THE HAGUE–The political and economic crisis in Venezuela was one of the topics discussed during the visit of Dutch State Secretary of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Raymond Knops to Aruba, Curaçao and St. Maarten earlier this month.
Knops paid an introductory visit to the so-called ABC (Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao) islands from January 7 to 14. Venezuela was an issue that has been affecting all three islands.
In Bonaire, the first island visited by the State Secretary, there is the issue with the fuel storage company Bopec which is exploited by the PdVSA of Venezuela. Bopec may have to close after the Dutch Inspection for the Environment and Transport ILT found that there was a large backlog in maintenance.
In Curaçao, the economic development is largely related to the future of the Isla refinery run by the PdVSA. Curaçao’s economy is in a dip while the illegal immigration from Venezuela is causing a humanitarian crisis situation resulting further pressure on social services and an increase in crime.
Aruba too is affected by the illegal immigration from Venezuela. Then there is also the insecurity about the restart of the refinery by the Venezuelan-United States company Citgo, which would diversify the economy and create jobs.
Good governance, strengthening of the integrity of government, tenable government finances and economic development were other subjects that were discussed in-depth during Knops’ visit to the ABC islands, the State Secretary noted in a letter that he sent to the Dutch Parliament on Thursday.
The role of social organisations in the process of social-economic development was highlighted. “I was made to understand the vital role of social organisations as the cement of the local community.”
Knops said that concrete initiatives were presented during the many meetings with representatives of the private sector and the social organisations which can contribute to a better future. “They were critical of local governments, which in the opinion of many discussion partners could assume a more active role.”
The organisations were also critical about what they called the lack of coordination of the efforts of the Dutch Government in relation to the islands. Often policy is lacking focus, while solutions from The Hague are being translated one-on-one to the Caribbean context and there is too much reasoning from the aspect of policy instead of considering the effect on the ground, stated Knops.
The State Secretary provided information per island in his four-page letter to the Parliament. In Bonaire, he was faced with the difficult situation of local government. “The quick succession of Executive Councils and the polarised political situation does not contribute to stable governing and the ability to translate available budgets to meaningful improvements in the lives of citizens. I have discussed this intensively with the Island Government, the Executive Council and the Island Council.”
According to Knops, it was agreed with Bonaire’s Executive Council that an action plan with broad support will be drafted within short to which the Dutch Government may contribute. Knops stated that he intended to visit Bonaire again before the summer to get an update on the situation.
In Curaçao, the State Secretary got a first-hand sight of the economic setback, which has an adverse effect on the government’s finances. The Curaçao Ministers indicated that they would deal with this major challenge. The Board for Financial Supervision CFT will keep monitoring the financial situation.
An elucidation of the policy plans was provided during a meeting with the Curaçao Council of Ministers. The policy plans are aimed at strengthening the economic structure, integrity, social cohesion and to eradicate poverty.
The Rhuggenaath Government aims for a modernisation of the refinery, the construction of a natural gas LNG facility, the strengthening of the maritime cluster, and investments in hotels and innovations in the financial sector. This should provide the economic basis to improve the districts, reduce unemployment and to invest in education that better suits the demand.
The State Secretary has pledged his support to provide expertise where necessary, to facilitate contact with interesting cooperation partners and to deploy initiatives for a practical cooperation. While in Curaçao, Knops also had meetings with representatives of the justice and security sector.
In Aruba, the State Secretary paid a visit to the Citgo refinery where he was informed about the plans. “It is needless to say that the challenges to restart the refinery are great.” He also visited a home where youngsters with social problems were being guided. Knops said he was impressed by the work of social organisations in the best interest of Aruba’s people.
The political climate was discussed in meetings with local politicians and members of government. The new Aruba Government, headed by Prime Minister Evelyn Wever-Croes of the MEP party, is being confronted with great financial challenges. A plan of approach will be drafted on how to deal with the financial problems.
Minister of Justice Andin Bikker has asked for support to strengthen the legislation capacity which is necessary to update old-fashioned legislation in the area of justice. Bikker’s request fits in the programme to strengthen legislation, initiated by the Ministry of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations BZK. Knops responded positively to the request.
Knops was informed that the transfer of the former AVP-led government to the current government did not go very smoothly. The new Prime Minister told him that documents were not available and that in some cases entire parts of the interior of government buildings were removed. “A professional transfer is in the interest of continuity and good governance, and this should not be allowed to happen again,” he stated.
The two introductory visits, first to St. Maarten, St. Eustatius and Saba in December last year, and now to Curaçao, Aruba and Bonaire have provided an insight in the policy and the execution of that policy in practice, stated Knops.
According to the State Secretary, the ambitions of the Dutch Governing Accord combined with the efforts that being made on behalf of the islands provide a solid base to deepen the cooperation within the Kingdom and to improve the lives of the people.
“In the Caribbean Netherlands, by focusing on results and to make good governance the key to many improvements worthwhile, and in relation the countries, through practical cooperation and by taking agreements that were made seriously. In this manner, we can work together on a Kingdom which has us connected through history,” stated Knops.
During his visits to the islands, he was often reminded of the example that can serve as an inspiration: the coming together after Hurricanes Irma and Maria. “Everyone participated. In moments like these, the Kingdom shows its value. We should do that more often.