Alleviation of poverty, economic development and more efficiency are to become the priorities if it were up to Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba following last year’s evaluation of the islands’ constitutional status as public entities. These focal points were defined Saturday afternoon on the conclusion of a two-day summit with Members of the Dutch Parliament’s First and Second Chambers at Eugenius Johnson Centre in Windwardside, Saba.
The summit, held on the initiative of the Island Governments of the Caribbean Netherlands, was held in reaction to the findings in the report entitled “Five Years Connected; Bonaire, St. Eustatius, Saba and European Netherlands,” which was drafted by the Evaluation Committee, chaired by former Minister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Liesbeth Spies.
Following Saba’s report in reaction to the Evaluation Report and following the referendums held on Statia and Bonaire, in which large portions of the populations expressed their dissatisfaction with the new relations between their islands and the Netherlands, the delegations to the summit agreed that action needs to be taken in 2016.
Attending the summit were Commissioners Bruce Zagers and Chris Johnson of Saba, Reginald Zaandam of Statia and Clark Abraham of Bonaire.
The Dutch parliamentary delegation consisted of Second Chamber Members André Bosman, Ronald van Raak, Roelof van Laar, with delegation leader Jeroen Recourt, and First Chamber members Frank van Kappen, Thom de Graaf, Margaretha Meijer, Sophie van Bijsterveld and delegation leader Reinder Ganzevoort.
During the summit the delegations not only presented their reactions to the Spies report but also held “long and open discussions and deliberations on several topics, such as the consequences of the new status for the population on the three islands; the workings of the new governmental structure and of new legislation,” summit host Commissioner Johnson said.
Johnson underlined that the discussions were not “conclusive and concrete” and did not result in “a list of action points,” but were held to discuss the “big picture.”
All three islands expressed the necessity to combat poverty and to improve the economy in creating more jobs. Improvement of the standard of living and bringing it closer to the acceptable level in the Netherlands has been on the islands’ wish list ever since the constitutional change.
Bonaire’s Commissioner Abraham said the summit had been “very productive” as participants had brainstormed about how to improve the situation of the people on the islands in an “open dialogue” with the Dutch parliamentarians.
Zaandam said the people on the islands are looking for action. “The time for talking, promising and research is passed,” he said, adding that it was agreed that the Dutch Members of Parliament would bring forward the discussed topics to the Dutch ministries.
Delegation leader for the First Chamber Ganzevoort of green-left GroenLinks said the summit had been helpful not in “putting words on paper, but to hear the voices…on what the people experience from the policies of the Netherlands and the public entities.” These are to assist the discussions to be held in Parliament, because the First and Second Chambers are not only representing the people in the Netherlands, but also those on Bonaire, Saba and Statia, Ganzevoort said.
Defining the economy and autonomy as its main topics, Second Chamber delegation leader Recourt of labour PvdA called the summit a success. “It was very helpful to receive information about the problems you are facing for us to confront the ministries with during the debates we will have during the next six months.”
He said 2016 must be the year in which things must change in a structural way. “Especially where it comes to poverty,” Recourt said in stating the time had come to find solutions.
Concrete measures to improve the social-economic situation on the island and to alleviate poverty were not identified during the summit, but Johnson said that more efficiency in spending, and an increase of old age pensions and social welfare (onderstand) should lead to lifting the islands’ population above the poverty line.
As to efficiency, parties agreed that much money is being spent in various areas, but not on the right priorities. Pleas were made to set up a BES Advisory Council to improve coordination between the islands and the ministries in The Hague.
The summit concluded Saturday with a meet-and-greet for delegates and residents of Saba at The Hideaway restaurant at Breadline Plaza.
It was agreed for the next Caribbean Netherlands Summit to be held on Bonaire during next year’s Inter-Parliamentary Kingdom Consultation IPKO.
Bonaire, Statia and Saba are to present their reactions on the evaluation report to Minister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Ronald Plasterk later this month.
The Daily Herald.