Central Government does not know precisely how much money is flowing to the three Caribbean public entities

The central government cannot prove how much money is allocated to the three Caribbean municipalities of the Netherlands. The Second Chamber is not fully informed about this.

It is unclear how much money the Dutch Government transfers annually to the three Caribbean municipalities. The ministries of interior and finance have no overview. As a result, parliament is incompletely informed, and MPs do not know whether the spending makes sense.

At the request of the House of Representatives, the Court of Auditors has tried to find out how the money flows from the Netherlands to Bonaire, Sint-Eustatius, and Saba. The outcome is bleak. The various ministries cannot prove the amount transferred for what purpose. Ewout Irrgang, member of the Court of Auditors: “We asked them: is there an overview? So there isn’t.” The fact that ministries default is problematic, says Irrgang, because this way MPs receive incomplete and unreliable information.

Bonaire (population 21,000), St Eustatius (3100) and Saba (1900) have been the special municipality of the Netherlands since October 2010. Since then, these islands have been financed by the ministries in The Hague. This is increasingly happening with ‘special benefits’. This is money for a specific purpose, for example, the construction of a school or library or the construction of a solar park.

Financial statements

The Ministry of Interior should have an overall picture of all these benefits, but there is no such thing. The Court itself has calculated that in the period 2011 to 2019 it should total around EUR 176 million. The Ministry of Finance is unable to confirm this. The government does send financial statements to the Second Chamber, but the ministries have ‘not been able to substantiate’ this information, the Court notes.

The ministries fall short in yet another way. They transfer one-off amounts to Bonaire, St Eustatius and Saba, without checking whether this also entails costs for the islands. In 2014, for example, Saba received about 1.25 million euros from the Ministry of Infrastructure for a waste separation plant. Waste management became considerably more expensive, which Saba had to solve within its own budget. The island hadn’t taken that into account. “Ministries should be wondering what local government can handle,” Irrgang said.

The fact that the Caribbean islands are increasingly financed by special benefits rather than “free” money is undesirable, according to the Court of Auditors. Irrgang: “It leads to greater financial dependence on the Central Government. While the Netherlands welcomes the fact that the islands operate independently as much as possible.”

exception

In turn, the islands themselves are seriously inadequate. The local authorities of Bonaire and Sint-Eustatius do not or hardly justify the spending of these benefits. Annual accounts are submitted late and incompletely to the island councils, often without an approved auditor’s report. As a result, it is not possible for local politicians to determine how much money was spent on which project and whether it was a meaningful investment. Saba is the positive exception, the Court notes. There the financial accountability is in order.

The question is how it is that the ministries in The Hague do not know from each other what they are doing in the West. The ex-Mp, Ronald van Raak (SP) in the past denounced the disinterest from the Netherlands for the Caribbean islands. Irrgang is afraid to say whether the lack of interest is also the cause of the unclear flows of money. The fact is that the House of Representatives canceled the Court of Auditors’ briefing on this investigation due to other obligations.

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