Parliament wants clarity on 30m euros for islands

The Second Chamber of the Dutch Parlia­ment finds it important the thirty­million-euro structural envelope that the new Dutch government is allocating for the Caribbean Netherlands is spent in consulta­tion with the public entities Bo­naire, St. Eustatius and Saba to the benefit of the people on the islands.

This became clear during a de­bate of the Second Chamber’s Permanent Committee for King­dom Relations with Dutch State Secretary of Kingdom Relations and Digitisation Alexandra van Huffelen on Wednesday. Mem­ber of Parliament (MP) Joba van den Berg of the Christian Demo­cratic Party CDA announced that she would be filing a motion on this matter during a subsequent debate.

Member of Parliament (MP) Joba van den Berg makes a point during Wednesday’s debate. In the forefront (MP) Jorien Wuite. (Suzanne Koel­ega photo)

MP Jorien Wuite of the Demo­cratic Party D66 during Wednes­day’s debate requested a so-called two-minute debate, also on behalf of her colleague MP Lam­mert van Raan of the Party for Animals PvdD. During this two-minute debate, which should take place within the next few weeks, Wuite and other MPs will be pre­senting motions.

The Second Chamber is worried that the 30 million euros in struc­tural funding from the coalition agreement won’t be fully destined for the two main components, namely, to eradicate poverty on the islands and the increasing of the free allowance for the public entities, so they can duly carry out their tasks.

MP van den Berg expressed con­cerns that the Dutch ministries may claim part of the 30 million euros for projects that they usually finance from their own budgets. She wants the 30 million be parked at the Ministry of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations BZK, and that this ministry together with the public en­tities determine the desti­nation for the funding.

“The islands have to in­dicate how those funds are utilised. This is not something that should be decided by The Hague,” said Van den Berg. The MP emphasised that the other ministries have their own responsibility for Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba.

Motto

Wuite was critical of the “more for more, less for less” motto of the previous State Secretary of Kingdom Relations Raymond Knops. Knops used this motto to indicate that islands that did well would be rewarded as such. In Wuite’s opinion, “rewarding and punishing” had no place in a collabora­tion between governments based on equality.

Wuite said that she was more in favour of the state­ment of current state secre­tary, “You need to help me to help you,” and asked Van Huffelen how she intended to give content to this mot­to for Saba, increasing of the free allowance to close the financing deficit of US $1.5 million. “Can we as­sume that $1.5 million will be allocated for Saba? Oth­erwise, the starting point remains uneven for Saba,” noted MP Van den Berg.

Specific overview

MP Don Ceder of the ChristianUnion (CU) asked for a specific over­view of the allocation for the 30 million euros. ‘As Second Chamber, we want to check how this is spent. Every cent counts. The is­lands face great challeng­es,” he said.

MP Attje Kuiken of the Labour Party PvdA shared the concerns. “I fear that the 30 million will not end up for what it is originally intended. Saba has a hole in its budget which needs to be solved. The islands need to be treated equally and have sufficient finances to carry out their tasks. The fact that this is not the case hurts and bothers me,” she said.

Van Huffelen acknowl­edged that the 30 million was not sufficient to get rid of all backlogs. “More money is needed,” she said, noting that consultations were ongoing with the min­istries and that more clarity would be forthcoming in the Spring Memorandum (“Voorjaarsnota”). With regard to Saba, she stated that she was in discussions with the public entity on this matter.

The MPs referred to the high cost of living in the Caribbean Netherlands, rising prices and increasing poverty. MP Roelien Kam­minga of the liberal demo­cratic VVD party said that meaningful steps had been taken to improve the so­cial security and minimum wage, but that there was still homework to do.

Benchmark

The state secretary an­nounced that the bench­mark for the social mini­mum would be adapted shortly, so it would reflect the reality of the increased cost of living. Since the set­ting of the benchmark in 2018, the gap between the income level and the cost of living has increased. Van Huffelen repeated the am­bition of the new Dutch government to realise a liveable sustenance mini­mum within four years.

MP Kamminga made a plea to assist the islands in strengthening and broad­ening their economic po­tential, among other things, through agriculture and to reduce the cost of liv­ing structurally. The MPs urged the state secretary to tackle not only the high cost of living, but to also do something about the high airfares for inter-island tickets, to secure better banking services and stable notary services and to ar­range postal codes and citi­zen service numbers BSN for the islands.

Human rights

MP Kauthar Bouchal­likh of the green left party GroenLinks asked the state secretary to make sure that human rights are upheld on the islands. “Human rights should be a surety.” She remarked that too many people on the islands were barely making ends meet, and urged to fix this through establishing a so­cial minimum. In that re­gard, Bouchallikh asked about constructing afford­able housing.

MP Van Raan said that despite having multiple jobs, people on the islands barely survived, especially with the continuously ris­ing prices. He asked about efforts to raise the quality of life and the structural reduction of energy prices. He pointed out that one way to reduce the energy prices was through renew­able energy and invest­ments in, for example, wind energy. Funding of the Dutch government for cli­mate change could be used for this, he said.

The Daily Herald.

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