Agreements between the Dutch government and the public entities Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba have been lived up to where it pertains health care and education, a November 22 report of the General Audit Chamber of The Netherlands found. However, there is room for improvement in the cooperation between The Hague and the islands.
The Audit Chamber concluded in its report titled “National Government and Caribbean Netherlands: living up to agreements” that investments have been made in health care facilities (hospitals) and schools. The Audit Chamber analysed education and health care, because it directly affects the island residents, and also because more than half of the expenditures of the Dutch government for the three islands was spent in these two areas in 2012, namely 67.6 million euro for health care and 43.7 million euro for education.
The Dutch ministry of Education, Culture and Science OCW invested in school buildings, school coaches and quality improvement of teachers. The Ministry considered it a priority to bring the level of education up to a level that was acceptable for The Netherlands, meaning that children and youngsters have to be able to continue their education in The Netherlands without difficulties. In order to improve thequality of education, OCW deferred from the agreement to hold back on the introduction of new regulations for the islands. The local governments were involved in this process.
The Audit Chamber concluded that there has been a lot of change in the area of health care since Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba became Dutch public entities on October 10, 2010. “The most significant development is that every resident of the Caribbean Netherlands now has a health care insurance.” Faced with a major backlog in health care facilities, the Ministry of Public Health, Wellbeing and Sports VWS initially focused on “urgent” matters like health insurance and dealing with life-threatening diseases that required treatment by medical specialists not available on the islands. VWS made investments in the renovation of the hospitals/ medical centres and the purchase of equipment. Bonaire has a new dialysis centre and more medical specialists and the islands have new ambulances. The Ministry will continue to work with health care institutions on realising more facilities.
The Audit Chamber also looked at the agreement that was made in 2010 in the process to dismantle the Netherlands Antilles that The Hague for five years would go easy on implementing new regulations and legislation for the public entities. Not every Dutch Ministry has the same approach in the way it executes its tasks on the public entities and the manner in which it determines the desired level of facilities on the islands, according to the Audit Chamber. The approach towards the island governments also differs per Ministry. According to the Audit Chamber, it is important to involve the local governments at an early stage, also because of the limited capacity of the local administrations, especially on St. Eustatius and Saba. The local governments are not always able to adequately respond to proposals from The Hague. Many of the general agreements made at the time of the dismantling process were of a political/governmental character. It concerned agreements along general lines that were not made concrete and mostly indicated intentions, stated the Audit Chamber. “These agreements have to be concretised and executed on a lower level per policy area. For education and health care we conclude that the involved Ministries, the Executive Councils and their civil servants have given content to this, each in their own way.” It has taken some time for the islands and The Netherlands to get used to the new constitutional relations and both parties still are still getting accustomed to each other, observed the Audit Chamber. The physical distance and the big cultural differences between the islands and The Netherlands play a major factor in the relations. “It is still too early to expect two years after the constitutional change that the cooperation is flawless. We consider it important that all parties have sufficient attention for the bottlenecks and that these are open to discussion,” it was stated in the report. The new relation between the Dutch government and the public entities is still developing.
Overall there is room for improvement stated the Audit Chamber, which found it commendable that the governments were in dialogue and that there would be a general evaluation of the new relation in 2015. In view of the general evaluation, the Audit Chamber found it important that the desired level of facilities was made as concrete as possible for all policy areas. “This has succeeded very well in the area of education and also in the area of public health we see a positive development. This knowledge can be used in other policy areas.” The report was presented to the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament on Thursday. Members of the Audit Chamber’s research team elaborated on their findings during a closeddoor meeting with Parliament’s Permanent Committee for Home Affairs.
Source: “The Daily Herald” 2012-11-24