Published On: Wed, May 20th, 2020

Dutch parliament backs up conditions for liquidity support

Tweede Kamer - Staten Generaal

THE HAGUE – Members of the Dutch parliament support the conditions State secretary Drs. Raymond Knops has imposed on Aruba, Curacao and St. Maarten for the provision of liquidity support, but some parliamentarians doubt that the countries will be able to repay the interest-free loans. The Minister Plenipotentiary of Curacao, Anthony Begina attended the debate on Wednesday morning; St. Maarten’s Minister Plenipotentiary René Violenus was absent.

By the end of the debate, it was still unclear whether St. Maarten and Curacao had accepted the conditions for liquidity support. State Secretary Knops acknowledged that he had received lengthy letters from both governments but that he had not read them yet. Knops said that St. Maarten had sent a letter, then retracted it and submitted another letter. But he did not say anything about the contents of these documents.

There is preparedness among all parties to help the islands, but several parliamentarians noted that the islands have failed to implement reforms to make their economies resilient.

André Bosman (VVD) said that the Netherlands has invested more than 10 billion euros in the Antillean islands since 1954.”Nobody can reproach the Netherlands for a lack of solidarity,” he said. “But the countries have to put reform in place, they will have to take decisive action. It is time for a new generation politicians because quite some of the old guard are in prison or on their way to prison.”

Bosman mentioned Curacao’s former Prime Minister Gerrit Schotte, former Minister of Finance
George Jamaloodin and St. Maarten’s former MP Theo Heyliger as examples. He said that the elite on the islands is putting money into their own pockets. “Where did all that money go?”

Later Bosman suggested sending a team of 200 retires FIOD-inspectors to the islands “to examine the books.” The FIOD is the fiscal investigation and detection service of the Dutch tax inspectorate.

He suggested complete openness about financial matters and the return of any assets above $25,000 that appear not to be obtained in a lawful manner to the treasury of the countries.

“In St. Maarten politicians are not paying premiums for their pension. It is time to clean the house on the islands.”

Bosman labeled the Kingdom Charter as “a dead letter” and said it is time to reform it based on reality. “The time of the old charter is gone. The islands have to reform based on solid agreements. They don’t have to do it but then they will get no money. It is time for the people to see what is happening – that a small group is putting money into its own pockets.”

Bosman found support in this respect from Ronald van Raak (Socialist Party) with a reference to the 5-year prison sentence for former MP Theo Heyliger. “He still is the factual government on the island. I am prepared to give support but not when the money ends up in the wrong hands. Right now a small group is getting rich off of the poverty. The rich will have to contribute.”

Van Raak is offended by the term “indecent proposal” (used by Prime Minister Silveria Jacobs to describe the conditions): “These conditions are logical. All we ask is that the money is going to be well-spent.”

Van Raak’s concerns are first and foremost for the population that has been affected by the corona-virus crisis. “If the government does not accept the conditions then how can we help our brothers and sisters without government interference?”

Van Raak furthermore expressed his concerns over freedom of the press. The government of Curacao complained to the NOS about critical questions posed by journalist Dick Drayer during press conferences. Attje Kuiken (PvdA) asked whether it is possible to send financial support directly to companies, noting that in St. Maarten “The Daily Herald is about to collapse.”

Chris van Dam (CDA) urged the government to implement structural attention for food packages. “45,000 People – 15 percent of the population on the islands – are depending on food packages,” he said.

Van Dam said that the situation at the Pointe Blanche prison must be part of the conditions for subsequent liquidity support. Bosman said he once spoke to a minister of justice about the detention situation who told him: “If the problem becomes big enough it will automatically become the problem of the kingdom.”

Knops said that the corona-virus crisis is “the largest threat since World War II. The impact on the islands is even more severe than it is in the Netherlands, due to their one-sided economies. Unemployment is on the rise and people fear for the future.”

Knops said that the countries have not managed to implement reform in the past decade. “Agreements have not been honored due to political unwell or incompetence. It is clear that the countries cannot support their autonomy. The debts are threatening to rise to untenable levels.”

But all this is not due to poverty, Knops added: “It is a matter of distribution. The countries have run into a wall and they need a fundamentally different approach. This is a first-class show of incompetence. The recipe of the past ten years has not worked.”

At this point Van Raak interrupted: “10-10-10 is a failure. I am happy to hear that the state secretary acknowledges this.”

It did not escape the attention of the Dutch parliamentarians that agreeing with the conditions for liquidity support is only a first step; the measures have to be implemented too. Knops: “If they are not implemented the countries will not get access to the next tranche of liquidity support.”

The state secretary said that St. Maarten and Curacao will not get liquidity support if they do not fully agree to the conditions. “Lowering the salaries is inevitable. St. Maarten is the smallest country in the kingdom and politicians have the highest salaries. For the next tranches of support, the conditions will be further-reaching.”