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.