Statia News reports that Democratic Party (DP) Island Council Members Adelka Spanner and Koos Sneek, during their visit to the Netherlands, stated: “Members of the St. Eustatius Government should not complain about unfair treatment by the Dutch Government, but instead should first do their homework and get the island’s financial management in order”.
The favourable attitude of the Dutch Government and the Dutch Parliament towards Saba has shown that it is essential to have one’s financial household in order. “Saba made its financial household a priority and as a result it will be allowed to carry out more tasks. This confirms that sound finances lead to more autonomy,” Sneek told The Daily Herald earlier this week.
“It is like a child who asks his mother for ice cream. The mother says, ‘Yes, you can have ice cream, but only after you clean up your room.’ As St. Eustatius, we first have to clean up our room. That is currently not the case. In order to move forward we need to have our financial household in order,” said Sneek.
Sneek and Spanner denounced the statement that Progressive Labour Party (PLP) leader Councilman Clyde van Putten made after Monday’s debate in the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament on the Caribbean Netherlands constitutional evaluation report of the Spies Committee.
Van Putten called the formal reaction of the Dutch Government to the evaluation report “window dressing,” because in his opinion no real solutions were offered for Statia. Sneek didn’t consider it window dressing and said that especially in the Dutch Parliament there was support for the Caribbean Netherlands to improve things.
According to Sneek, Monday’s debate made clear that several Dutch political parties demanded that Minister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Ronald Plasterk take a proactive approach to tackle the major problems that Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba face: poverty, declined purchasing power, bureaucracy, too much influence by The Hague and a lack of coordination between the Dutch ministries.
The liberal democratic VVD party, the Labour Party PvdA, the Socialist Party (SP) and the Democratic Party D66 all expressed their desire for more autonomy for the islands and requested the transfer of tasks to the islands that were ready for it.
Saba was mentioned as an island that should be “rewarded” with more tasks, as it had its financial household and administration in order. Statia needs help to achieve this. “We are blaming the Dutch Government and the National Representative. If we can’t manage, we should be adult enough to call for help.”
Sneek and Spanner explained that the DP supported a recent motion of the Island Council to achieve more autonomy in the issuing of work permits and other labour related matters. “We didn’t support the motion because we think that we are able to handle this affair on our own at this moment. Economic development and work permits are closely related, but we do need assistance to carry out this task once it is transferred.”
Sneek and Spanner referred to a June 3 letter of the Committee for Financial Supervision CFT to Statia’s Acting Island Governor Julian Woodley. In this letter released earlier this week, the CFT was highly critical about the execution report of the first quarter of 2016. The CFT concluded that the execution reports were not up to par, and that as a result it was hard to paint a clear picture of the government’s finances.
The CFT advised concrete measures in relation to the special allowances, which, in the opinion of the committee, were partly incorrectly booked as revenue; the indexation of the free allowance, which was double-booked; and the Caribbean Netherlands Week of which the one-time contribution was wrongly incorporated in all quarters.
The CFT also advised to reserve the spare US $0.8 million on the personnel budget to fill the critical vacancies and not to earmark this as free budget space. It was further determined that the capacity at the Finances Unit should have priority.
Regarding the prognosis for the entire 2016, the CFT noted that the overview of revenues and expenditures incorrectly showed a positive balance of $151,045. The CFT calculated that in fact there was a negative balance of $130,295, which meant that the budget was no longer balanced and a budget amendment needed to be submitted.
The CFT discovered that the indexation of the free allowance of $186,300 had been included twice in the 2016 revenues overview. The one-time correction for the travel expenses of the Caribbean Netherlands Week in the Netherlands of $31,680 which was deposited in the first quarter, and which was wrongly marked down as revenue the entire year, amounted to a total of $95,040.
DP Council Members Sneek and Spanner mentioned the CFT’s conclusion that so far only one of the 22 measures aimed at improving Statia’s financial management had been executed. “That shows it all: there is no urgency to address the problems,” said Sneek.
According to the Councilman, the Netherlands was “too lenient” and needed to pay more attention to “certain things that were happening, including the appointments.”
“The Hague must intervene because we are getting further in the hole. The CFT and the Dutch Government need to be much more forceful with the Statia Government to get things done,” he said.
Sneek and Spanner were also critical of some aspects of the way the Dutch Government deals with the islands. Poverty is a major problem that must be dealt with in an expedited manner. “Up to now we don’t have an acceptable level of facilities that are provided. There is no established poverty line,” said Spanner.
Spanner expressed support for the motion of Members of the Second Chamber Roelof van Laar (PvdA) and Ronald van Raak (SP) to raise the family allowance from $40 to $150 per child per month to help alleviate poverty.
Sneek urged Minister Plasterk to set a “dot on the horizon” as the evaluation committee and the CFT had suggested, and to establish a minimum income for people to survive on. “The Minister so far refuses to set a dot on the horizon.”
Even if the minimum wage is raised, something the Dutch Government has promised to look at, the question remains whether it will be enough. “Let’s say the minimum liveable income is $1,200 and the minimum wage is $900, then you still end up $300 short to survive,” said Sneek. The social welfare (“onderstand”), even if it goes up, is still far below the poverty line, he added.
Spanner mentioned the older people in Statia, who she said are having a “tough time.” She said that unlike in the Netherlands, most of the elderly did not have a pension plan. “Many times they only have the old age pension, AOV, and that is by far not enough to survive.