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Dutch representative BES-islands Stolte protests: Saba, Statia still paying St. Maarten tax

SATURDAY, 1 DECEMBER 2012

EINDHOVEN–National Government Representative for Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba Wilbert Stolte voiced criticism on Thursday about the fact that St. Maarten still levies turnover tax on products that are exported to St. Eustatius and Saba.
According to Stolte, St. Maarten “unfortunately” doesn’t honour international agreements that goods in transhipment are exempted from taxes in the country from which they are exported.

Curaçao already has agreed no longer to levy taxes on goods destined for Bonaire, but so far no agreement has been reached with St. Maarten, despite the many efforts by Dutch State Secretary Frans Weekers and the civil servants at the Ministry of Finance.

As a result, people in St. Eustatius and Saba pay five per cent turnover tax on goods they import from St. Maarten, in addition to import duties and general spending tax ABB that they have to pay on their island. This leads to high prices on the two islands.

“We have been trying to solve this issue with the St. Maarten Government for a while now, but so far no result,” said Stolte at the congress of InterExpo’s 16th trade mission in Eindhoven on Thursday. Stolte was one of the guest speakers, as was Chamber of Commerce of St. Eustatius and Saba Chairman Carlyle Tearr.

Tearr pointed out that the new fiscal system in the Dutch public entities had led to a sharp decline of the people’s spending power. “It has gone to a low that was never experienced before on the islands. This would be deemed unacceptable by any Dutch standard,” he said.

Tearr applauded the recent agreement between the Caribbean Netherlands and Dutch State Secretary of Finance Frans Weekers that should remove some bottlenecks, improve spending power and reduce taxes. Under this agreement, basic food products will be exempted from ABB, excise taxes will be reduced and the property tax will be made “more friendly,” he explained.

Stolte acknowledged that the decreased spending power was a real problem, as was poverty. He said the spending power should improve when basic food products became exempted from ABB per January 1, 2013, and when the price control went into effect.

Tearr said the Chamber of Commerce was happy with the recent agreement, but there was still “the real factor of an economy that requires much improvement and in-depth attention.” He made a point that at least 50 per cent of the ABB tax revenues should come back to the islands. This would provide financial relief for the local government and future developments could be realised at a much faster pace.

According to Stolte, much improvement has been realised. Especially in education and health care much improvements and investments have been made. He said there had been a lot of changes, in some areas more than others. He mentioned the fiscal system, education, health care, social welfare and the introduction of the US dollar.

“It was too much and too much at the same time,” said Stolte, who complimented the islands and their people for their ability to deal with all these changes in such a short time. “This would not have been possible in The Netherlands.”
He acknowledged that the new regulations, laws and fiscal system “weren’t always pleasurable” for the population and the private sector, but said it was an “illusion” that The Hague “drowned” the islands with legislation. He said that for the most part the legislation for the public entities was old Antillean laws in a “new cover.”

Chamber of Commerce of St. Eustatius and Saba member Alida Heilbron objected to Stolte’s statements that the introduction of a new currency could not be blamed for higher prices and that the islands were not overloaded with new laws. “We were swamped by new laws and the introduction of the US dollar did lead to higher prices,” she said.

Stolte said the fact was that the Dutch actually carried out the laws and the people on the islands had to get used to this. He said that becoming part of The Netherlands had its advantages. “It offers great opportunities that were impossible under the Antillean constellation. The Netherlands has a lot to offer the islands, but the other way around as well.”
According to Stolte, The Hague was starting to get a bit more used to the Latin American/Caribbean mentality. He said that of the three public entities, St. Eustatius was making the “biggest steps forward.” He complimented Statia Commissioner Koos Sneek and his government and said the island had climbed up from “a deep financial valley.”

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