Worries in Dutch parliament about the high prices on BES-islands

FRIDAY, 24 JANUARY 2014

THE HAGUE--Members of the Permanent Committee for Kingdom Relations of the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament remain concerned about the purchasing power and the high consumer prices in Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba.

During the Committee’s visit to the Caribbean Netherlands earlier this month, the members could see for themselves that the prices on the islands are high. A reason for the members to pose written questions to Dutch Minister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Ronald Plasterk about this and other issues.

The members, who also posed the questions on behalf of the people they met with during their visit, wanted to know what could be done to reduce the high consumer prices. They asked about possibilities for the Dutch and the local governments to intervene and to lower the price of transport of goods to the islands.

The Members of Parliament further wanted to know whether expanding the list of tax-free goods was a possibility by for example, adding all goods and food items in the supermarkets. They also asked if it was possible to expand the list with essential sustainable consumer goods, like fridges, stoves, washing machines, TV’s and furniture.

The Committee was curious to know how much in taxes was collected on imported goods per island and what the cost was to collect these. The members asked whether it “made sense” to collect these taxes when the associated cost to collect them was higher than the revenue.

There were also worries about other issues like the medical evacuation helicopter, the postal services, the sea cable, the development plans, the constitutional evaluations, the shortage of social housing and the Statia Road Fund.

The members sought clarity on the helicopter contract, asking when the contract will lapse and how high the involved cost is. They wanted to know how often the helicopter flies and whether it’s possible to deploy a bigger one, so a family member could accompany the patient.

Other questions about the helicopter were: “Can you advise the committee about the possibilities to share a helicopter with the Dutch Navy or the Coast Guard? When will the helipad at St. Maarten Medical Centre be ready?”

The Committee further asked about the status of the development plans that the islands have submitted to the Dutch Government; how much would be made available for these plans and which projects would be executed in 2014/2015.

The members wanted to know how the Island Councils and the local population would be involved in the small and large evaluation in 2014 and 2015 of the public entity status of the islands that was implemented on October 10, 2010.

They also asked about the role of the Island Council and the people in the drafting of a profile for the new National Government Representative (Rijksvertegenwoordiger). The current Representative Wilbert Stolte will resign on May 1 this year after several complaints about his performance.

The postal services and the transition on January 1, 2014, to the new company Flamingo Express have the Committee worried. They said the transition went “anything but smooth” and pointed out that many employees have lost their jobs.

The Committee wanted to know whether the legal position and the terms of employment of the employees were taken into consideration during the process to contract a new company to execute the postal services in Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba.

“Were you aware that Flamingo Express wanted to dismiss especially the experienced employees and keep the personnel with less working experience? Was this no reason for you to get concerned about the quality of the postal services? Can you confirm that the employee contracts will be completed in a correct manner according to the labour laws?”

The members asked about the high cost of use of the sea cable in St. Eustatius and Saba. They wanted to know what could be done to lower these costs and how much say the island governments would have in the exploitation of the sea cable which was constructed at the expense of the Dutch Government.

The shortage of affordable housing is a “big problem” in St. Eustatius and Saba, stated the Committee, which asked about the specifics of this problem and how this could be solved by the governments.

The agricultural project in Saba has been a success and the Committee wanted to know about possibilities to stimulate similar projects on the other islands. The members further asked Minister Plasterk to support Statia’s Executive Council in the new tax negotiations with NuStar. They also wanted to know whether it was true that a part of Statia’s Road Fund was used as an extra reward for personnel.

Source: The Daily Herald, St. Maarten