The Daily Herald writes – as already had been reported by SabaNews earlier – that the European Commission (EC) is no longer sending money for development projects to funds manager “Stichting Ontwikkeling Nederlandse Antillen” (SONA), because it wants to await the outcome of an investigation into alleged irregularities started by the European office to combat fraud OLAF last year. As a result, the Dutch Caribbean stands to lose a combined 23 million euros.
A spokesman of Kingdom Relations Minister Ronald Plasterk in The Hague confirmed a report to that extent in the Dutch daily newspaper NRC. Apparently the minister had already informed the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament in confidence about this development.
In a reaction issued Wednesday, SONA explained that it has managed the cooperation funds the Dutch Ministry of Interior and Kingdom Affairs makes available for the islands of the (former) Netherlands Antilles since 2004. In 2007, the European Commission (EC) approached SONA to also manage the ninth European Development Fund (EDF) for the islands on its behalf. “Each year both the Dutch Government and the European Union submit SONA and its executive body USONA to an audit, which up to now has always resulted in a statement of approval followed by a formal discharge,” the press release states. “Last year the research bureau of the European Commission OLAF investigated the implementation of the construction of a sewerage project in Bonaire, worth a total of over 20 million euros. This was based on a complaint made by a dismissed employee of one the supervisory companies. Via its executive organisation USONA, SONA implements this project commissioned by the European Commission. “The management of USONA has informed OLAF extensively and in detail. The current status of the investigation is that there is no suspicion towards USONA and SONA, and that there is no interim report or a completed report. “Although the investigation has not yet been completed, nevertheless a message came through the Netherlands from Brussels that SONA should not be allowed to manage the tenth EDF Fund on behalf of the European Commission.
OLAF said it had never been consulted on the far-reaching steps of the European Commission. The Ministry of Interior and Kingdom Relations in The Hague has requested the European Commission for clarification. “The SONA board has decided to take legal steps against the European Commission. The board has never been heard or informed by the European Commission on possible complaints at USONA. The SONA board cannot defend itself or take action. “On request of the board of SONA, the management of USONA has prepared a factual report which a third party has validated. Based on this factual report the board of SONA has no reason to doubt the professionalism or integrity of USONA. “The resulting situation is very unfortunate, because the findings of OLAF are not known, but apparently they already are having an effect. This shocks the sense of justice. If the European Commission would stick to its far-reaching intentions, then the islands (Curaçao, Bonaire, St. Maarten, Saba and St. Eustatius) run the risk of missing out on more than 23 million euros (equivalent to more than NAf. 50 million or US $27 million) for a variety of projects,” the release concludes.