Published On: Thu, Apr 9th, 2020

Kingdom approves call for financial support – with VIDEO

PHILIPSBURG – The Kingdom Council of Ministers will honor the requests for financial support from the BES-islands, Aruba, Curacao and St. Maarten, Minister Raymond Knops (Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations) said during a life-streamed press conference from The Hague on Thursday morning. Knops emphasized the role of the Kingdom “We are in this together and will get out of this together. We will help you.”

At the same time, Knops repeatedly pointed to the responsibility of the autonomous countries for their own financial household. The financial aid the minister referred to covers the next six weeks with interest-free loans that do not require any repayment for the first two years.

“Our society is on lockdown and the consequences for everybody in the kingdom are enormous,” Knops said in an opening statement. “This demands a lot from all of us. It is a huge challenge during this hectic period.”

The minister noted that the death toll from the corona-virus in the Netherlands stands at 2,400. “The lockdown has huge consequences and it is mentally heavy but we are in this together. This could still take some time; we are dealing with an invisible enemy. The urgency is high but at the same time there is a lot of solidarity. This crisis has created togetherness but we have to consider the future after this is all over. Prime Minister Rutte said it: we have to get used to the new normal.”

Knops acknowledged that the autonomous countries are unable to handle the corona-crisis on their own. “The crisis is too serious for that. The liquidity support for the first six weeks aims to keep the governments afloat and to support businesses and employees. After that period financial aid will be assessed separately for each country. The risk that we will be confronted with another huge crisis in the coming years is rather significant.”

“The countries have their own responsibility for their financial household.”

Minister Knops did not give a clear answer to the question why the financial aid comes in the form of loans and not as gifts. He noted that the Netherlands has provided medical equipment and military support. It has sent 42 intensive care units to the Caribbean – 12 for each autonomous country and 6 for Bonaire. “Now we are talking about budget-support. The countries have their own responsibility for their financial household.”

Knops said that the loans in the first phase are interest-free and that support during the next stage will be primarily loans. “This will differ per country and I do not exclude other contributions.”

StMaartenNews.com asked the minister via Whatsapp whether the salary reduction for politicians in St. Maarten meets the conditions for liquidity support, given the fact that it appears that this reduction will be used for payments to their own pension fund. Knops did not go into the specifics of this question but he emphasized that politicians are supposed to be role models and that – in St. Maarten – the salaries are “at the top side.”

The current situation requires adjustments, Knops said, not only for politicians but also in the semi-public sector at government-owned companies. “I appreciate that the debate about this topic is now on the table.”

“… [W]e .. expect from the countries that they take decisions to put their financial household in order.”

Asked about the different interpretations of article 36 of the Kingdom Charter (“The Netherlands, Aruba, Curacao and St. Maarten help and assist each other”) Knops answered that solidarity is a two-way street. “Everybody has responsibilities, but of course, we will help. However, we may expect from the countries that they take decisions to put their financial household in order. So far they have invested too little to achieve this.”

“So far they have invested too little to achieve this.”

The minister pointed out that the Netherlands has taken austerity measures in the past that make the country currently “one of the strongest economies in Europe.” He repeated that emergency assistance has been provided without any conditions and that further requests for budget-support require “complicated political discussions.”

The one-sided economy of St. Maarten that relies in its entirety on tourism adds to the problems the corona-crisis poses. “We’ll have to think about diversification, we have to think about the future – for our children and our grandchildren. And we have to look at how we can do things differently.”

To put matters in perspective, Knops said that some Dutch municipalities that are in size comparable with St. Maarten, have had to deal with a hundred casualties from the corona-virus.

Recording of the press conference with Minister of BZK, Mr. Raymond Knops>>>



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