photo: John Samson

THE HAGUE – Aruba, Curaçao and Sint Maarten need tens, if not hundreds of millions to keep the islands afloat. According to the Dutch government they can count on support, but not on a gift.

“We will not abandon the autonomous countries”, minister Raymond Knops (Kingdom Relations) said after the Kingdom Council of Ministers meeting on Friday. “But that’s something different than saying: we’re going to pay your bills for the upcoming months, of course we can’t do that.”

The islands don’t have the reserves to deal with the economic hardships caused by the corona crisis. Tens of thousands of people have lost their jobs and are now dependent on the government. Aruba for example is asking the Netherlands for a 400 million euro gift.

 ‘It’s Dutch taxpayer money’
Knops had a video conference with the prime ministers of the islands on Thursday. He explained how European countries who are ‘in the same situation’ and ‘have a lot of debt’ are asking countries such as the Netherlands for help.

“We really want to help them”, says Knops about the stance the Dutch government has taken. “Especially in an emergency situation. But this is not unconditional. It cannot be unconditional, because we’re talking about Dutch taxpayer money.”

“People in the Netherlands had to make sacrifices too when it comes to taxes and cuts to ensure that the right choices were made. That’s the message I shared yesterday with the prime ministers of the three countries.”

Knops told the press on Friday that the three islands are autonomous countries within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. “Autonomous also means: responsible for their own governmental budgets.”

Aruba wants a 400 million euro donation

The Aruban government needs at least 650 million euros, according to prime minister Evelyn Wever-Croes (MEP). In a letter to the Netherlands she asked for a 400 million euros (800 million florins) in the form of a donation: 250 million euros for the budget and 150 million euros to help companies stay afloat.

According to the central bank CBCS Curaçao needs an additional 125 to 155 million guilders – per month – to stay afloat. If the crisis lasts for six months: 750 to 930 million guilders.

The governments on the islands have been in financial distress for years, because more money is spent than comes in. The Hague forced the islands to tighten their belts last year.

The Kingdom Council of Ministers decided on Friday to let the stringent budgetary norms loose for now.

Can the islands pay it back?
The islands will try to get an affordable loan through the Netherlands. The question remains if they will be able to pay back the hundreds of millions if the Netherlands doesn’t convert (part of) it into a gift.

“We’re going to examine the support requests now”, says Knops. “Will it work, or won’t it? Is it a reasonable request, or not?”

“We have to pay close attention on how we can ensure that a major portion of these funds can be returned. Because that’s the way we do it for ourselves too. We also have to drain our capital at the moment. Our own debt will also grow now.”

Weekly Kingdom Council of Ministers
The minister expects that the Netherlands, Aruba, Curaçao, and Sint Maarten will meet weekly in the Hague to discuss the situation on the islands and to make decisions.

“Additionally the support will be provided in more than just cash”, says Knops. “It’s also about healthcare knowledge, which is about care and giving form to the request – which we received – for extra help from Defense.”