Repeated call to reduce cost of living, bureaucratic rules

The Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament, during a general debate on Thursday with three state secretaries present, repeated its call for a reduction of the high cost of living in the Caribbean Netherlands, and to arrange less bureaucracy and more leeway for Saba.
All Members of Parliament (MP) present at the debate of the Permanent Committee for Kingdom Relations with State Secretaries Raymond Knops of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations, Tamara van Ark of Social Affairs and Labour, and Mona Keijzer of Economic Affairs and Climate, agreed that the high cost of living, especially in St. Eustatius and Saba must go down.

State Secretaries Raymond Knops (second from right), Tamara van Ark (third from left) and Mona Keijzer (right), attended the debate about the Caribbean Netherlands in the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament on Thursday. (Suzanne Koelega photo)

The MPs lauded State Secretary Van Ark’s measures on the income side in an attempt to combat poverty by increasing the social welfare, old age pension and minimum wage. But more is needed, the MPs made very clear.

“It is nice that social welfare has gone up with a couple of 10s of dollars, but that doesn’t help if people have to pay so much for the Internet and for banking services. Why can’t people on Saba not just do business online with Dutch banks?” asked Ronald van Raak of the Socialist Party (SP).

“Electricity will never be cost-covering with 600 connections in Saba and 1,200 in St. Eustatius,” said André Bosman of the liberal democratic VVD party who, together with Van Raak, made a case for lowering the cost of banking and Internet access in Saba and Statia.

“Market forces don’t work with so few households. This needs to be fixed,” said Bosman.

“The cost of living is absurdly high and results in poverty and debt,” said Antje Diertens of the Democratic Party D66.

“Things are not going well on the islands. We need to increase the standard of living and decrease the cost of living,” said Nevin Özütok of the green left party GroenLinks.

“The cost of living must go down,” said Attje Kuiken of the Labour Party PvdA, who also expressed concerns about the high rate of domestic abuse.

“People in Saba belong to the working poor, having to pay too much for about everything,” said Van Raak.

Joba van den Berg of the Christian Democratic Party CDA linked the reduction of the high cost of living and associated poverty to an increase in self-sufficiency and economic development by tackling, for example, the high cost of Internet and electricity. “As the Netherlands, we should be able to make the difference for the islands.”

The Caribbean Netherlands are hindered by Dutch bureaucracy and the many regulations set by The Hague, the MPs agreed. “The approach is too narrow, too technical and too legal. The human aspect has been lost along the way,” said Bosman.

The fact that things are not going well on the islands is the fault of The Hague, suggested Van Raak. “Can you imagine that the Saba government has to deal with 10 different ministries? And the National Government Service RCN in Bonaire, which costs way too much, is a big headache for Saba. The RCN is an absurd construction. Let’s get rid of it,” he said.

Van Raak expressed fierce criticism of the fact that handling work permits still has not been transferred to Saba, as had been agreed on several years ago. “We agreed to reward Saba for its solid administration by transferring more authority to the island, by not always having to deal with the ministries’ towers in The Hague. Yet, it doesn’t happen. Why is that?”

Van Raak proposed creating a special arrangement for Saba whereby the island would not have to adhere to (all) cumbersome regulations instituted by The Hague and would have a much larger say in the handling of its own affairs. “Saba is hindered by bureaucracy. Give them the tools to do things themselves and only apply the regulations that are necessary. Can’t we just solve these issues for Saba with the RCN, without the ministries?”

Knops called Van Raak’s suggestion for Saba an “interesting concept.” He said more tasks were gradually being transferred to Saba, but added that a number of tasks needed to be taken care of by the Dutch government, such as policing. He said he was impressed by how well Saba was being governed by a small administration. He announced that the Saba Package, an administrative accord drafted on Saba’s initiative, would be signed this summer.

According to Knops, the Council of State’s advice on the Caribbean Netherlands structure, which should be forthcoming shortly, will be important in revising policies and giving guidance on how to better organise things for the islands.

Van Ark reconfirmed her intention to establish a social minimum for the Caribbean Netherlands in the near future, and said she was working together with the other ministries on lowering of the high cost of living. She said she would discuss these matters with the local governments when she visited Saba and Statia later in June.

Van Ark announced that she was working on a law proposal to implement day-care and afterschool care as a basic facility that would not only make them more accessible and affordable, but which would also tackle educational backlogs and school meals.

Regarding transferring the authority to handle work permits to Saba, Van Ark said she understood the island’s wishes in this area. “We share that objective.” However, the challenge is that the issuing of work permits is intrinsically linked to the issuing of residency permits, which concerns another authority altogether. “But I am most willing to talk about this, and hopefully we can come to an agreement in two weeks,” she said.

The Daily Herald.

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