparent because of the difference in the distribution of funds. It was advised to add the structural resources to the free remittance where possible and to keep incidental means out of that same allowance.
Structural resources like the contribution for drinking water, sewage system, integral means, and social formation trajectories for youngsters and public healthcare can be added to the free allowance. Funds for tasks that are shared by the Dutch Government and the island governments in the area of, for example, disaster management and youth organisations Like Mega D and Child Focus, could be provided in the form of a special allowance.
Subsidies for electricity and the Chamber of Commerce should not be added to the free remittance. Also not added to the free remittance should be investments to cover the backlog in maintenance. To mitigate the tension between the specialist know-how from the Netherlands and the local situation and small market, it was advised to make use of a specialist who consults with the islands in cases of larger projects; smaller projects should be carried out by the islands. Local employees should be used as much as possible, and projects should correspond with local available techniques and circumstances.
The researchers concluded that the size of the civil service was not bigger than on the Frisian Islands or the British Overseas Territories. Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba indicated that they wanted to further develop their civil service. Saba wants to fill certain positions due to the required specific knowledge and competence of policy, while Bonaire and St. Eustatius want more opportunities to train their personnel and increase their knowledge, their twinning and exchanges. Additional funds are necessary to facilitate the return of people from the islands or Dutch personnel to fill certain specialist positions. Also, courses are needed for members of government and members of the Island Councils. The researchers proposed making available a yearly amount of $150,000 for St. Eustatius, $100,000 for Saba and $200,000 for Bonaire.
Minister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Ronald Plasterk stated in a letter to the Dutch Parliament that the results of the assessment would be discussed with the delegations of Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba during the next so-called Caribbean Netherlands week in The Hague, in the week of June 8, 2015.
The IdeeVersa report will be part of the overall evaluation of the constitutional status of the public entities Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba this year. A committee, chaired by former Minister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Liesbeth Spies, is in charge of this evaluation. In June 2014, the BZK Ministry and the three islands agreed to actualise the reference frame of the free remittance. Reasons for this decision included: development of economic and demographic indicators; changed legislations and ambitions; developments in the backlogs (of investments), and acquiring a better overview of the expenditures for the islands.

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