A broad delegation from Bonaire, Statia and Saba (BES) recently travelled to Holland for talks about the upcoming constitutional changes. They had meetings from January 28th until January 31st with various offi cials about constitutional reform, fi nance, the standard of living, education, public health, social security, taxes, and public safety. The most important changes as mentioned in the ‘besluitenlijst’ (List of Resolutions) are:
The Island Council will have a say in the appointment to office of our next Governor. There will be more dualism: in future a member of the Executive Council (e.g. a
Commissioner) cannot be in the Island Council as well. This will mean: more democracy and more power to the Island Council.
People in the BES-islands (Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba) will have the right to vote for and to be elected as a member
of the Dutch “Tweede Kamer” (Dutch
Parliament or ‘Second Chamber’).
Most of our old budget defi cits will be paid by the Dutch Government. The budget defi cits for 2006 and 2007 will have to be paid by us; further agreements are to be made about these payments As a matter of fact the ‘Besluitenlijst’ is not clear on this point. Perhaps the commissioners can explain this.
Holland will finance part of the deficits for the years 2008, 2009, 2010. By 2011 our budget has to be balanced. There will be financial supervision during the entire period, and also after 2011. The Dutch Government will supervise our future budgets.
To develop our economy, we will receive funds from the Sociaal Economisch Initiatief (S.E.I.), the so-called ‘SocioEconomic Initiative’. We will also get funds for our educational program and our public safety plan (Plan Veiligheid Nederlandse Antillen).
Standard of Living
Holland and the BES-islands are going to work together to reach an acceptable standard of living for the people of the BES-islands. The quality of our education, health care, social security and public safety has to reach a certain standard. Holland will be responsible for legislation and policy in these four areas; implementation will often be delegated to the islands themselves.
Almost certain is that there will be free primary and secondary education for everybody. This is being studied now. A special proposal for student financing
is in the making. As ARCO understands it, students from the BES-islands will be
able to make use of the Dutch student financing system in Holland. However, if they want to attend higher education in the Caribbean Region, this will be made possible also.
There will be a new Public Health Insurance, still in phase of research. There will be new vaccination programs in compliance with the standards of the International Health Regulations (issued by the World Health Organization).
Social Security and Taxes
An assessment of the current “onderstand” system will be made and the effects of a
change in the level of taxes and premiums for AOV and social insurances (e.g.
public health insurance and pensions) will be examined before June/July. So for now
nothing will change. We have to wait for the results of this study.
The quality of our Police force will be improved; Holland will assume responsibility for this and will make sure that sufficient police officers and expertise will come our way.
STATIA COMMISSIONERS REACT
Mr. Hooker is worried
Mr. Roy Hooker, portfolio finance, said that he was not satisfied with the meetings. Two things are worrying him: Finances and education.
Concerning finances he had hoped that Holland would have given more clarity on how these old budget defi cits for 2006 and 2007 will have to be paid. Now it has been side-lined. The major concern now is how to reduce future defi cits. But the old debts still have to be paid… He assured us that nobody will lose their jobs due to the cut-backs that have to be made. However, new government jobs will not be created.
Education is also in his portfolio and concerning education he had hoped that the student fi nancing would also be available for students who want to study in the United States. He claims that during the meetings this had been agreed. (Note ARCO: Florida forms part of the Caribbean; this may be an opening to fix this).
The only thing he sees as a triumph is the S.E.I. He fought hard to get this extra
money for economic development, and he is happy Holland is going to give us the
extra Naf. 13 million. Overall Mr. Hooker is not happy with the current situation. He referred to our referendum: No constitutional change would have been the best option.
Mr. Woodley is optimistic
Mr. Julian Woodley has a different opinion. He is optimistic. “When you look at the
“besluitenlijst”, you can see that progress has been made”.
“We signed for the basic outlines, how things are going to be worked out remains to be seen. The officials from Holland will come over here; there will be much less distance and much more transparency. When they come here, they will see with their own eyes the difficulties we are facing”.
He says: “Toezicht is beter dan hoger toezicht”, meaning that the supervision we will get is on an equal basis; if, for example, Mr. Woodley wants to buy a new computer, he doesn’t have to ask Holland if he may do so.
Mr. Woodley stresses that there are economic developments that make him hopeful. Investors are coming, jobs will be created. In the last Island Council meeting he proposed to just take the budget and go through it, take one morning to see what we can do to save in order to solve the problems with the deficits.
Statia has two commissioners with two very different opinions about our future. Mr. Hooker thinks we are facing difficult times. Our budget defi cit is structural and
Holland thinks we can balance our budget by the year 2011. That’s a big operation,
if you want the people of Statia to have a good standard of living. Mr. Woodley
thinks we must make an effort to get our economy growing. He sees possibilities
in tourism. Focusing on Statia’s economy and attracting investors might be a way
out of our fi nancial problems.