Second Chamber okays change to Constitution

The con­stitutional embedding of Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba is one step closer with the recent go-ahead of the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament to amend the Dutch Constitution.

The day before Hurricane Irma struck the Windward Islands, the Second Chamber met in a plenary setting to discuss the law proposal prepared by the Dutch Government to amend the Constitution, giving Bo­naire, St. Eustatius and Saba a constitutional basis and to secure the voting rights of their inhabitants with the Dutch nationality for the First Chamber, the Senate. A week later, on Septem­ber 12, a vast majority of the Second Chamber ap­proved the law proposal in the second reading of the amendment to the Consti­tution.

The law proposal secures important rights for the people of the Caribbean Netherlands, including the voting right for the Senate, said Member of the Sec­ond Chamber Henk Krol of the 50Plus party. He pleaded for a quick imple­mentation of the amended Constitution to enable resi­dents to vote in the next First Chamber elections in 2019 through the Electoral Council (“Kiescollege”).

Member of Parliament (MP) of the liberal demo­cratic VVD party Sven Koopmans said it was im­portant to have the Elec­toral Council function effi­ciently, to limit bureaucracy by combining the Island Council and the Senate elections. He emphasised the importance of ensuring that only persons with the Dutch nationality can vote for the Senate. The debate on Septem­ber 5 was used by several MPs to voice their concern about the level of facilities in Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba.

“The islands expected to have clarity after the new constitutional relations went into effect. But almost seven years later, there is no clarity about their posi­tion, the legislation, while the level of facilities is inad­equate,” said MP Liesbeth van Tongeren of the green left party GroenLinks.
“One would have expected more progress in more ar­eas,” said Van Tongeren, expressing disappointment that “nothing” had happened with the report of the evaluation committee headed by former Minis­ter of Kingdom Relations Liesbeth Spies. “It is high time to let the islands know where they stand and to treat everyone equally in the Constitution, no matter in which part of the Nether­lands they live.”

Van Tongeren and her colleague Ingrid van En­gelshoven of the Demo­cratic Party D66 submitted a motion calling on the Dutch Government to set clear criteria when it is al­lowed to treat the islands differently where it con­cerns social facilities.
MP Ronald van Raak of the Socialist Party (SP) ex­pressed his support. How­ever, the motion was not carried by a majority in Parliament.

Van Engelshoven said the islands have been re­questing clarity regarding the differentiation in the applying of legislation by the Netherlands due to the islands’ special circum­stances. “The people need to know, because it affects their daily life, their in­come. They need perspec­tive.” She said some Dutch ministries were very active on the islands, while others did little for them. “That creates a sense of ambigu­ity.”

MP Joba van den Berg of the Christian Democratic Party CDA voiced similar concerns about the differ­entiation. She also empha­sised the urgent need for structural investments in the islands’ infrastructure, initiatives to combat pov­erty and to give the people an economic perspective.

Van Raak said things have not improved, but rather gotten worse since 2010 with the islands being gov­erned by 10 different min­istries in The Hague, each with its own style and in­put. Poverty has increased and the standard of living decreased. “Hopefully the new Dutch Government will do something about this unacceptable situa­tion,” he said.

Krol of 50Plus spoke of the “many disappointments” with which the residents of the islands have had to deal since 2010. “Increased poverty, a low elderly AOW pension. We have to make this right, keep our prom­ises of seven years ago.” He said he would remind the next Dutch Government of this promise.

Addressing the issue of the islands’ constitutional status in the amended Constitution, caretaker Minister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Ronald Plasterk empha­sised that this change to the Constitution did not affect the constitutional status of Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba, but that it only deter­mined their position in the Constitution.
He said that naturally the islands remained free to change their constitutional status if they no longer wanted to be a part of the Netherlands as public enti­ties, but this can only take place with a clear mandate of the people. He said the autonomy issue was a “sep­arate discussion,” that it had “nothing to do” with the proposed change to the Constitution.

Plasterk said he wanted to take away the perception that “nothing good had been done for the islands” since 2010. He noted that substantial investments had been made and that the Dutch Government had paid around 10,000 euros per inhabitant in the Ca­ribbean Netherlands. He said it was the task of The Hague to make sure that things got even better and to create more confidence.

An amendment of the Constitution requires ap­proval of two subsequent Parliaments, both First and Second Chambers. The first reading was already con­cluded more than a year ago. The law proposal in the second reading will now go to the First Chamber where it is also expected to receive broad support. During the plenary meet­ing on September 5 all MPs mentioned Hurricane Irma, of which it was known that this storm of the sever­est category, would hit the Windward Islands one day later. They wished the peo­ple much strength.

Plasterk stated at that time that the Dutch militaries had been sent ahead to the islands and that assistance would be provided after the storm.

The Daily Herald.

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