Senate delegation to focus on effects of new relations

By Suzanne Koelega

THE HAGUE–The constitutional reform, how the new status of the islands has worked out in practice and the findings of the Caribbean Netherlands Evaluation Committee are focal points of the visit of a large delegation of the First Chamber of the Dutch Parliament, the Senate, to the Dutch Caribbean, April 16-23.

“This visit certainly has the interest of the delegation members,” said Senator Ruard Ganzevoort of the green left party GroenLinks, who heads the 14-member delegation and chairs the First Chamber’s Permanent Committee for Kingdom Relations, on the eve of the trip.

The Caribbean Netherlands constitutional evaluation is one of the focal points of the six-day working visit, even though the delegation, which includes 12 Senators, also will have meetings in Aruba (April 18), Curaçao (April 16 and 17) and St. Maarten (April 22). The delegation visits Bonaire on April 19, Saba on April 20 and St. Eustatius on April 21.

The Senate will have a large, plenary debate on June 21 on the evaluation of new constitutional relations in the Kingdom: the country status of Curaçao and St. Maarten, the related evaluation of the Judicial Kingdom Laws and the Kingdom Law on Financial Supervision, and the public entity status of Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba.

The new relations with Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba were evaluated by the Caribbean Netherlands Evaluation Committee, headed by former Minister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Liesbeth Spies. The main report and three elaborate sub-reports were presented in October last year, five years after the new relations went into effect.

During the visit to the islands the Senate delegation will be able to gather information and broaden the knowledge about the constitutional relations, the effects thereof and the socio-economic development. For a number of Senators who are newly elected, the visit will serve as an introduction to the islands and their people.

“This is an opportunity for the delegation to be on location, to hear what is going on and to assess the positive developments, but also the concerns. It provides us an opportunity to enhance our work by being on the spot, instead of working from a distance and through documents,” Ganzevoort told The Daily Herald on Friday.

An essential part of the visit is the contact with people on the islands, not only the politicians, but also representatives of the private sector, non-governmental organisations and local residents.

“We will try to speak with as many people as possible. We would like to hear what goes on in the communities and on a government level,” said Ganzevoort. He added that the time would be limited due to the somewhat confined schedule of visiting one island per day.

The delegation hopes to obtain an overview of the important themes in the Dutch Caribbean dossier: health care, environment, social and economic development, and education. The situation differs per island and it is useful for the delegation to be brought up to speed on those differences. “By getting to know people, and seeing things for yourself, you get a good impression of what goes on,” said Ganzevoort.

A large number of laws were created and adapted for the Caribbean Netherlands. “The implementation of these laws on a small-island level is a complex matter. Take the minimum income situation, the high cost of living and the decreased purchasing power. All are worrisome issues. What are the reasons, and why is it so hard to solve? These are valid questions that we as a Parliament have,” said Ganzevoort.

The small scale of the islands, the total issue, the way the people see the Netherlands – these are all important aspects in the relations with the Caribbean Netherlands. The level of wellbeing is another important returning issue. According to the Senate, the islands deserve an acceptable level of wellbeing and the Dutch Government, in consultation with the islands, needs to keep working on that.

The Multi-Annual Programmes of Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba address the matter of wellbeing and development, and a number of social facilities have been implemented such as child allowance (kinderbijslag) and special assistance (bijzondere onderstand).

“Naturally, the Dutch social welfare amounts cannot just be recalculated in US dollars, because the situation is different on the islands. But we need to take a hard look at how we can improve this. The Senate generally agrees that we need more clarity on this,” said Ganzevoort.

“The biggest question in the Caribbean Netherlands is how we all look back at the developments since October 10, 2010. What is needed is to catch up on the arrears. How can we expand on the quality of government and decrease distrust? The follow-up to the evaluation should be focused on the next steps to further improve the situation.”

Asked about the expectations of the Senate’s visit, Ganzevoort said people should not expect solutions overnight. “People are disappointed on the islands, and rightfully so, but people should also be conscious that development takes time. It is possible that people, seeing such a large delegation, think that everything will be solved quickly. But some things need time,” he said.

The delegation consists of Senators Ruard Ganzevoort (GL), Helmi Huijbregts-Schiedon (VVD), Sophie van Bijsterveld (CDA), Hans Engels (D66), Kees Kok (PVV), Meta Meijer (SP), Ruud Vreeman (PvdA), Peter Ester (ChristenUnie), Christine Teunissen (PvdD), Diederik van Dijk (SGP), Jan Nagel (50PLUS) and Henk ten Hoeve (OSF). Registrar Fred Bergman is also part of the delegation, as is staff member M. Prenger.

Source: Daily Herald Senate delegation to focus on effects of new relations