Statia, Saba and Bonaire join forces, seek additional support to head off corona crisis

On March 25 the BES islands Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba received an emergency package for entrepreneurs and employees to deal with the economic consequences of the coronavirus pandemic.

This emergency package, including a contribution for labour cost, is much appreci­ated by the public entities in the Caribbean Netherlands. However, based on the les­sons learned from the after­math and recovery after Hur­ricanes Irma and Maria, the three islands point out that the current package will not suffice. Therefore, the Island Governors of Saba and Bo­naire have joined forces with Statia’s Government Com­missioner Marnix Van Rij in seeking additional economic support from The Hague.

In a joint letter of Wednes­day, April 22, a broad spec­trum of economic measures was proposed to the Minis­ters of Finance; Economic Affairs and Climate; Social Affairs and Employment; and Home Affairs and King­dom Relations.

One week earlier, Minister of Economic Affairs and Cli­mate Eric Wiebes and State Secretary of Social Affairs and Employment Tamara van Ark had already received a letter from Central Dia­logue Statia requesting an economic recovery stimulus.

“We appreciate the emer­gency package offered to the BES islands. Many of our citizens need it dearly. But looking ahead, an addi­tional economic package is essential. The aftermath of COVID-I9 is expected to be far greater than, for exam­ple, the effects of hurricanes in recent years. Therefore, we need to look beyond the coming three months for a more structural and compre­hensive solution,” Van Rij said.

Suggestions for additional measures include a mar­keting fund for tourism, increased social security, and reduction of the cost of transport between Saba, Sta­tia and St. Maarten.

The letter addresses a num­ber of problems the islands are facing as a result of the coronavirus crisis. These in­clude the current emergency package which offers up to 80 per cent in compensa­tion for loss of turnover. However, the remaining 20 per cent cannot be borne by many companies. In many cases their turnover has been reduced to zero and margins are often so minimal that en­trepreneurs are not able to absorb the remaining 20 per cent.

Tourism in Bonaire, Saba and Statia has come to a virtual standstill in a matter of weeks. Projects are delayed, leaving money on the shelf.

To prevent further dam­age to the economy and to stimulate a speedy recovery, a number of measures are suggested in addition to the emergency package. These include a budget-neutral economic impulse by imple­menting planned govern­ment projects earlier than scheduled, and facilitating deferment of payment for mortgages, loans and elec­tricity and telecom bills for businesses in distress.

Also, it is suggested to permanently or temporar­ily reduce the cost of liv­ing by guaranteeing utility-depreciation charges.

To stimulate tourism to the islands, Statia and Saba in particular, the islands rec­ommend the implementa­tion of a tourism-promotion fund and reducing airfare from Saba and Statia to St. Maarten to make the islands more attractive for tourists and to bring down transport
cost for their inhabitants.

Social-security services should be strengthened; for instance, by food stamps and temporary allowances for regular cost of living.

“Many of these suggestions have been on the table long before the current situation. Implementing these mea­sures now would be address­ing some of the root causes for the lagging behind of the economic development of the islands. By stimulating the economy in direct response to the corona crisis, in­creased dependency on gov­ernment spending in the long term can be minimised,” the islands wrote in their letter.

The public entities are cur­rently awaiting a decision by the Dutch cabinet about ad­ditional economic support. The decision is expected soon.

In addition to support by the Dutch government, the three islands also hope to ob­tain support from the Euro­pean Union.

The Daily Herald.

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