FRIDAY, 15 MARCH 2013
THE HAGUE–Intellectual dialogue and persuasion is the way to influence the final outcome of Statia’s final constitutional model, not fighting and screaming at each other, according to Statia Commissioner Koos Sneek.
The public entity status went into effect on October 10, 2010, and not everyone is happy with the developments and the pace at which new laws and regulations have been implemented, acknowledged Sneek in addressing the dialogue gathering in The Hague Wednesday evening.
Other speakers at the event organised by the Consultative Body for Dutch Caribbean persons in The Netherlands OCaN were Statia Commissioner Carlyle Tearr, Saba Commissioner Chris Johnson and Saba Island Governor Jonathan Johnson. Bonaire’s delegation was not present, much to the disappointment of many of the some 50 people present.
“I cannot blame and to an extent also understand that some people cannot keep up with the changes, do not understand them or in some cases simply refuse to understand them. Change is always difficult to except and to adapt,” said Sneek, who remarked that because of their attitude, some people overlook the positive things that the new status has brought.
“My strong belief is that the best way is forward and to try to influence the final outcome as much as possible. Not by fighting and screaming at one another, but by intellectual dialogue and persuasion,” said the Commissioner, who acknowledged that St. Eustatius never opted for a public entity status.
“Did we lose autonomy with the public entity status? Not really. The man in the street, the small man, the one some like to say they represent, cannot eat autonomy. He needs a healthy economy, a job, proper health care, education for his children and a safe environment,” said Sneek.
“But then some might say, can we not attain the same constitutional status as St. Maarten?
Maybe you should ask this question to the people in St. Maarten. They can tell you how easy they have it and how happy they are with their country status, how good it is for them to worry and pay for everything. How they are fighting to get a general health care insurance, but that they simply cannot afford it,” he said.
Sneek wondered how St. Eustatius would finance a country status. He explained that The Hague collected about US $15 million in taxes and health care premiums in St. Eustatius whereas it spends some US $64 million on the island.
Saba Commissioner Chris Johnson said that people who complained about the public entity status often forgot how things were, when Saba was a part of the Netherlands Antilles. The financial situation was a big problem and sometimes we didn’t know whether we would have enough to pay our civil servants. We had to wait a long time before we got approval for a medical emergency flight,” he said.
According to Johnson the public entity status does provide a level of comfort, but there are also things that “don’t make sense,” like the tax structure and the general consumption tax ABB. Money is spent on things that are not necessary, like expensive Dutch consultants and the costly system to audit the taxes. “Let’s put the money where it is needed.”
Commissioner Sneek said that despite a few “glitches,” there were also positive developments and investments to report in St. Eustatius. The harbour and airport are being upgraded and expanded, major investments in the schools, and infrastructure improved.
The facilities at the harbour have been upgraded. The last part of this project is the dredging, which should commence next month. After completion of this project, financed through the Social Economic Initiative (SEI), small cruise ships will be able to dock alongside the pier.
The European Union has made 2.2 million euros available to increase the container holding area. The project should commence later this year. Plans are being discussed with NuStar to relocate the commercial part of the harbour to the north of Lower Town, which will relieve Lower Town from heavy transport and broaden the possibilities of developing tourism in the area.
Together with the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and Environment I and M and with the support of the Rotterdam and Amsterdam harbours, St. Eustatius looks at possibilities to improve the productivity and efficiency of the harbour including privatisation, explained Sneek.
The airport master plan, adopted late last year, will start early 2014 and will include the resurfacing of the runway, replacement of all technical installations and lights, new fencing and a new terminal building so the airport can comply with international requirements. Some 8 million euros will come from the Ministry of I and M while partners are being sought to finances the airport terminal building.
The Commissioner also told the gathering about the plans to upgrade the roads and other infrastructure on the island such as telephone and electricity lines. An infrastructural master plan has been prepared to tackle the huge backlog in these areas and the local government has started with the most urgent road repairs.
The completion of the water distribution network was somewhat delayed but in the next couple of months about 80 per cent of the households should be connected to the grid. The Dutch company Evides is assisting with this project, as well as starting up the water distribution.
The construction of the prison with a capacity of 18 persons is positive news for the local economy and labour market. The prison will allow delinquents to stay closer to home which will be beneficial in preparing them for their return in society.
The audience at Wednesday’s gathering had ample opportunity to pose questions to the Commissioners and Island Governor. They asked about the islands’ position in the Dutch Constellation, equality, the level of services, infrastructure, education, health care, the euro, police and the possible contribution of people from the islands who live in The Netherlands.