The Daily Herald reports that Minister of Interior Affairs and Kingdom Relations Ronald Plasterk (PvdA) held a press conference during his official visit on Bonaire, Tuesday, October 1, including via video conference The Daily Herald correspondents from Saba and St. Eustatius. The joint press conference held in Dutch is a first experiment with live translation facilitated by the communications personnel of the National Service Caribbean Netherlands RCN offices on the three islands.
The minister’s remarks centred on the meetings he had with the Bonaire government and the preceding visit to Curaçao. The Bonaire visit he said was related to discussions about the approaching constitutional transition evaluation process set for 2015. He held discussions with Governor Lydia Emerencia and the executive and island councils attempting to assess the recent political crisis. The upcoming “BES-week” (Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba) in The Hague was on the agenda.
Plasterk argued that the islands are better off after the transition especially with regard to education. He visited the Youth Council of Bonaire and was pleased with the calibre of the young people he spoke with. He noted that local youth lack safe public transportation, a library and sports facilities and more youth activities.
Minister Plasterk disapproves of the prospect of having the constitutional evaluation discussions every five years, stating that the situation should improve within the set structure. Improvements, he argued, should be made within the coordination process between the Caribbean and European Netherlands. The question he believes should be about streamlining the process, having in mind the high-level of funding provided by the various ministries.
Talking about the 250 million euro spent annually in the BES islands, he alluded to possible better outcomes if the same level of funding would have been transferred directly to local, knowledgeable stakeholders. The minister remarked about reports on the political situation on Bonaire and his request that all parties place the island’s interests and reputation above politics, and enter in open dialogue conductive towards agreements. Despite disagreements he hopes local politicians will still find ways to work together.
In answering questions about National Government Representative Wilbert Stolte’s postponed resignation until next year, Minister Plasterk reiterated that he does not doubt Stolte’s integrity. The press persisted for clarification on why Stolte chose to step down from his six-year mandate, waiting or a date that resembles a three-year civil servant mandate. The minister explained the delay as having to do with ensuring a transition time as Stolte plays a role in the constitutional transition evaluation process.
The first question from Saba sought clarity on the minister’s intention to reduce bureaucracy and possibly return tasks to island governments. While Minister Plasterk confirmed the intention to reduce bureaucracy, he does not believe bypassing the responsibilities of the various ministries can be done.
Statia’s correspondent asked the minister about his ministry becoming a “one-stopshop” for the three islands instead of the local executives having to deal with separate ministries. Minister Plasterk’s response indicated the intention to take on a facilitator role ensuring the issues are given attention by ministries under whose mandate the issue may fall.
The Saba correspondent asked about the ministry’s role in addressing the situation of the blocked European Commission (EC) funding due to the European Anti-Fraud Office OLAF investigation into the management by USONA Dutch Caribbean Funding Agency of European Development Fund (EDF) money. Saba has the distinction of being the receiver of the highest amount per capita of EC funding through the EDF. Overseas Countries and Territories (OCT) such as the Dutch Caribbean Public Entities can access EC funding without being an integral part of the European Union. Saba’s has a track-record of successfully utilising such funding for infrastructure projects without which further social housing developments would be unattainable. The OLAF investigation, triggered by irregularities in the implementation of an infrastructure project on Bonaire, has a direct impact freezing further funding for Saba. Minister Plasterk responded that he “can see why the European Commission is in love with your island, a lot of people are.” Expressing his support he added “I just heard yesterday [Monday, September 30] that the court has decided against activating funding through the new IMG [International Management Group]. I will look into that. We wouldn’t want that money to be lost. That is 23 million euros and we wouldn’t want those to be lost for the BES. I will do whatever I can to ensure that that money can be made out to Saba and the others.” The minister also had to address questions about the discrepancies between federal, local and RCN civil servant employment standards, both in terms of wages and benefits insisting there little room in the budget to accommodate changes.