People from Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba living The Netherlands attending a gathering in The Hague with Dutch caretaker Minister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Liesbeth Spies on Wednesday evening were very clear on what they thought was going wrong with the islands.
The intention of the gathering organiser, the organisation for Dutch Caribbean people in The Netherlands OCaN, was to “keep each other sharp through dialogue,” as OCaN Chairman Glenn Helberg put it and that is exactly what it turned out to be. Some 20 persons came forward to the microphone to tell the Minister what was on their mind and to pose questions to her.
A woman from Saba pointed out that Sabans, Statians and Bonairians living in The Netherlands didn’t have a place to turn to with their questions and concerns. She said that Aruba, Curaçao and St. Maarten all had representation in The Hague, but not the three smaller islands, each of which obtained the status of Dutch public entity on October 10, 2010.
A man from Bonaire asked Minister Spies to give judicial authorities an instruction to prosecute Commissioner Burney Elhage and UPB Leader Ramonsito Booi.
An elderly woman from Bonaire told the Minister that there was poverty on her island to an extent that didn’t exist before October 10, 2010. “Things are very bad. I was there just a few weeks ago and I saw children of less than a year who still hadn’t had breakfast by 10:00am, because their parents couldn’t afford a bottle of milk. There was no money for diapers either,” said the elderly lady, who also remarked that people couldn’t pay their electricity bill anymore.
A young man from Saba wanted to know who represented his island in the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament. “Where is the face from Saba?” he asked, pointing out that most people on the islands had no clue who to vote for and neither did he.
People also asked who carried what responsibility, how much the public entities yielded in revenue for The Netherlands, who was an authentic person of the Caribbean Netherlands and who not, and why Curaçao had not been granted more time by the Kingdom Council of Ministers to get its budget in order.
The Minister reiterated that the Dutch Government was very much committed to Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba, and that large investments had been made in education and health care, among other things. She pointed out that the constitutional change had been the result of a democratic decision supported by all stakeholders, and that things were not perfect yet. “Things don’t always exactly work out as planned. It takes time. We are still in the tryout phase. We face issues that have not been arranged through legislation and regulation, but we try to solve them as best we can, using a dose of common sense,” she said.
She realised that there were “some groups” in society that were going through a rough time due to the increased cost of living. Especially on St. Eustatius and Saba, people’s wallets were hit hard, she added. The Dutch Government is trying to remedy the situation through compensation for higher cost of living and increased utility prices, explained the Minister. She said her colleague Minister Henk Kamp of Labour and Social Affairs was looking into ways to tackle poverty.
Spies acknowledged that the islands had no own representation in Parliament. She advised people to check what the election programmes of the individual parties said about the public entities. She said it was not up to the Dutch Government to provide information on the issues of the political parties. But the National Service for the Caribbean Netherlands RCN did set up a general information campaign to encourage people to vote.
Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba indeed don’t have a representative office, or a specific window where they can take their concerns and questions, admitted the Minister. Helberg of OCaN said he had heard this complaint many more times and his organisation was willing to assist in the matter. Spies agreed that there should be a uniform term for the public entities and their residents, preferably before the evaluation in 2015.
To the man from Bonaire who had asked Spies to give an instruction so the two politicians would be prosecuted, the Minister said, “No way.” “There is such a thing as the division of powers and that means that I cannot give instructions to the Public Prosecutor’s Office or the Court,” she said.
In her introductory remarks Spies addressed developments in Curaçao and St. Maarten, the financial supervision law and the Central Bank of Curaçao and St. Maarten (see related story).