Dutch govt lays foundation for further cooperation with islands

The Dutch gov­ernment is motivated to give fol­low-up to various recommenda­tions of the Council of State and the Intra-Departmental Policy Assessment Kingdom Relations IBO regarding establishing an execution agenda with the pub­lic entities Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba, turning the BES Fund into an investment fund, review­ing the division of tasks in com­bination with adequate financing, further strengthening of the island administrations and trans­ferring a number of the National Government Representative’s tasks to the island governors.

The Council of State and IBO were asked to give advice on the working relations between The Hague and the public entities, the effectiveness of the policies and the coordinating role of the Ministry of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations BZK.

The reason for the advice requests was the Dutch government’s desire to get a better understanding and advice on the opportunities and obstructions in the re­lations between the three islands and The Hague and to achieve a more effective policy and way of working.

“Not as an objective on its own, but to improve the wellbeing of the people of the Caribbean Netherlands with as a point of depar­ture, the equal treatment of all Dutch citizens,” State Secretary of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Raymond Knops stated in an extensive letter to the Dutch Parliament contain­ing the government’s reac­tion to the advices of the Council of State and the IBO.

Step-by-step
The government reac­tion serves to lay a founda­tion for the future, stated Knops. Getting rid of the backlogs on the islands step-by-step, ensuring ad­equate financing, investing in the quality and capacity of the island governments, and improving the coop­eration and coordination in The Hague are the main points.
A better standard of liv­ing for the people on the islands requires elimination of the backlogs, an exercise that requires time, and a structural and pragmatic approach. The Council of State in this regard advised establishing an execution agenda.

In this execution agenda, The Hague and the islands would work together on the desired level of public ser­vices and the associated division of tasks and finances, the necessary investments, possible changes in laws and regulations, and the necessary strengthening of the local governmental ap­paratus.

“Where do Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba want to be in 2030 and what does this mean for the ac­tivities that will be executed in the coming years? The Dutch government will en­ter into consultations with the islands on how to give joint content to this, tak­ing into consideration the needs of the islands and the available capacity,” stated Knops. The Bonaire Ac­cord and the Saba Package were mentioned as a posi­tive initiative.

Investment fund
The Council of State ad­vised turning the BES Fund, through which the Dutch government has been allot­ting finances for the Carib­bean Netherlands, into an investment fund through which funds could be made directly available for invest­ments on the islands. Knops promised to consider this advice in the preparation of the 2021 budget.

According to the Council of State and the IBO, the current division of tasks between the Dutch govern­ment and the public enti­ties is not clear. A clear and correct division of tasks and associated financing is a precondition for a good cooperation. That is why the government together with the public entities will be reviewing the division of tasks and make this more explicit, stated Knops. The capacity and needs of the islands will be taken into consideration.

Some very complex, vital tasks might be transferred to The Hague. In this re­gard, the Bonaire airport and the fuel supply and utilities facilities in Bonaire and St. Eustatius were mentioned. “These are just some examples; we have to review which tasks fits where the best. Differentia­tion should be possible.”

Adequate financing
The review of tasks will include the consideration of whether the finances are still adequate. The islands should have sufficient fi­nances available so they can execute the tasks. The Dutch government will in­clude the free remittance (“vrije uitkering”) in the re­view of the division of tasks.

The Dutch government will work on the Council of State’s recommendation to transfer a number of tasks of the National Govern­ment Representative (“Ri­jksvertegenwoordiger”) to the Island Governors. Some supervisory tasks with far-reaching consequences can be transferred to the Min­ister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations.

“This can lead to the func­tion of the National Government Representative becoming superfluous. The government will not take a hasty decision on this. The National Government Rep­resentative has, aside from supervisory and mediation tasks, also tasks in, for ex­ample, the Safety Law. We have to carefully analyse
which task can be trans­ferred where. The function of the National Govern­ment Representative can only be annulled when all responsibilities have been secured,” stated Knops.

Strong civil service
The Council of State noted in its advice that strength­ening of the civil service is a prerequisite for further reinforcement of the local administrations. “In order to achieve progress and to realise effects for the popu­lation, a strong local gov­ernment and civil service are indispensable.”

Further strengthening of the position of the Island Secretary and the Island Governor will be worked on together with the public entities. The Dutch govern­ment will invest structur­ally more in the schooling of civil servants, exchange programmes, technical as­sistance and internships. The cooperation with the Association of
Dutch Mu­nicipalities VNG will be increased.

Public service should be accessible and user-friendly for all inhabitants on the islands. Residents should not be hindered by the di­vision of tasks or how these are executed. The National Government Service Carib­bean Netherlands RCN will have to work towards more integration, cohesion and uniformity of public service to the residents. The ex­ecution of some tasks will be bundled with the public entities.

Customs union
The cooperation with Aruba, Curacao and St. Maarten will be further strengthened as part of the motto: the islands and the autonomous countries can benefit more from each other’s facilities when they join forces.

In the letter, Knops men­tioned further cooperation in the area of Customs be­tween the Dutch Caribbean countries and the Carib­bean Netherlands. “A form of a Customs union or duty-free area can give a big im­pulse to the growth of trade and investments, and bring down the cost of living.”

Knops said the Dutch government realises that the planned measures will demand great effort from both sides of the ocean. This also applies to the measures to reduce pov­erty and decrease the high cost of living on the islands. “The foundation for the fu­ture has been put down in this government reaction. The road to this is a long­term process with a focus on diligence, mutual com­prehension, practical input and open communication.”

The Daily Herald.

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