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The Hague gives 16.5M euros for humanitarian aid on islands

The Kingdom Council of Ministers on Friday approved the allocation of 16.5 million euros (US $17.8 million) for food and hygiene packages for the neediest persons on all six Dutch Caribbean islands.

State Secretary of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Raymond Knops made the announcement during a press conference for the Dutch Caribbean media on Friday. The 16.5 million euros is part of what Knops called a humanitarian emergency package for the poorest on the six islands, for persons with very little or no income.

The local governments and a number of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in Aruba, Curaçao, St. Maarten, Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba are already assisting the neediest persons in their community with food packages.

The Dutch government will now come to their aid with additional funds to ensure a steady and increased flow of food and hygiene packages to those persons who need it most. The funding is for three months, said Knops. “I have seen the images and read the articles in the media. Things are bad for many people. We will make sure that those persons who need it most will get help,” he said.

He did not give a fixed percentage of the allocation of the 16.5 million per island. He said the matter of the allotment of funding per island would be discussed with the local governments. The amount per island will depend on where the needs are greatest.

The NGOs will play a big role in the distribution of the food and hygiene packages. The execution will vary per island. Existing logistics will be used. “We are working on the details on how to carry this out, but surely it will be done with as little bureaucracy as possible,” Knops said. The Dutch government will be funding this initiative directly, without an intermediary.

The Dutch government is also heavily investing in the expansion of the medical capacity on the islands so they can better deal with the number of COVID-19 patients. Medical equipment, including intensive care units, ventilators, hospitainers, personal protective equipment, air ambulance capacity and medical personnel have been arranged and are being paid for by The Hague.

Knops said he did not have a figure at hand of the cost of the medical capacity assistance to the Caribbean part of the Kingdom, but did say that it concerned “many millions.”

He announced that a logistical coordination centre was being set up to make sure that the available means were deployed effectively and efficiently. “It is important to look at smart solutions.” The hospitainer, a mobile hospital unit, will remain in St. Eustatius for a longer period as an addition to the existing Queen Beatrix Medical Centre.

With the presence of the Netherlands Royal Navy ship Zr. Ms. Karel Doorman, which was scheduled to arrive in St. Maarten on Friday, even more medical capacity will be available, Knops said. Zr. Ms. Karel Doorman, the largest in the Dutch Navy fleet, has a complete hospital on board and can take over non-COVID-19 patients from St. Maarten Medical Center if needed.

Knops made clear during the press briefing that there was a difference between emergency/medical aid and budgetary assistance for the Dutch Caribbean countries. The Kingdom Council of Ministers decided on April 9 to provide liquidity support to the three countries for April and May: Afl. 42.8 million for Aruba, NAf. 177 million for Curaçao and NAf. 50.2 million for St. Maarten. It concerns zero per cent loans with no repayment for two years.

For the middle and long-term financial assistance, Aruba, Curaçao and St. Maarten have drafted plans with which the countries want to finance their local stimulus support programmes. These plans have been submitted or are on their way to the Committees for Financial Supervision of respectively Curaçao and St. Maarten, the CFT, and the CAFT of Aruba.

After the CFT and CAFT have assessed the plans, there will be another meeting of the Kingdom Council of Ministers.

One thing is sure, and this has already made clear by Knops: the countries will have to comply with a number of conditions to receive budgetary assistance. One of the major conditions is a comprehensive reform of the countries’ governments. Cost will need to be reduced drastically, including a pay-cut for members of government, Parliament and directors of government-owned companies, and revenues have to be increased through more efficient tax collection.

Asked about the 2020 draft budget of the country St. Maarten and reports that the ministers’ pay-cut, except for the Prime Minister, has not been included, Knops said that the budget and the reform measures would be looked at in the financial-assistance decision-process.

He lauded the Aruba government for showing solidarity by cutting the salaries of ministers and directors by 20 per cent. “I assume that the other two countries will do the same,” he said. He said the Dutch government had continuously pressed the Dutch Caribbean countries to keep their expenditures and debts in check.

Knops urged the countries to “do the right thing” and to “make the right choices” during this corona crisis. “Don’t sit around and wait, don’t complain, don’t come with the excuse that things are difficult, but do the right thing and tackle the exorbitant salaries in government and the government-owned companies.”

He had a very direct message for the local governments. “It can’t be that the Dutch government provides emergency assistance to those in need, while some people are paying little tax and there are persons with very high salaries. This has to change.”

Asked whether there was contact with St. Maarten to discuss the financial assistance, Knops said he had weekly contact with the prime ministers of the three countries. He had a video conference call with all three prime ministers on Thursday evening. “There is most certainly contact,” he said.

Despite its hardships after the 2017 hurricanes, St. Maarten is getting equal treatment in the process. “The 2017 hurricanes play a role, but in the support efforts from the Netherlands no difference is made between St. Maarten and the other countries. Everyone is treated equally. The fact is that the reconstruction plans and projects are slowed down in the current situation. We will try to get them going as soon as possible,” said Knops.

The Daily Herald.

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