KRALENDIJK – Immediately after being sworn in as state secretary, Alexandra van Huffelen (Kingdom Relations), started talking to Curaçao, Aruba, and Sint Maarten.
The state secretary started her tour of all the six islands on Thursday. She was on Curaçao on Thursday, on Sunday the 13th she travelled to Bonaire to talk to politicians and inhabitants for two days.
Poverty on Bonaire
Lieutenant governor for the special municipality of Bonaire, Edison Rijna, is looking forward to the cooperation with the new state secretary. According to Rijna poverty should be the main priority. “Every Bonairian deserves to be able to live on their island and have enough money to survive. We will only be able to solve this issue with The Hague.”
He hopes that this new government will make a lot of things happen for and on Bonaire. “Mrs. Van Huffelen will be greeted warmly during her first work visit. I expect that she will do more than just listen to us and talk to Bonairians, but that we’ll be working towards a future together.”
Bad roads will be the topic of the day
A second, important issue is the infrastructure on Bonaire. The roads within the municipality are so bad that the inhabitants have started planting flowers in the numerous potholes as a playful form of protest. Only the tarmac to national park Washinton Slagbaai is still pristine.
‘‘It’s high time we did something about the quality of the infrastructure if we wish to continue living on a safe and enjoyable island”, says the lieutenant governor. “Safe roads and transportation, so that everyone can go to school or work safely. This can and has to be done in a better way.”
Statia also wants to shine a light on poverty
Van Huffelen will visit Statia between the 20th and the 22nd of February. It’s not the councilmembers who govern within this special municipality, but her own government commissioner. For the past three years the government commissioner has been tasked with getting the island’s affairs in order. There is criticism however from council members and inhabitants that change isn’t happening fast enough.
Government commissioner Alida Francis and her deputy Claudia Toet believe that the Dutch government should improve the social benefits. One example given is the social security benefit which isn’t enough. According to the two the social minimum should be increased to an amount which is ‘equivalent’ to what inhabitants in the continental municipalities receive.
Francis also wants the amount invested in the fight against poverty to be significantly increased. She would also like to see more affordable and subsidized housing constructed on the island. “That is essential for Statia.”
What about sustainability and agriculture?
On both Statia and Bonaire, a lot of inhabitants live close to or under the social minimum. Fresh fruits and vegetables are relatively expensive on the islands. That does not aid in the fight against common health issues such as obesity and diabetes.
Francis believes that on the long term the development of sustainable agriculture is extremely important. “The import of goods such as meat and other food products from the Caribbean region, South America and North America is not affordable for Statians.”
Additionally government commissioner Francis is emphatic that the free allowance – the funds that the municipalities receive from The Hague – is not enough. “We urge The Hague to reconsider the financial policy for the Caribbean Netherlands and to increase the free allowance to an acceptable level.”
‘Saba is eager to meet Van Huffelen’
Councilman Bruce Zagers of Saba has been complaining for years that the free allowance is not enough. That’s why the municipality of Saba is very eager to meet and welcome the new state secretary.
Zagers sees several issues, which the people and government has been struggling with for a while, which need to be solved urgently. Issues such as lowering poverty, the costs of living, the lack of good banking services, and the ‘bureaucratic’ IND procedures. These are the issues, together with the call for more funds, which Zagers hopes “will become a priority during the term of the new coalition.”
Zagers remains positive. “Thanks to our strict financial planning and good relationship with the ministries we’ve been able to make great leaps here on Saba. The relationship was built up with mutual respect and trust as its basis and we hope that this will continue on with the new state secretary.”