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Dutch minister Plasterk warns St. Maarten to stop victimising Saba, Statia

TUESDAY, 12 FEBRUARY 2013

THE HAGUE–Dutch Minister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Ronald Plasterk has warned St. Maarten’s Prime Minister Sarah Wescot-Williams that her government should stop victimising St. Eustatius and Saba and that it needs to cooperate in the interest of its two smaller sister islands.

In his letter sent to Wescot-Williams via the Dutch Representative in Philipsburg on Friday, Plasterk urged St. Maarten to cooperate in four areas: the double indirect taxation of goods that are shipped to St. Eustatius and Saba via St. Maarten, the medical emergency transportation by helicopter, the airport tax component of tickets on Windward Airways International (WINAIR) and the landing of the optic fibre cable for St. Eustatius and Saba.

The most urgent matter is the lack of cooperation from the side of St. Maarten for the medical evacuation helicopter because the attitude of the largest Windward Island may jeopardise the lives of fellow citizens of the Kingdom.
According to Plasterk the problems surrounding the medical emergency transport from St. Eustatius and Saba are multiple. The helicopter, owned by a Canadian company, is now stationed in St. Eustatius because it cannot refuel in St. Maarten.

“I received reports that the helicopter is not allowed to refuel in St. Maarten and that, for no apparent reason, it often has to wait for a while to get permission to make use of Princess Juliana International Airport and its infrastructure or to depart,” stated the Minister.

“This situation threatens to jeopardise the medical emergency transportation and that is of course unacceptable because this may put the lives of citizens of the Kingdom at risk. I urgently ask you to do everything possible so the helicopter can operate in St. Maarten without problems,” Plasterk stated in the letter which was also sent to the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament.

Apparently, St Maarten is irked by the fact that the helicopter is not run by a local company, but by Canadians. “I understood that it is the desire of your government that use is made of a St. Maarten provider. There is currently no provider in St. Maarten that can deliver the requested quality,” stated Plasterk, who explained that at the time The Netherlands was looking for a helicopter for St. Eustatius and Saba there was no suitable candidate in St. Maarten as well.
Another issue is the double taxation of goods that are transported from St. Maarten to the smaller islands. Turn-over Tax (ToT) is levied on these products and this is in violation of international treaties which say that indirect taxes should not be levied on products that are exported to another country/island.

Despite several verbal promises by St. Maarten’s Government since 2011, St. Maarten keeps levying ToT on these goods. As a result, people of St. Eustatius and Saba pay double taxes because a general sales tax is levied on goods that are used in the Caribbean Netherlands. Plasterk said he “lamented” this situation and urged St. Maarten to refrain from levying ToT on these goods as soon as possible.

The Minister also urged Wescot-Williams to enable the reduction of WINAIR’s ticket prices by lowering the airport taxes for St. Eustatius and Saba to “reasonable” proportions. Airport taxes, which now make up a substantial part of a WINAIR ticket, have increased and this hampers the mobility of residents of St. Eustatius and Saba as WINAIR is the only airline that services the two smaller islands.

Plasterk pointed out that several organisational improvements were realised 2010 when The Netherlands became a shareholder of WINAIR for 7.95 per cent. This has resulted in increased revenues and reduced expenditures, as well as an adapted route network with reduced frequency to some destinations. “Logically, this should have lead to lower tariffs but this hasn’t happened yet.”

The fibre optic cable is another source of discontent for Plasterk. St. Maarten has yet to issue a permit for the landing of the fibre optic cable from St. Eustatius and Saba despite a recent ruling of the Courts ordering St. Maarten to take a decision.

The Dutch Government paid for a fibre optic cable between St. Kitts, St. Eustatius and Saba in 2012. The Netherlands wants to land this cable in St. Maarten to limit its vulnerability and to optimise the connection.

“Your government has not yet issued a permit, despite repeated talks with the Dutch Government. In the meantime, works have started to realise a connection to St. Barths instead of St. Maarten. This doesn’t take away my wish to still hook up to St. Maarten. I urge you to take a decision within short on the necessary permit, conform the recent ruling by the Court,” stated Plasterk.

The Minister reminded Wescot-Williams that the issues in his letter are becoming “increasingly important factors” in the relation of the Dutch Government with St. Maarten and that the subject is the cause of “great concern” in The Hague.
Plasterk stated that the Dutch Government strived for a good cooperation between all partners in the Kingdom and urged St. Maarten to take action considering the interests of the people of St. Eustatius and Saba.

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