Delegations of the Dutch public entities Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba were able to secure various agreements with the individual Dutch Ministries this week which will give a social economic impulse on the islands and as such directly benefit the people. Some of the issues that agreements were made on include a higher social welfare allowance, extra money for children’s care facilities, measures to limit the tariff increase for water and electricity, more local employment chances at Dutch projects on the islands, reduction of the tax burden and a further upgrading of school buildings. (See related articles on the last two agreements)
Some of the measures are good news for the less privileged people in society. The Dutch Government agreed to broaden the special social welfare allowance (bijzondere onderstand), for example to cover the cost of school supplies. The allowance for disabled people on social welfare (onderstand) will be increased by 50 per cent. The population in general will benefit from the decision to transfer part of the costs to produce water and electricity to The Netherlands. Independent supervision will also be set up. This way the tariff increase will be limited for residents and companies on the islands. It is the intention to secure this in legislation by January 1, 2014. The Ministries of Infrastructure and Environment (I&M) and Economic Affairs, Agriculture and Innovation EL&I will until then financially contribute to limit the tariff increase.
It was further agreed to establish a so-called “E-team,” a joint effort of local government and the private sector on the islands to stimulate economic development. The airports on the islands will be further improved. For Statia this means that the Airport Master Plan, which includes an upgrading of the terminal building and the landing strip, will be executed. On Saba, the landing strip will be resurfaced.
Delegation leaders Commissioners Burney El Hage of Bonaire, Koos Sneek of St. Eustatius and Chris Johnson of Saba were all very happy with the results of their meeting with the various Ministries this week. Dutch caretaker Minister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Liesbeth Spies said that “much progress” had been booked. “We are getting more and more used to each other. We complement each other. This has resulted in more visible, concrete results,” she said at a joint press briefing Thursday afternoon. This week of meetings was much better than the previous one in March, said Commissioner Sneek. “The Ministries listened better to us. We were also better prepared and that proved to be an advantage,” he said. Commissioner Johnson said despite the fact that his island still faced some troubles with the sometimes strict Dutch implementation of all the new laws and regulations, the cooperation and production of the Dutch Ministries was “very impressive.” “We are moving in the right direction,” he said. According to Commissioner El Hage, the agreements made this week were especially very important for the people, also in light of fighting poverty. “We have booked concrete results in the interest of the development of our islands and our people,” he said. He said this should serve as an incentive to actually execute the agreements. “It is up to us to get moving on this.”
Johnson said that he felt a “climate change” in the relations with the Dutch Ministries. “This time we feel like we are back in the family.” He said this positive development was important because it starts the “healing process” of the pain and negative feelings felt by many residents as a result of the new constitutional status since October 10, 2010. He said it was still important to have a matching price control system on all three islands.
Commissioner Sneek was a bit worried that the 10 million euros that was made available by the current Dutch caretaker cabinet earlier this year was now up in the air in the formation process of a new government. “We lobbied to keep this money. We are hopeful, but we have to take into account that we might lose it,” he said. The public entities have brought up the idea in The Hague to set up an Advisory Council which will look at the practical implementation of the many new laws, rules and regulations. “This review council would look to see what can be implemented, what can work and what cannot from an island perspective,” said Johnson.
Asked if she supported the setting up of this Advisory Council, Minister Spies said that this was primarily an initiative of the islands. She said she would be willing to discuss a formal proposal to this extent. “We should discuss it if the islands consider this council to be of an added value. But in the meantime, we should not sit on our hands. We have to keep working on making things better for the people, because that is our goal,” she said.
All three Commissioners praised and thanked the Minister for her cooperation and commitment. Johnson: “She looked specifically at our needs. She has shown flexibility and took a leading role in making it happen.” “This Minister has her heart in the right place. She has true consideration for the islands,” said Sneek.
The next week of meetings for the public entities in The Netherlands will take place around March next year. By that time, Spies might very well be gone as Minister since her party, the Christian Democratic Party CDA is not part of the current formation talks between the conservative VVD party and the Labour Party PvdA. (Suzanne Koelega)