Published On: Sun, May 20th, 2018

It is better to do well than to say well

Dear Editor,

The widely circulated video – via social media – of the approximately 10-man strong Dutch delegation, including Government Commissioner Mike Franco, Dutch State Secretary for the Interior and Kingdom Relations Raymond Knops and Minister of Justice and Security Ferd Grapperhaus, purchasing groceries at Duggins Supermarket on Statia in early May, was curious to say the least.

Firstly, the caption was, perhaps unintentionally, misleading. It erroneously read: ‘Dutch delegation shopping at Duggins Supermarket for a hundred dollars ($100) worth of groceries’, while the customer monitor clearly displayed the actual amount spent, a grand total of $57.86. A difference of $42.14! Secondly, the video concluded with Mr. Franco, Mr. Knops and Mr. Grapperhaus posing for a photo displaying the three (3) plastic bags of purchased goods. After reading an article in the Daily Herald newspaper of Friday, May 18 (‘CDA, D66 make call for higher social allowances’), the reason behind this PR stunt is now evident. During a recent meeting of the Permanent Committee for Kingdom relations of the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament it was reported that Mr. Knops stated the following: ‘he had gone into a supermarket in St. Eustatius a few weeks ago to do some shopping, together with Minister of Justice and Security Ferd Grapperhaus, and he was shocked by the high prices’. How could this be? After all, the Commissie Spies concluded in their 2015 report that: ‘in socio-economic terms the situation on the islands has clearly deteriorated since the end of 2010’.

Furthermore, the more recent report entitled: ‘Onderzoek naar de prijzen in Caribisch Nederland’ (Research of prices of food products in the Caribbean Netherlands), which was commissioned by the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs, and sent to the Second Chamber in September of last year, concluded inter alia that:

  • The price level on the islands is relatively high. This applies to Bonaire, Saba and St. Eustatius. One of the explanations for this is the fact that virtually all products consumed on the islands must be imported. This means extra costs due to the necessary transport and other extra actions required to get the products on the islands. Additionally, because of the limited population size, market demand is also modest in size, making it difficult to manage economies of scale (in purchasing). The islands are also heavily dependent on existing transport routes and providers;
  • Prices on the islands rose sharply between 2010 and 2014. The price developments on the islands are periodically mapped out by the Central Bureau for Statistics (CBS) in the Netherlands. The numbers show that prices have risen sharply since 2010.

The comprehensive report provides conclusions, intervention possibilities to influence the prices and recommendations, which includes: the implementation of a voluntary system of maximum prices, tax exemptions on (some) basic necessities, subsidizing of energy cost for businesses, investment in local agriculture, joint purchasing, the publication of the different supermarkets’ prices and the increasing of awareness through budget planning. The report also concludes that supermarkets do not have exceptionally high margins and their net profit is about three (3) percent.

Therefore, with this valuable empirical evidence in hand. How can he, to use his own words, in all fairness be shocked at this juncture? More importantly, the question needs to be asked; what is the State Secretary doing about it?

As a local manager, I felt prompted to defend my company against the biased characterization. Equally important however, is that I am a proud Statian and stand ready, willing and able to assist in the development of a more prosperous Statia for all, regardless of who is in charge.

I respectfully call upon the government to start implementing the recommendations in the many reports that have been commissioned to mitigate the high cost of living on the island.  This includes the publication of the results of the research into the so-called ‘social minimum’ report Caribbean Netherlands that has been going on for far too long and has once again been delayed.  There can be no more excuses. As the Dutch would say: “geen woorden, maar daden” (It is better to do well than to say well).

L. Gumbs-Duggins