Equality a must in relations with Caribbean Netherlands

— Second Chamber in debate with state secretary —

Equality in the rela­tions between the Netherlands and Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba is important and requires continuous working on.

That was emphasised during a de­bate of the Permanent Committee for Kingdom Relations of the Sec­ond Chamber of the Dutch Parlia­ment and State Secretary of King­dom Relations and Digitisation Al­exandra van Huffelen on Thursday, April 14, about governance in the Caribbean Netherlands.

“The question is: what the role of the Netherlands in the Caribbean Netherlands is, where does the re­sponsibility stop and what can be left for the islands to do themselves. That creates tension, and sometimes a difference of opinion. Equality in the relations of the Netherlands and the Caribbean Netherlands is essential. We need to take steps to accomplish this,” said Mem­ber of Parliament (MP) Don Ceder of the ChristianUnion. The coalition accord of the new Dutch government states a clear ambition: “In the Ca­ribbean Netherlands we will keep an effort to let Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba be an equal part of the Nether­lands.”

In her letter of April 8 to the Second Chamber, Van Huffelen stated that the Dutch government was striv­ing to have the level of facili­ties in the Caribbean Neth­erlands “in the long run be more equal to the level of the European Netherlands sys­tem.”

MP Kauthar Bouchallikh of the green left party Groen­Links said she was struck by the phrase “more equal in the long run” in the state secre­tary’s letter. “Why not equal and what term are we talking about?” asked Bouchallikh, who wanted to know if the Second Chamber could re­ceive a timeframe to “moni­tor the ambitions.”

People’s wellbeing 

MP Jorien Wuite of the Democratic Party D66 said the input of her party was equality for the Caribbean Netherlands. She asked the state secretary how the well­being of the people on the islands had improved in the past few years. She said that the increased poverty and the unequal opportunities had resulted in more distance between the islands and The Hague. Wuite stressed on the importance of investing in the youth and their future.

“Solid collaboration is essen­tial if we want to accomplish the ambitions,” said MP Ro­elien Kamminga of the liberal democratic VVD party. She said that despite the good intentions and the efforts that already have been made, there was still a lot to do. She said the conclusions in several independent reports were “clear.” “I am curious to learn what we will concretely do in the interest of the people,” Kamminga said.

Do better 

“We need to look at what we can do better. It is also about the interest of the people, not only of the governments. Es­sential matters such as the social minimum must be se­cured. Fundamental issues need to be in order if you want to work together on equal footing,” said MP Attje Kuiken of the Labour Party PvdA. She called on the state secretary to give Saba more trust and more responsibili­ties because the island does well.

MP Joba van den Berg of the Christian Democratic Party CDA said the main thing was how to improve the wellbeing of the islands and the residents as much as pos­sible. She agreed with Wuite and Kuiken that equality had to serve as the basis for col­laboration.

Equal relations also mean providing the three islands, which are part of the Neth­erlands, sufficient financial means so their governments can function properly, carry out their tasks, assist the people in need and help cre­ate liveable conditions for residents.

Free allowance

Several MPs brought up the much-needed increase of the free allowance, a raise that has been recommended in several reports in the past few years. “The coalition agree­ment mentions additional funding. We need a point on the horizon. What is needed to completely match with what is really needed,” said Ceder.

Bouchallikh said she was happy to learn that this new Dutch government was al­locating the means, 30 mil­lion euros for the Caribbean Netherlands envelope and 35 million euros for nature, the environment and sustainabil­ity. “But how do we ensure that this is enough and that there will be no discussion on who spends what. We need to come with fast, concrete solu­tions for the problems on the islands,” she said.

Sufficient instruments 

State Secretary Van Huffelen said that equality as partners was important in the relations, giving the local government sufficient instruments so they can execute their tasks and by improving the basic facilities. She said equality would be a key part in the new govern­ment accords that she would make with the islands in the coming months. The division of tasks, “making clear who does what,” will also be part of these accords, she said.

The state secretary said the Caribbean Netherlands En­velope served to address the first needs to eradicate pov­erty and to increase the free allowance. She announced that an investigation would be carried out to assess the free allowance and to check what the amount needs to be to match the tasks of the public entities.

No notary

Some MPs also brought up pertinent issues that in par­ticular St. Eustatius and Saba are facing. “There is no notary in Saba or St. Eustatius, while this is an essential service that needs to be provided. We hope that the state secretary will come with a solution for this pressing matter soon,” said Ceder. Van Huffelen as­sured the MPs that she was working on solving the matter of the notary.

Another issue that requires the urgent attention of The Hague is the lack of connec­tivity between St. Maarten, St. Eustatius and Saba. “The number of flights has de­creased. The Dutch govern­ment owns part of WINAIR and we need to make sure that the number of flights goes up,” said Ceder.

MP Derk Jan Eppink of the JA21 party said it was “easy to hold up one’s hand” and that in the future, the islands should generate more own income. The private sector and trade with other coun­tries in the region should play a role in this, he said. Eppink also addressed the cultural differences within the King­dom. He noted that sending a bunch of Dutch civil servants “who think they will solve the problems on the islands does not work.”

The Daily Herald.

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