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Caribbean Netherlands Week in The Hague focuses on development plans

TUESDAY, 29 OCTOBER 2013

THE HAGUE–The development plans for Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba, and the general evaluation in 2015 will be the two main issues addressed in the so-called Caribbean Netherlands Week, which takes place in The Hague this week.

The development plans and the evaluation were main topics during a meeting that the Commissioners of the three islands had with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and Minister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Ronald Plasterk on Monday. Later in the day, Plasterk welcomed the delegations at the Ministry of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations BZK.

Present at the gathering at the Ministry of BZK were, among others, Island Governors Gerald Berkel of St. Eustatius and Jonathan Johnson of Saba, Commissioners Reginald Zaandam and Carlyle Tearr of St. Eustatius, Chris Johnson and Bruce Zagers of Saba, and Burney El Hage and Silvana Serfilia of Bonaire. National Government Representative for the islands Wilbert Stolte was present as well.

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In his speech, Plasterk lauded the islands for making strides in the execution of these plans. “Sometimes these improvements are very visible and sometimes there is some reluctance, which we will look at this week. We have to see how we can best help the people on the other side of the ocean, taking our limited financial means into account,” he said.

Commissioner Tearr said the development plans were ready, but that his government still needs “some kind of commitment” as to realising these plans through the programmes of the various Dutch ministries. Social housing is an important aspect in the development plans. “Nothing has been done for almost 30 years. We want to do something about that,” Tearr told NTR Caribbean Network in an interview.

Tackling the backlog in infrastructure and the master plan to upgrade the roads, airport and harbour in St. Eustatius is another important aspect of the development plans, said Tearr. “We hope to finalise talks with the ministries this week.”

Having proper roads and an upgraded airport and harbour will enable St. Eustatius to stand more on its own feet and to generate own income, instead of depending on money from the ministries, explained Tearr. He said he hoped for “practical solutions” this week, so St. Eustatius can move ahead with the execution of the development plans.

Commissioner Serfilia said she hoped that the Dutch Government would see the urgency of the development plans for Bonaire. “We have already booked our first success today. The Netherlands has committed 500,000 euros for the construction of social homes and 240,000 euros to renovate existing social homes,” she said.

Commissioner Johnson said the general evaluation in 2015 is very important for Saba. The island feels over-regulated and hopes that the evaluation will lead to a simpler and more workable structure and fewer regulations.

“We prefer the common-sense approach in a budget-neutral way. Cuts can be made in the bureaucracy and the number of civil servants. There is a whole additional layer of government. Saba can bring across the best example, because we are the smallest island. All these laws and regulations and the red tape cost money. We think we should take a step back and use our common sense. We don’t have the capacity of the Netherlands. We can do this together and help people from both sides of the ocean with it,” he said.

Johnson stressed that the 2015 evaluation should take each individual island into account. He said that the Netherlands should not see Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba as a single unit, the Caribbean Netherlands, but rather as three individual islands with their own specific situation and needs. “They are three different islands,” he told the gathering at the Ministry of BZK on Monday.

Tearr said that St. Eustatius wanted more input in the evaluation. “We want more say in the first phase. We want an input in the approach, the issues, the structure of the evaluation. We also want to know who all are involved,” he said.

Plasterk assured that carrying out the evaluation is a joint affair with the input of all islands. “We are awaiting the advice of the Council of State, but surely we will evaluate together in a way that has everyone’s support,” he said.

The minister said the approach to hold back with the introduction and implementation of too many new laws and regulations will be an important aspect in the evaluation. He said that in his opinion this so-called legislative reservation until now had been insufficiently achieved.

The coordination by the Netherlands in the relations with the islands and its effectiveness will also come up in the evaluation, said Plasterk, who repeated his earlier words that the evaluation should not aim at reshuffling the constitutional structure, but merely to fine-tune the relations.

Plasterk said that since Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba became Dutch public entities on October 10, 2010, the Dutch Government invested some 300 million euros in the Caribbean Netherlands annually in the form of the general allowance, as well as investments by the ministries. “It is up to us to determine this week whether that money is wisely spent,” he said.

The Caribbean Netherlands week will end on Thursday with the signing of a list of agreements. On the agenda this week are meetings with, among others, the Ministries of Education, Culture and Science, Economic Affairs, and Infrastructure and Environment.

Source: The Daily Herald, St. Maarten

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