The formal response of the Dutch Government to the Caribbean Netherlands constitutional evaluation report was met with criticism by the St. Eustatius Democratic Party (DP).
The DP described the Cabinet’s reaction as an “ad-hoc policy” and “without vision or well-defined goal.” “The reaction includes, similar to the Multi-Annual Programmes, few concrete measures. It is merely a set of ad-hoc intentions without a central vision and a clear goal,” DP Councilman Koos Sneek stated in a press release on Sunday.
In its response, the Dutch Government promised to establish a social minimum tied to the legal minimum wage, potentially more exemptions to the general spending tax ABB, concrete incentives to stimulate investments and employment in Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba, and a more direct role of the National Government Representative.
According to the DP, the response by the Dutch Government, formulated in a letter that Minister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Ronald Plasterk sent to the Dutch Parliament on Thursday, doesn’t get the Caribbean Netherlands islands Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba anywhere, and increases the discontent among the people, while the inequality will remain.
Sneek stated that the reply by The Hague to the findings of the Caribbean Netherlands Evaluation Committee, headed by former Minister Liesbeth Spies, strengthened the views of opponents of the present public entity status of the islands, while it undermined the position of those parties that are proponents of the current status.
Sneek reiterated that the response sent to the Dutch Parliament concerned the view of only one of the four principals of the constitutional evaluation: the Governments of Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba are the other three.
According to the Councilman, none of the three islands could find themselves in the reaction. “They are of the opinion that the content is an inadequate answer to the situation on the islands as described by the Spies Committee in its report.”
Sneek said the unilateral answer by Minister Plasterk underscored the correctness of the findings by the committee that The Hague does not listen sufficiently to the islands and does not take their opinion into consideration.
“No mention was made in the reaction of the by far most important agreement made prior to October 10, 2010, namely to achieve a within the Netherlands acceptable level of services, in particular where it concerns social-economic affairs.”
So far, the Dutch Government has refused to set norms for social-economic affairs. After five years one still is unable to establish what the poverty line is for the Caribbean Netherlands. “The Minister also does not indicate that he is planning to do anything about this in the near future. The ad-hoc makeshift measures proposed by the Minister in the area such as the social minimum are therefore just that and are not based on a vision or long term policy,” stated Sneek.
The Councilman referred to the recent advice of the Netherlands Council for Human Rights which implored the Dutch Government to set norms for an acceptable level of services and a social minimum as soon as possible.
“The Dutch Cabinet is of the opinion that adequate execution of established policies and the optimisation of the service towards the citizens is preferred above the creation of new policies and expansion of the financial means. However, the Cabinet is overlooking the possibility whether improved spending of the available means will lead to an improved result,” stated Sneek.
The Dutch Government will spend 281 million euros on behalf of the Caribbean Netherlands, while the three islands receive a combined free allowance (“vrije uitkering”) of a mere 32 million euros, or just 11 per cent of the amount spent by the Dutch Government. No research has been carried out to find out if these two amounts have a real relation with the division of tasks, he said.
Sneek pointed out that the IdeeVersa mentioned that the free allowance was 20 per cent too low and that therefore the islands lacked the financial means to invest in their physical infrastructure. “Over the past five years the islands have had a structural shortfall in their budgets of more than US $6 million annually, and therefore have been unable to properly carry out their tasks.
The DP Councilman remarked that the structural budget shortfall made it impossible for the Island Governments to improve their policy on poverty. “This same reason applies for the view of the Dutch Government that funds are included in the free allowance for maintenance and replacement of school buildings. By refusing to strengthen the public entities financially the goal of the Cabinet to improve local Government will be an impossibility.”
Sneek was also critical of the Dutch commitment to give an impulse to the social economic development, together with the islands. “However, this should not cost any additional money and needs to happen budget neutral.”
According to Sneek, the Dutch Cabinet’s reaction didn’t include the fact that the new fiscal regime, adopted when the new status went into effect, was not to produce more revenues than the US $54 million collected in the former Antillean system prior to 2010. The 2016 Dutch Government budget stated that 133 million euros (US $150 million) would be collected this year.
“While the Dutch Government is aware that the islands’ economies are in desperate need of an impulse and that this is extremely important to combat poverty and to improve the welfare of the people, this same Government extracts yearly almost one hundred million more than agreed out of the fragile local economies than what has been originally agreed upon,” said Sneek.
“The many – with restraint – implemented new laws and regulations, the inflexible policy regarding work permits, the deficient infrastructure and the investment climate, including the lack of sufficient incentives for investors, are all obstacles which are not recognised by the Cabinet.”
The evaluation report was critical about the institution of the Kingdom Representative. Yet, the Dutch Government decided that the Representative will be playing an increasingly important role as the Cabinet’s main man in the public entities. “This decision gives the impression that through the strengthening of this institution the relation with the Netherlands is getting a colonial character,” said Sneek.
“Reading the Cabinet reaction, it becomes clear that we don’t really know where we are. We also don’t really know where we want to go. Minister Plasterk conscientiously is avoiding the important dot on the horizon. He gives the strong impression that money is his only motive for this. Throwing out in an interview figures by the Minister of how much each citizen of our islands is costing is irrelevant and can never justify the inequality of our people,” Sneek concluded.
The Daily Herald.