The Daily Herald writes that the Caribbean Netherlands Week in The Hague was closed off on Thursday with minor successes, mainly due to the financial restrictions of the Dutch Government. The high expectations that the Executive Council delegations of Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba had when they came to the Netherlands were not entirely met. “If you ask me if my expectations were met, I will say of course not, but we will have to work with what we have,” said Statia Commissioner Reginald Zaandam at a press conference. Zaandam and his colleagues Chris Johnson of Saba and Burney el Hage of Bonaire spoke of a “hectic week” where “small steps” were made. Dutch Minister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Ronald Plasterk mentioned that the past week in which the island delegations had extensive meetings with the various Dutch Ministries had been “fruitful and demanding.”
The development plans for the islands and the associated funds, as well as the general evaluation in 2015 (see related story) were major topics this week, but the delegations were also able to come to an agreement on funds for poverty projects and the property tax has been slightly lowered. Also the tax free threshold of the property tax for second homes has been increased. Dutch State Secretary of Social Affairs and Labour Jetta Klijnsma has set aside 600,000 euros for poverty projects on the three islands in 2014 for which the local governments will submit plans. Commissioner Zaandam said he was glad with this commitment which should benefit people with lower incomes. He was also satisfied with the agreement that his delegation had reached with Dutch State Secretary of Education Sander Dekker to look at having English as the language of instruction at Statia’s schools. An agreement was reached with Dutch State Secretary of Finance Frans Weekers to reduce the property tax per January 1, 2014, from 0.8 percent to 0.7 per cent for second homes. For hotels a 0.4 per cent rate will remain in effect. Per January 1, 2014, the tax free threshold will be increased from US $50,000 to US $70,000 which will have a positive effect on the tax pressure for social housing.
Minister Plasterk confirmed that the development plans were important to realise structural improvements on the islands in the coming years. “We see the plans as a solid basis for the future.” However, due to financial constraints the Dutch Government is not in the position to make additional funds available other than the Ministries have already set aside. Plasterk pointed out that the Dutch Government already invests a lot in the islands, some 300 million euros annually. The Minister said it was important to see if the spending of this money was done in an efficient manner and whether it was necessary to move priorities. Also, the legislative burden for the islands should be reduced and there should be more clarity and efficiency in the coordination and execution of tasks. “This should result in less double work,” said Plasterk. Commissioner Johnson reiterated that his island was overregulated. “It is important to address this in the evaluation. We have to look at the amount of regulations, the hiring of expensive consultants. People should feel the positive effects of the new constitutional relations,” he said. For Commissioner El Hage this was the last Caribbean Netherlands Week as he will be stepping down at the end of this week. He said it was becoming more clear that after three years the Dutch Ministries were increasingly seeing the islands as part of the Netherlands. El Hage said he hoped that the money destined for the islands would be spent wisely so the people can optimally profit from it. He pointed out that the people had voted for direct ties, and not the expensive consultants hired by the Netherlands. “The Hague has to show an open attitude towards the islands wherebyone day agreements with financial consequences will be signed automatically in the assurance that the monies will go to the people.”