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THE HAGUE – The Dutch government will be allowed to set more ‘stringent demands’ for Aruba, Curaçao, and Sint Maarten during the next few months in exchange for emergency lines of credit. The protests, petitions, and multitudes of letters have not changed the position of Parliament on this.

The impact of corona is ‘huge’ and there’s a lack of perspective on the islands, said state secretary Raymond Knops (Kingdom Relations) on Wednesday in Parliament. “Tens of thousands of people have lost their jobs, people are unsure about their future. Tourism has come to a standstill. Income is drying up.”

The entirety of Parliament is convinced that this is the moment in time for the islands to institute major ‘reforms’. This should lead to the government collecting more money than it spends.

“There are major differences in income and not enough tax is paid”, said Knops. The highest salaries have to go down, the tax office has to be reformed, the economy has to be more ‘diverse’ than tourism or oil. According to Knops these are all things ‘that should’ve happened already’.

Average joe has to sacrifice and the rich don’t?
There were demonstrations on Curaçao during the last few weeks which led to riots and arson because the salaries of garbagemen have to be cut. The Hague has said that the total amount of personnel expenses for civil servants has to go down by 12,5 percent.

Parliament was in a state of shock when they heard that the top civil servants who earn hundreds of thousands of guilders will not have to endure cuts at the moment. That was Knops’ reply to a question from SP-MP Van Raak. D66, GroenLinks, and PvdA want a guarantee that the ‘stringent conditions’ will not affect the least fortunate. The Curaçaoan government is the one choosing for that, said Knops.

“They have an option to deviate from that by imposing a higher burden on individuals who earn more. I will talk to the countries about this when I contact them.”

Prime minister Rhuggenaath of Curaçao says that a definitive decision has not yet been made and that he hopes to achieve a consensus with the unions about the manner in which civil servants will have to sacrifice a portion of their income.

The Netherlands promises to give inhabitants Aruba, Curaçao, and Sint Maarten ‘perspective’

The state secretary notes that he has heard the concerns from the islands and that he understands them. He promises on behalf of the Dutch government to give the inhabitants of Aruba, Curaçao, and Sint Maarten a ‘new (economic) perspective’ in exchange for their sacrifices.

Millions of euros will be heading to the islands during ‘the next few years’, but that does mean that they have to agree with all the demands that The Hague presents. “Only if the Netherlands acts as a guarantor with a lot of Dutch tax payer money, can we guide the countries towards a great future.”

“That requires sacrifices to be made and leadership. And in our case, that’s demanding that certain conditions be met”, said Knops. “There’s no longer room for delay. Because if we keep on doing what we did, we’ll get what we got: a lack of results and frigid relationships.”

Knops said on Wednesday that he sees the islands within the Kingdom as family, just as party member CDA-MP Chris van Dam.Islands will always receive emergency aid
The need for food aid will increase if the economies do not pick up quickly, is a concern. The government ensures that all forms of emergency aid will continue to be provided. Also in the event that the islands (no longer) decide to agree to the Dutch demands in exchange for emergency lines of credit.

‘Proud and happy’ with help to the islands
CDA, VVD, and SP are ‘proud and happy’ with the manner in which aid from the Netherlands has been provided to the islands. This emergency aid includes the thousands of food packages (16,6 million euros), the deployment of military personnel to ensure law and order, and the medical aid provided to help fight the corona virus.

Open letter to the Netherlands not well received

The VVD, SP, and the CDA didn’t feel anything for the letter in which 25 prominent individuals state that the Netherlands’ demands are too stringent. The )financial) help from The Hague should be given with a warm heart. “As if that’s not the case now!”, says VVD-MP André Bosman.

“It is the representative of all those companies that profit from not paying taxes and abandoned the people there”, says SP-MP Ronald van Raak. He also had harsh words for the bankers and tax specialists who signed the letter: ‘they’ve all become extremely wealthy on Curaçao but didn’t do anything in return’.

If it’s up to the VVD, PvdA, and SP, the Dutch business community will start working together with Curaçao. “VNO-NCW has to start paying its dues, by investing on the islands”, said Bosman (VVD).

According to state secretary Knops the Netherlands is willing to help with the collection of taxes, but the islands have to ask for this help. “We have the expertise and we can help with that. We make mistakes here but we also learn from them.”

Tracing and collecting money
The VVD wants to use the Fiscal Information and Investigation Service (Fiod) to recover government funds which ‘disappeared’. “Where is the money that disappeared under Gerrit Schotte [former prime minister of Curaçao, ed.]? Tens, hundreds of millions.”

D66 wants the Dutch government to express more confidence in the islands and they want more collaboration. “I think we can do much for each other”, says Knops. “I have never turned down a single request.”