Dutch State Secretary of Kingdom Relations Raymond Knops assured during the plenary handling of the draft 2018 budget for Kingdom Relations in the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament that St. Eustatius and Saba will not be forgotten in the reconstruction efforts of the Windward Islands following Hurricane Irma. “We have a special responsibility for St. Eustatius and Saba. The Dutch Ministries are taking their responsibility,” said Knops. He gave as examples the easing of payments by the Caribbean Netherlands Tax Office for the coming period and the establishing of a ferry service by the Ministry of Economic Affairs between St. Eustatius, Saba, St. Maarten and St. Kitts.
An assessment of the total damage is being drafted, after which definite decision-taking will take place regarding the amounts of financial assistance and the Recovery Plan. The State Secretary confirmed that there would be extra attention for the Saba harbour and the runway in St. Eustatius, both of which have sustained damage as a result of Hurricanes Irma and Maria.
Member of Parliament Ronald van Raak of the Socialist Party (SP) urged the State Secretary to act fast where it concerned the assistance for St. Eustatius and Saba after the hurricanes. MP Andre Bosman of the liberal democratic VVD party concurred and said that St. Eustatius and Saba should receive assistance quickly “so they can continue with their lives.” Van Raak asked the State Secretary to provide direct aid to St. Eustatius and Saba, and not to let these islands be dependent on the reconstruction efforts in St. Maarten, which have been delayed due to politics in the latter country. “No ships with aid via St. Maarten, but direct transports to Saba and Statia,” he said.
Van Raak presented a motion during the second term of Parliament during the budget handling on Wednesday, co-signed by MP Attje Kuiken of the Labour Party PvdA, requesting the Dutch Government to give special attention in the reconstruction to persons with a low income who were hard-hit by the hurricanes.
Van Raak also brought up an entirely different manner, namely the desire to transfer more tasks and authority to the Saba Government. “Saba is known to solve its own problems, possibly better than the Netherlands. Unfortunately, Saba keeps banging into closed doors at the Ministries in The Hague,” he said.
Knops stated that he was willing to entertain talks with the Saba Government to look at ways to further broaden the tasks and authorities of the public entity. “I say less for less, more for more. Saba has been a great example, and we cherish that, but allow me to first get my bearings,” said the State Secretary, who assumed office two weeks ago. Van Raak, but also Bosman made a case during the budget handling on Tuesday to allow Saba to have a bigger say in its own affairs and the spending of money.
“Saba has been complying with the conditions of good governance and financial accountability. I am of the opinion that we have to look at Saba’s tasks and authorities with a positive view, and whether there is room to transfer tasks to Saba. I will check whether there is room to transfer tasks, possibly first in a test format,” stated Knops in his response on Wednesday. The State Secretary said the Ministry of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations BZK has already added a part of the integral resources destined for Saba to the so-called free remittance (vrije uitkering).
“In consultation with the Saba government we will look at ways where and how a further broadening is possible. We will discuss this in the next talks with Saba,” said Knops, who promised to involve the other ministries in this exercise.” He announced his visit to the Windward Islands in two weeks.
Knops said he wanted “practical solutions” to make things better on the islands. He hoped that these practical solutions would also reduce the discussion about constitutional change. “I don’t want discussions about new structures. I want to get to work in a practical manner.” He promised to play a bigger coordinating role to ensure that policies of the various Ministries were implemented with the specific needs of the islands in mind. “I want to make priorities with the islands and not for the islands.”
The State Secretary also addressed the matter of low-cost housing on the request of Member of Parliament (MP) Bosman, who expressed concerns about stagnating social housing projects. While these projects have stagnated in Bonaire and St. Eustatius, that was not the case in Saba, said Knops.
“Big steps were already set in Saba in the area of social housing, in cooperation with Dutch housing corporation Woonlinie. This appears to have secured the quality and quantity of social housing in Saba on the long term,” said Knops, who added that in St. Eustatius the problems in government at this time “restricted any form of progress in this area.”
MP Liesbeth van Tongeren of the green left party GroenLinks had asked the State Secretary about the efforts of the Dutch Government to make the Caribbean Netherlands “greener and more social.” Knops replied that in these areas a lot had already been invested.
The State Secretary explained that the Ministry of Economic Affairs had invested 20 million euros in the past four years in solar energy in St. Eustatius and Saba, as a result of which 40 per cent of the electricity comes from solar power. “This makes the islands much greener than the Netherlands.”
Knops said poverty remained an “important bottleneck.” The previous Dutch Government has taken a number of steps in the social-economic domain, such as the introduction of the family allowance (kinderbijslag), the increase of social welfare in St. Eustatius and Saba, additional funds for children living in poverty and funds to improve the infrastructure.
“This doesn’t mean that we are there yet. This government will focus on the social-economic development and improving the perspective for the islands and their inhabitants,” said Knops, who emphasized that this will be the main priority for the Caribbean Netherlands in the coming years.
He said that discussions would continue to take place in Parliament once the results of the study into the cost of living is released in March next year. Also, the recommendations stated in the recently-published study into the high consumer prices will be implemented with priority.
MP Joba van den Berg of the Christian Democratic Party CDA had asked the State Secretary about the efforts to prevent and tackle sexual abuse in the Caribbean Netherlands. Knops explained that in 2017, the Ministry of Public Health, Wellbeing and Sports VWS had made an agreement with the three islands to tackle domestic violence and children abuse. Funds have been made available for the period 2017-2020.
The Ministry of Education, Culture and Science OCW also financially supports the activities on the islands to strengthen the sexual defensibility of youngsters through the You Can Move approach, which encourages the youth to set up activities to enhance awareness.
The Daily Herald.