Ombudsman cancels visit to islands, lacks funding

Dutch National Ombudsman Reinier van Zutphen has decided to cancel his working visit to Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba planned for November, for financial reasons, writes The Daily Herald.

He sent a protest letter to Dutch Minister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Ronald Plasterk on Tuesday.

The 2015 and 2016 contributions of 250,000 euros that were promised by the Minister earlier this month are insufficient for the Ombudsman to carry out all tasks in the Caribbean Netherlands. “We have a task, but the finances are lacking,” he stated in a press release.

Van Zutphen has cancelled his working visit in order to remain within his budget. As a result of the cancellation, citizens in the Caribbean Netherlands will not be able to address their complaints about their government in a face-to-face consultation with the Ombudsman. His next working visit, scheduled for March 2016, will proceed.

“I value these visits because they make the Ombudsman accessible for people in the Caribbean Netherlands who can’t find me via the digital channels,” stated Van Zutphen in his letter to Plasterk.

He feared that the number of people taking their complaints to the Ombudsman would decrease if the organisation was less accessible. “And, that is what I especially find important: a visible organisation where citizens can easily go to when they have a problem with government.” The Ombudsman will remain available via email, telephone and postal mail.

Van Zutphen called the Minister’s promise of 250,000 euros for this and next year a “nice first step,” but added that it was “insufficient and again not structural.” He explained in the letter that he needed continuity of financing to structurally expand the work of the Ombudsman on the islands.

The Ombudsman estimated that he needed 350,000 to 400,000 euros on an annual basis in order for the organisation to properly carry out its work, which includes talks with government representatives and, where necessary, workshops. According to Van Zutphen, a former Judge at the Dutch Caribbean Joint Court of Justice, the time was right to introduce an individual way of handling complaints whereby a solution is sought per individual case. He stated that his organisation also wanted to carry out more analyses and to have more regular consultations with the local government.

“My contribution to good governance will further increase by opting for a good mix of interventions. This requires a long-term strategy,” he stated. The number of complaints in the Caribbean Netherlands has been increasing steadily. People are getting more familiar with the Ombudsman and the confidence in the independent position has been growing.

During the first four years after Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba became Dutch public entities, the Ombudsman worked with a refund system whereby the Ministry of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations BZK would repay based on an after calculation. Since December 2014, there has been uncertainty about the financing of 2015 and afterwards.

In July 2015, Plasterk informed the Ombudsman that funding had ceased; a decision which was reversed a few months later. Van Zutphen told the Minister that talks about the financing would have to take place in 2016 because the current way of doing things was not conducive for a structural build-up of the Ombudsman’s work on the islands.

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