photo: kdhimaging

THE HAGUE – The debate on Wednesday is a historic one when it comes to the relationship between the autonomous islands and the Netherlands. Aruba, Curaçao, and Sint Maarten will only receive help during the corona crisis, if they accept all of the Dutch conditions and implement them quickly.

According to state secretary Raymond Knops (Kingdom Relations) the last ten years have proved time and time again that the autonomous islands do not keep their word when it comes to promises made to the Netherlands. The islands need hundreds of millions of euros but they are only allowed to borrow that if they fully embrace the Dutch conditions attached to them.

New conditions possible every six weeks
The funds are released every six weeks, during which time the Netherlands can set new conditions that the islands have to meet. This ensures that the aid can be stopped if the islands don’t keep their word.

Parliament supports the stance of the government to push through long awaited measures on the islands during the corona crisis. “The number of conditions will increase over time. Each and every tranche will be released on the basis of results”, according to state secretary Raymond Knops (Kingdom Relations).

The wish list

A few of the wishes that were discussed during the debate, by both the government and Parliament:

• Government expenditure has to drastically decrease: fewer public servants, the salaries in public sectors have to decrease.
• Salaries and reimbursements for ministers and MP’s have to decrease by 25 percent.
• Prisons have to be more humane: ‘degrading situations’ for prisoners on Sint Maarten and undocumented individuals on Curaçao have to be avoided.
• Freedom of the press on the islands have to be improved.
• Tax reform: wealthy individuals have to contribute a lot more to the government coffers, those who earn less have to contribute as little as possible.
• The collection of taxes has to be done more efficiently, undeclared work also has to be tackled to ensure that more individuals pay taxes.
• Diversify the economy: the islands shouldn’t be dependent on tourism or the refining industry.

The islands want ‘more dialogue’, but the Dutch government is done with that was the message on Wednesday. It’s ‘no longer business as usual’, says Knops.

‘Not my ambition to play the boss’
The rebuilding of the airport on Sint Maarten was, according to Knops, ‘screwed up and delayed by a year’ due to discussions. “I don’t have the ambition to play the boss. If Dutch taxpayer money is being made available, good things have to come of it.”

The ‘degrading situation’ in the prisons on Sint Maarten and Curaçao have been a thorn in the Netherland’s side for a while. The islands also have to stop being economically dependent on tourism, so that they can handle economic shocks better. Humanitarian aid, food packages, and medical care are not subject to the conditions.

‘Are you really autonomous?’
According to Knops the islands are free to accept or reject the proposal. The governments of Aruba, Curaçao, and Sint Maarten say that are fully dependent on the Netherlands and that they cannot turn to any other party for funds.

Sint Maarten believes that they are being ‘dictated’ to and Curaçao denounces the ‘dominant position’. “The Netherlands abuses this and uses it to force measures onto us”, according to Curaçaoan minister Quincy Girigorie (Justice).

State secretary Knops told Parliament: “You can have autonomy based on the Charter, but if in practice you are totally dependent on others, are you really autonomous?” The entirety of Parliament supports Knops in his vision that ‘too many people have become wealthy due to poverty’ and that the politicians haven’t been decisive.

‘The best people’ in the Netherlands have to help out
The Netherlands acknowledges that the islands do not have the capacity to meet all the conditions in a short time span. They will receive help with this and the conditions will be ‘executable’, promises Knops.

The Dutch government utilizes various experts to find its way through the corona crisis. “Also when it comes to how we can help the islands, the best people also have a seat at that table.”

Millions in gift as incentive

Aruba, Curaçao, and Sint Maarten are asking ‘a lot’ from the Dutch taxpayers and the risks are big, emphasizes Knops. If the islands show enough progress, the possibility exists that the hundreds of millions in loans can be forgiven. But not in advance, like the islands asked for, Knops told Parliament. “Because too much has already happened for that.”