THURSDAY, 28 NOVEMBER 2013
ST EUSTATIUS–The executive council of St. Eustatius organised a town hall meeting to present and discuss the results of the recent Caribbean Netherlands (CN) week in the Netherlands.
Unfortunately, attendance was poor with only a handful of people coming to the Community Centre to listen to Commissioners Carlyle Tearr (SLAM) and Reginald Zaandam (UPC). Those who did at- tend blamed the poor attendance on the absence of sufficient communication publicizing the meeting.
Commissioner Zaan- dam said that the Statia delegation in The Hague highlighted the fact that a barrage of new laws and by- laws “was showered” on the island since 2010 – some 450 in total – with separate instructions coming on top of that.
At the same time, Statia’s legal department is under- staffed. The Dutch Ministry reacted with the promise to slow down the process of sending new laws. The Statia Executive Council in turn will prioritise the handling of the new laws.
Also, the Ministry said it “will look into” financing extra expertise and manpower for Statia. Zaandam added that the Ministry will also look into the issue of not providing English translations of all these new laws and regulations.
Zaandam made a particular point of emphasising that it was not him who brought up the matter of a referendum during the talks about the Evaluation of 2015, but that it was the Dutch.
At the same time, he reiterated that organising a referendum is still one of the 18 points of the coalition’s government agreement. He stated that the Statia del- egation stressed that the evaluation should be done on the basis of equality.
He informed the public that in January 2014, a starting point for the format of the evaluation will be ready to be discussed by a special Committee. One Commissioner of each of the three islands will be in that Committee.
Reacting to a complaint from the audience that it looks as if there is no in- put from the people themselves, Zaandam said that this input comes firstly from their political representatives, the Commissioners.
But also, he added, there will be town hall meetings. Zaandam further reported that Statia’s Master Plan, now mostly called Development Plan, was also discussed. The aim of the plan is to reach a sustainable financial position for the island. Fighting poverty is one of the aspects of the plan.
However, he warned that because of the severe austerity measures of the Kingdom Government, financing these plans has become more of a challenge. There was no change in the position of the Dutch government regarding disclosing the amount of taxes collected on the island.
The State Secretary simply stated that this information will not be forthcoming. The reason given was that if that happens, every municipality in the Netherlands will demand the same.
Zaandam explained that the Statia delegation could have reacted by walking out again like the previous time but there was too much at stake, for example the issue of the real estate tax.
Besides, Zaandam add- ed, as a result of the court case of NuStar against the Dutch Government regarding the validity of agreements made prior to 10- 10-10 a lot of information about the taxes NuStar pays will have to be made public anyway. As for the real estate tax, Zaandam said that as a result of the nego- tiations the special tariffs of 0.2 per cent for hotels and 0.6 per cent for individuals has been extended into the fiscal year 2013-14.
Further, the non-taxable part of the value of a property that is not lived in by the owner has been raised from US $50,000 to $70,000 and this will be the case up to 2014.
In addition, the period that a newly built house will be exempt from taxes has been extended from five to 10 years to attract investors.
The question whether ABB tax or turn-over tax will be more advantageous for the island will be the subject of study. Meanwhile, the deliberation with the new Minister of Finance of St. Maarten to address the double taxation on products coming to Statia has progressed, Zaandam said.
A member of the audience was wondering why a discussion with St. Maarten had taken so long and said that Statians have been “hand-me down people for too long.” No agreement has as yet been signed with the Kingdom government about the language of instruction for Statia’s schools, Zaandam announced.
A concept report was presented. Zaandam said that they told the Dutch that such an important issue needs to be communicated broadly to all stakeholders and the public at large needs to be involved as well, for example through Town Hall meetings.
The choices proposed are: the status quo; English with Dutch as strong second lan- guage; Dutch with English as strong second language or the model as used on Saba.
A member of the public suggested that there should be a fifth choice offering the students two streams. Answering a question from the public about the obstacle to development presented by Winair’s high airfares, Zaandam replied that since the majority of Winair’s shares are now owned by the St. Maarten government the airline no longer has as its first prem- ise to connect Saba and Statia to the outside world.
The Dutch representative on the board had simply agreed that fares should not go up instead of agreeing to help bring them down.
Commissioner Tearr confirmed that in terms of making the development plans financially possible the CN Week was disappointing. He presented as a solution to turn Statia’s port into a commercial harbour, offering not just harbour services but functioning as a proper port authority.
He explained that as a result of historical developments, NuStar now controls the harbour, which means that not enough monies reach the coffers of Statia’s government. “The island wants to take things into their own hands,” he said, “and that will mean more money for the island.”
He reminded the audience that the tax agreement with NuStar expires at the end of 2014, which opens up opportunities. The island government is working with the Ministry of Infrastruc- ture and Environment on this project.
Regarding social housing, Tearr stated that an investment of US $4,000 is available to upgrade each house that an apartment complex will be financed by the Dutch government and that six new houses will be built.
Also, Woonlinie is prepared to get involved again, despite their bad relationship with the Housing Foundation in the past. Woonlinie said that more management control is required.
Tearr further mentioned that the Ministry of Social Affairs has made 600,000 Euro available to combat poverty on Bonaire, Statia and Saba. This subject created some debate since members of the audience complained that many facilities that are available in the Netherlands do not exist on Statia, for example child support, one-parent support. As someone put it: “All negative results of 10-10- 10 can be implemented immediately, but possible positive effects take a lot of time.” Zaandam stepped in and said that the Statia government can only move within the existing laws and agreements.
He also advised the public that the RCN offers a trajectory for debt relief to those who need it and apply for it. The reaction from the audience was that the local government does not do enough to communicate these facilities.
With regard to the airport, he said that the airport runway is not going to be shortened but that 100 meters will be “taped off” so that the airport can comply with the regulations for a 1,200 meter runway.
Zaandam said that the island budget for 2014 can only keep the island running but cannot cover additional projects. He added that interest-free loans from the Dutch government could be a solution but funding from the European Union and external investors could also be solutions.
However, to enable the latter, the law has to be adapted. In reply to questions, Zaandam said that direct representation of Statia in The Hague was not discussed during the CN Week. Financing was the obstacle for this.
Source: The Daily Herald, St. Maarten