Published On: Thu, Mar 10th, 2022

BES-islands get millions from the Netherlands

THE HAGUE — State secretary Alexandra van Huffelen (Kingdom Relations) makes €35 million available for the preservation and restoration of nature on the BES-islands. This comes on top of the structural annual provision of €5 million for infrastructural projects, another €2 million (in 2022) for measures to strengthen the local governments and a structural contribution of €30 million (to achieve common objectives). A total of €72 million ($78.5 million).

This appears from a letter Van Huffelen sent to the Dutch parliament after her recent visit to the Caribbean parts of the Kingdom. The 16-page letter deals with Caribbean Netherlands (Saba, Statia and Bonaire) as well as with the three autonomous countries St. Maarten, Curacao and Aruba.

Related article: State secretary hammers on need for building a strong foundation

Van Huffelen speaks in this letter about “warm and intense meetings” and about “the courage, resilience and perseverance” of the people.

“Citizens, managers and politicians are optimistic about the opportunities for development; they see a lot of possibilities to develop into resilient societies with a robust and sustainable economy and with a rich and protected nature and culture.”

This is about where the state secretary’s dreams about the islands’ future end. She mentions the history of slavery as “a blemish on our shared history” and notes that it is important to give account of this history, “so that we can work with a better understanding for each other on a shared future.”

Van Huffelen also writes that Saba, Statia and Bonaire are facing significant challenges. “There are serious concerns about poverty and livelihood. The costs of living are increasing and the already shaky economic position of citizens is deteriorating.”

Van Huffelen furthermore mentions concerns about climate, the protection of nature and culture, financial stability and the limited administrative and executive capabilities of the local governments.

How does the state secretary want to tackle these issues? “We can only achieve concrete results for people if we understand each other better and if we are working more intensively together.”

Caribbean Netherlands is struggling with “deep-rooted poverty”, with unsustainable nature, insufficient access to banks and notaries and a one-sided economy that relies predominantly on tourism.

In 2019, research showed that the income of 40 percent of the households is insufficient to make ends meet. The islands also suffer from a brain drain, because potential workers and students are looking elsewhere for their future.

Van Huffelen notes that it is a challenge to arrive at a realistic social minimum. A 2019 CBS-statistic shows that the disposable income of a quarter of all households is below the benchmark social minimum. The Dutch cabinet nevertheless aims to make the level of facilities in Caribbean Netherlands “more equal” to the European-Dutch system.

The islands get €35 million for the preservation and restoration of nature. Until 2025 the focus is on combating erosion, restoration of coral reefs, sustainable coastal development, effective garbage and wastewater management, education and communication, agricultural development, urban planning and enforcement.

There are opportunities for sustainable energy on the islands, Van Huffelen writes in her letter to the parliament. For each island the Dutch government will develop a concrete sustainability action plan that focuses on substantial sustainability in the short term and the perspective of sustainable climate-neutral islands in the long term.

The government also wants to improve the connectivity between the islands. To achieve this, it considers the establishment of a PSO (Public Service Obligation) that would guarantee an affordable and reliable connection between the Windward Islands.

Since 2018, the Netherlands supports Saba, Statia and Bonaire with a structural provision of €5 million for the execution of infrastructural projects. This support consists of funding and expertise about roads and mobility. The objective is to improve the capability of road maintenance.

This year, the Netherlands invests another €2 million in measures to strengthen the executive capability of the local governments. There is also a plan to set up an exchange network between civil servants in Caribbean Netherlands and European Netherlands to increase mutual know-how and understanding.

The letter mentions, almost as an afterthought, the tense relationship between Statia’s government commissioner Alida Francis and the Island Council. Van Huffelen wants to speak with Francis and the Island Council about an accord containing additional agreements.

Before the summer the cabinet will present a letter containing more details about its plans for the three Caribbean municipalities. The Dutch will make €30 million structurally available “to realize the common objectives.”


Related links:
State secretary hammers on need for building a strong foundation
Letter Dutch State Secretary Van Huffelen to Second Chamber
Zembla reveals how the Netherlands frustrates sustainability in Bonaire