People on Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba should benefit from being part of The Netherlands, not suffer because of it. That is the opinion of Member of the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament Martijn van Dam of the Labour Party PvdA, number seven on the slate for the September 12 elections.
“The PvdA is for a stronger, more social Netherlands, on both sides of the ocean. People on the islands have been presented with a huge bill and that is not fair. We have told this to Ministers Piet Hein Donner and Liesbeth Spies, but they buried their heads in the sand,” said Van Dam. Van Dam would like to see a gentleman’s agreement in the Second Chamber to facilitate a smoother integration of the Dutch public entities Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba and to enable the responsible Minister to solve issues on the islands more quickly. “It would be good for us all to cool down on the issue of the islands, to give them space to get used to their new status and to make it possible for one Minister, the Minister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations, to arrange things for the islands,” he told The Daily Herald on Tuesday.
The integration of Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba into The Netherlands requires a great commitment of The Netherlands and its government, especially of the Ministers and their Ministries, said Van Dam, who has always made a case to give the Minister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations a coordinating role in the transition process, at least for one governing period. A lot has been done for the public entities, but there is still a lot to be done and The Hague should shoulder its responsibility, according to Van Dam.
He said the free allowance (vrije uitkering) for the islands was too low for the local governments to execute their tasks in a responsible manner. The Hague often makes the wrong choices and too much money is spent on matters of secondary importance. Too many Dutch civil servants are traveling to the islands instead of solving the issues, said Van Dam. The Hague also views the islands through Dutch glasses and displays insufficient comprehension for the local situation and culture, he added.
All parties agreed when Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba became part of the Dutch constellation on October 10, 2010, that it would not be wise to have the Dutch level of social welfare on the islands, because it would upset the local economy and it would not fit in the Caribbean region. But that doesn’t mean The Netherlands should allow poverty and poor social services on the islands. “People on the islands surely don’t expect the same level of social facilities as in The Netherlands, but they do expect The Hague to take care of certain facilities and they do expect compensation for excessive loss of purchasing power due to the new constitutional status and the new fiscal system,” said Van Dam.
The Member of Parliament (MP) was highly critical of the decision of the “Kunduz” parties VVD, CDA, GroenLinks, D66 and Christian Union to make an additional 10 million euros available for nature management on Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba in the so-called Spring Accord. “I find it ridiculous that they want to spend 10 million on nature, while there is poverty on the islands. They put nature above people,” he said. The PvdA would rather have spent that money on the people, to compensate, for example, the elderly who have been hard hit by the new fiscal system and the high prices. “Nature – all nice and well, but people come first.” The PvdA has respect for the cultural differences between The Netherlands and the islands, said Van Dam. “We don’t want to push the islands into a straightjacket. We have said it many times: the issues on the islands have to be solved and not ignored.”
Van Dam was critical of the “very harsh” stance of the conservative VVD party, the Party for Freedom PVV and the Socialist Party (SP) where it concerns the islands. These parties have said and done things that were not supportive or that were downright insulting, he said. “That is painful. I was shocked by their harsh remarks about the islands, just for electoral gain.” One such example is the law proposal of MP André Bosman of the VVD which aims to restrict the registration of deprived, poorly educated Antilleans at municipalities in The Netherlands. “That is not decent. The VVD wants to block the free entry of Antilleans. You can ask yourself if you want to create two kinds of Dutch citizen in the Kingdom,” said Van Dam. “For us there is only one Dutch citizenship and that cannot be split up.”
The PvdA supports compulsory education up to a certain age, whereby youngsters have to acquire a starting qualification before they come to The Netherlands. “We also expect the same of Dutch youngsters in The Netherlands, because it gives them a better chance at employment,” he said. “We want to prevent Antillean youngsters from getting in trouble with the law here. It is in the best interest of these youngsters to have a starting qualification,” said Van Dam. This would require investing in education and social projects on the islands.
To have influence on decisions that are taken in The Hague, island residents would be wise to vote in the upcoming Dutch Parliamentary elections, said Van Dam. “Voting is a right, not a duty, but personally I would never forgo that right. People in the past fought so everyone could vote.” Though they may not be large in numbers, votes from Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba are important, at least to Van Dam and his party. “Who becomes the biggest party in The Netherlands is also important for the people in the islands. It now looks as if it will be either us or the VVD. In the last elections there was only a difference of some 6,000 votes between the PvdA and the VVD. The islands can make a difference.”