Senate wants to meet new State Secretary van Huffelen

— Committee to islands late February —

The Permanent Committee for Kingdom Relations of the First Chamber of the Dutch Parliament, in anticipation of its visit to the Dutch Caribbean in February/March, has invited new State Secretary of Kingdom Relations and Digitalisation Alexandra van Huffelen for a meeting on February 15.

The Senate Committee during its first meeting of 2022 on Tuesday agreed to invite the state secretary for an informal, behind-closed doors meeting. The meeting with the state secretary is scheduled take place shortly after Van Huffelen’s working visit to the islands, and shortly before the visit of the Senate Committee to the Dutch Caribbean.

Besides its planned working visit to the islands from February 25 to March 6, for which an agenda is not known as yet, the Senate Committee wants to meet to talk with the state secretary about the halted decision-taking of the Kingdom Council of Ministers on December 17, 2021, and the Dutch government budget with regard to the Carib­bean part of the Kingdom.

Another topic that the Committee wants to dis­cuss with the state secretary is the decision of the Dutch government to end the sub­sidising of the fixed tariffs of electricity and water in Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba per January 1.

Due to the large socio­economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic for households and entrepre­neurs in the Caribbean Netherlands, the Dutch government per May 2020 implemented a temporary subsidy that lowered the fixed tariffs of electricity and water to zero. A US $25-$35 reduction was in­troduced for each Internet connection in Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba.

In June 2021, the Dutch government informed the Second Chamber that, considering the “positive developments” with regard to the pandemic and the reopening of the islands, the temporary measure to reduce utility prices would not be continued in 2022.

It was also stated at that time that the decision-tak­ing on the structural reduc­tion of the electricity, water and Internet costs would be left to a new Dutch gov­ernment. Now that a new Dutch government is in place, the Senate’s King­dom Relations Commit­tee wants to get an update from the state secretary on this matter.

In response to this letter of the Dutch government, the Senate Committee submit­ted a number of questions to then State Secretary of Home Affairs and King­dom Relations Raymond Knops. One of the ques­tions had to do with the relationship between the high cost of utilities and in­creased poverty in the Ca­ribbean Netherlands.

The Committee asked what the consequences would be for the eradica­tion of poverty when the fixed tariffs of water and electricity increased sub­stantially per January 1, 2022. The Committee also wanted to know whether the subsidy would continue for low-income families on the three islands or if there would be another form of compensation for this group.

In his reply, then State Secretary Knops explained that the new Dutch gov­ernment would work on a structural reduction of the cost of utilities in the Ca­ribbean Netherlands. He pointed out that the Min­istry of Infrastructure and Water Management IenW already subsidised the fixed tariff of drinking water in Bonaire and St. Eustatius up to $7 per month.

In addition, the same ministry provided inciden­tal subsidies to St. Eusta­tius and Saba to invest in the water network. “This contributes to the afford­ability and ensures that the access to reliable drinking water remains secured in the coming years,” Knops stated.

The variable electricity tariffs, the tariff per kilo­watt-hour, increased in the Caribbean Netherlands per January 1, 2022, just as it did in the Netherlands. To mitigate the increase in electricity prices for house­holds, the Dutch govern­ment allocated $42.24 mil­lion for the three islands.

As for poverty eradica­tion, it was explained that the previous Dutch govern­ment made a “structural effort” to reduce poverty in the Caribbean Netherlands through the benchmark for a social minimum. As part of this approach, the (lower) incomes have been raised and the cost of living reduced. Also, investments were made in the quality and affordability of child­care, and the construction of new social housing.

According to the Dutch government, so far there were no indications of a long-term, structural ad­verse effect of the corona-virus pandemic on the level of poverty in the Caribbean Netherlands.

The Daily Herald.

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