Saba, Statia not forgotten in recovery, says Knops

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.

Ronald van Raak

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.”

Member of the Second Chamber André Bosman of the VVD party. (File photo)

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.

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