photo: Pieter Hofmann

THE HAGUE – The outgoing cabinet of Rutte-2 will soon tackle the enshrinement of the status special municipality for the Caribbean Netherlands in the Dutch constitution. Politically speaking, the subject has not been declared controversial, but in the BES Islands (Bonaire, Saba and Statia) the enshrinement is being disputed.

This enshrinement in the constitution imposes on amongst other things, the voice of all Dutch citizens in the First and Second Chamber elections. Second Chamber Member of Parliament Andre Bosman (VVD): “We find all citizens of the BES islands have voting rights, so this needs to be properly outlined.”

Different regulations
Also it will be officially acknowledged that laws and regulations between the European and Caribbean Netherlands may differ from one another. Ultimately the two regions are not always comparable. That leads to fear of arbitration. Will a problem that is being addressed in the European Netherlands be combated equally as hard in the Caribbean Netherlands?

Bonairian Michiel van Bokhorst was confident in the 10-10-10 constitutional change. Currently he has a different opinion, which he expressed in a well-known YouTube film. “The constitutional amendment was necessary, but as a result there is now a free interpretation of how to govern the islands”, he thinks.

Also in the Second Chamber there is a level of uncertainty. D66 wants to know why the Dutch ministries only apply certain regulations to the Caribbean islands, particularly in the areas of Education and Social Affairs. The latter ministry deals with the benefits and additives of certain costs. The CDA has submitted questions to Minister Ronald Plasterk (Kingdom Relations) about alleged arbitration.

Antje Diertens, Second Chamber Member of Parliament (D66): “I think there is no coherent policy on how it should be. This arbitration I can in apart endorse. Even the Caribbean Netherlands doesn’t want to literally adopt all European rules. We have to jointly ensure that there is a mutual outcome, because it is not just that citizens of the Kingdom live below the poverty line.”

In the Caribbean Netherlands it is feared that the enshrinement in the constitution is an excuse for justifying existing poverty. Van Bokhorst: “There is surely a lower class. Those who are doing well, have two jobs to support themselves. A friend of mines works daily from 7:00am to 4:00pm in a lunchroom and then from 6:00pm to 11:00pm in a restaurant. She has to do this, otherwise her children cannot eat.”

Others have it worst. Van Bokhorst: “I have done voluntary work. There the children received sandwiches and they pretended it was cake. I asked them what they ate at home. Rice with ketchup, they said, three times per day. Sometimes fry fish, if their father caught any that day.”

Reduce cost
Bosman recognizes the problems, but criticized the film. Instead of the film being about the cost of living, he thinks it focused more on increasing wages and benefits. “We know what will happen: everything will become unaffordable and more unemployment.”

Van Bokhorst: “I understand that you cannot suddenly increase everything. But General Old Age Insurance (AOV) is less than $200 a month. Consequence: all elderly people still work. Child allowance is less than half of child allowance in the European Netherlands. That cannot be justified.”