Parties in the Second Chamber responded with mixed feelings to Monday’s announcement of Dutch Government that it would increase the so-called ‘free allowance’ for Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba by US $8.2 million to a total of US $42.9 million per January 1, 2012.
Governing parties Christian Democratic Party CDA and the conservative VVD party were satisfied with government’s decision to give Bonaire US $4.9 million more, St. Eustatius US $1.3 million and Saba US $1.2 million.
Opposition parties Labour Party PvdA and the Christian Union (CU) were not as happy. “The PvdA is very disappointed that the Minister (Liesbeth Spies of Interior Affairs and Kingdom Relations, ED.) continues the narrow-minded policy of the conservative cabinet where it comes to the islands and that the wishes of the people are ignored,” said PvdA Member of the Second Chamber Martijn van Dam.
CU Member of Parliament (MP) Cynthia Ortega-Martijn said the limited increase of the ‘free allowance’ did not create the necessary financial breathing room for the islands to address pressing matters such as poverty, the backlog in infrastructure and compensation for the elderly.
MP Ineke van Gent of the green left party GroenLinks was glad to learn that the governments of Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba would “finally” receive some extra funds from The Hague to carry out their tasks. “It was long overdue,” she said, adding that she was not in a position to determine whether the increase was sufficient.
MP Bas Jan van Bochove (CDA) considered it comprehensible that The Hague had opted for the lower margin of US $42.9 million as stated in the Reference Framework investigation instead of going for the higher margin of US $61.1 million considering the financial situation of the Dutch Government. “The islands are not getting the short end of the stick. This is a considerable concession,” he said.
MP André Bosman (VVD): “Increasing the free allowance to the lower margin is a good start. I am not saying that everything has been taken care of, but we are on the right track.”
MP Ronald van Raak of the Socialist Party (SP) said that the issue was not the amount of money that went to the islands, but the way that it was spent. “What matters is that it is spend wisely, in the best interest of the people. That is what we have to look at.”
Van Dam criticised the fact that the free allowance is not adapted to reflect the high inflation on the islands. He said the Dutch Government was making 10 million euros available for nature and a sustainable economy, while the islands had not asked for this and have other priorities. “The islands should be free to spend this money on things they consider important like fighting poverty and improving infrastructure. The choice of this government demonstrates that they have learnt little of the discontent of the past two years and that they are still approaching the problems on the islands with their Dutch attitude,” said Van Dam.
MP Wassila Hachchi of the liberal D66 party eagerly awaits the poverty analysis that should be sent to the Second Chamber before July 1. “It is already clear that poverty has to be tackled one way or the other. The islands should undertake action to eradicate backlogs. The Netherlands should actively support the fight against poverty,” she said.
Ortega-Martijn said it would have been to the credit of the Dutch Government if it had implemented the increase retroactively from last year, spreading payment out over the next couple of years. “That would have been fair.” She said the islands had already indicated in 2010 that the free allowance was too low. “I have continuously reminded the Minister of this.” According to Ortega- Martijn the amount should be adapted to reflect the inflation. She said she understood Statia’s disappointment about the limited increase of the free allowance. “Infl ation has been the highest on St. Eustatius and that has not been taken into account.” Parliament is against higher taxes on the islands to generate more revenues. The Dutch Government had indicated that the islands could generate more income by improving the levying and collection of taxes and that they had to “formulate ambitions” as part of their own responsibility.
Ortega-Martijn: “Additional taxes are out of the question, especially with a high inflation. That will only further decrease the buying power of the people.”
Hachchi said that the people should not pay unfair taxes. “This has to be repaired as soon as possible. I am worried that people in the most vulnerable positions, people earning minimum wage, part-timers and the elderly, will end up in poverty.”
Van Raak said the double taxation of goods being imported in St. Eustatius and Saba from St. Maarten should be tackled as this resulted in high prices and an increased risk of poverty. He said the prices of goods on the two islands were “outrageous.”
Van Gent lauded the fact that The Hague was making US $800,000 available to tackle social-economic issues, but said that it took long before the problems on the islands were recognized. “I am very worried about poverty. The situation was getting increasingly urgent and that is unacceptable. We are on the right track but we are keeping an eye on it,” she said.
Source: “The Daily Herald” 2012-06-13 (5)