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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.