photo: John Samson

THE HAGUE – Aruba, Curaçao, and Sint Maarten can count on support from Parliament, now that the economies of the islands are collapsing due to the corona crisis. But requirements can also be heard.

The budgets of the three autonomous islands have caused irritations during the past few months in the Hague. The islands were forced to drastically tighten their belts. One has to look hard to notice that strictness now. Except for in the VVD and SP.

“In times of crisis, we need to help each other”, according to D66 MP Antje Diertens. “We are one, we are family. And we look after each other”, says Joba van den Berg (CDA). “We also helped after hurricane Irma, and we’re going to do it now”, says Attje Kuiken (PvdA).

 ‘Become less strict’
It should also be possible to loosen the budgetary restrictions. Diertens (D66): “We are going to be less strict, we are also doing that for businesses in the Netherlands. The situation has changed a lot in a couple of weeks, we’re not going to say: We’re just going to keep it as it was before the crisis.”

The PvdA hopes that the Hague will ‘be less strict with the budgets’. MP Attje Kuiken also believes that there are other possibilities such as more affordable lines of credit through the Netherlands. Targeted help for those in need on the islands should also be a possibility. Maybe through foundations or international aid organizations.

Also critical remarks: ‘Show us your own plans first’ 
But there are also some critical remarks. The SP believes that the Netherlands should be ‘very, very generous’ with the support it provides the islands under the condition that ‘the islands come with concrete requests’.

“Not the other way around”, is the opinion of MP Ronald van Raak. “And not that the Netherlands will be sending money, because that doesn’t work. We’ve experienced this before and that didn’t end well. That’s when we get issues, arguments, and corruption.”

The MP for SP already had a somber outlook on the economies of the islands. “Sint Maarten is still dealing with the aftermath of hurricane Irma and Aruba is technically bankrupt. And, yeah… Curaçao too.”

“Of course we want to help when the need is high”, says VVD-MP André Bosman. “But, that won’t happen without something in return. We had an agreement that the islands would get their budgets under control. That is not the case. I don’t want to write a blank cheque.”

Curaçao received an official, binding instruction in December to drastically tighten the belt. Willemstad found that the Hague was being too strict, but had no choice but to comply and appeal the decision.

Another ten years of financial supervision
Cabinet party VVD wants to take it one step further. “In exchange for our help, we want a contract for ten years, which states that the islands will promise to hold themselves to the budgetary rules. With the Netherlands as a supervisor”, says Bosman.

In 2010, billions in debt was cancelled after the dissolution of the Netherlands Antilles (with the exception of Aruba which was already autonomous) in exchange for temporary financial supervision. For most of the politicians on the island, an extension of this supervision would be a bitter pill to swallow. Researchers also let their concerns be known.

“I’ve been the spokesperson for Kingdom Affairs for ten years now. We asked that something be done about crime rates, corruption, and government finances and nothing has improved. But when they need help, they know how to find us.”

CDA is not amused
Coalition partner CDA reacts in shock when they hear these statements. “I find these statements to be very one-sided. It takes two to tango, but you have to keep on talking to each other”, says MP Joba van den Berg. “These are desperate times.”

Dutch government willing to help

The Dutch government announced last week that it would be providing (financial) support to all six islands. Minister Raymond Knops (Kingdom Affairs) wants to await the recommendations from the IMF, amongst others, on Aruba, Curaçao, and Sint Maarten.

The special municipalities of Bonaire, Saba, and Statia – who are under the direct command of the Hague – have already received a support package for companies and employees.