16 October 2015

Dutch 'partial integration' of Bonaire, Saba, Statia a failed experiment?

THE HAGUE--The public entity status of Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba has brought much disappointment, and the balance after five years is not favourable, concluded the Caribbean Netherlands Evaluation Committee in its report that was presented in The Hague on Monday.

A widely felt disappointment predominates on the three islands. This disappointment has consistently increased since October 2010, when the islands became part of the Netherlands and the Netherlands Antilles ceased to exist as a country.

The high expectations which people and the governments on the islands had at the start of the transition have largely not been met. This is largely attributable to the level of prosperity: since 2010 the standard of living has fallen for many people, including those with a job. This disappointment has overshadowed the positive developments in for example health care and education where plans were more ambitious and agreements more concrete.

People on the islands feel that they have not been involved in the changes enough, and that insufficient account has often been taken of the islands’ special circumstances. The problem of poverty has increased, partly due to the declining purchasing power and the low level of social provisions.

“The concerns about the daily existence have contributed to people’s negative experience of the transition,” stated Committee Chairperson Liesbeth Spies during the presentation which was attended by representatives of the governments of the three islands and the Dutch Government.

The committee concluded that disappointing results were caused by a number of factors. The agreements that have been made were not always clear, not to the people and neither to the government.

The differences in language, scale and culture added to a complex collaboration between Bonaire, St. Eustatius, Saba and the Dutch Government. “People find it hard to understand each other. Interests are also highly divergent. For the islands, the relationship with the Netherlands is of vital importance while this is certainly not the case for the Netherlands. In Dutch politics, the relationship with the islands is only of minor importance.”
Agreements were also interpreted differently: the islands had different expectations than the Netherlands. The most striking example was the agreement at the time of the transition to reach a standard of services and provisions that was acceptable within the Netherlands.

The standard wasn’t introduced for many services, especially in the social area, while the standard of living kept deteriorating, the committee found. The “voorzieningenniveau” is still a source of discussion with the islands striving for the same level as in the Netherlands, and the Netherlands having a different opinion on what is acceptable.

The approach of the Dutch Government has been fragmented, and knowledge of the specific circumstances on Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba has been often limited. “There is no overall approach to speak of despite the fact that the nature of the problems and scale of islands call for such an approach.”

The fragmentation is difficult to handle for the islands because of their limited staffing capabilities. “It takes a lot of meeting and consulting which means that a disproportionate administration load falls to the islands.”

An integral approach is further hampered by the fact that the Minister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations, based on a deliberate choice made at the time, does not have the authority which would allow him to control the Dutch policy, let alone enforce policy changes based on an integral vision. As a result, the position of the National Government Representative is such that he is not in the position to make a difference when required.

Relations have become more strained, particularly the Netherlands and St. Eustatius, and to a lesser extent Bonaire.

“Government representatives have diametrically opposing views and the debate mainly centres on the division of tasks and authorities. Discussions focus on autonomy, independence and a neo-colonial attitude. The people of the islands do not benefit from this situation.”

In addition, the local administrations have not yet reached the required level of quality. They remain vulnerable. “Given the small scale of the islands and the limited capability available, it has been proven to be difficult to ensure the long-term quality of administration. The situation is too dependent on the efforts and quality of individuals which is why there are big differences between the islands in the level of administration.”

The global economic and financial crisis was an outside contributor which adversely affected the islands’ economic and social development. According to the committee there were “strong indications” that the transition and the implementation of certain laws didn’t have the intended positive influence on the economic development, and by extension the level of prosperity for the people. The Netherlands and the islands lack a shared approach which offers prospects for future economic development.

“Unfortunately we have to conclude that so far the balance has not been favourable,” stated Spies. “However, five years is a short period. And, as the implementation of the transition is still in full progress, it is too early for a final judgement.”

Spies said she hoped that the conclusions of the evaluation would serve as an impulse to bring the original objectives of the constitutional change closer over the coming years. “We hope that it will inspire to do things better,” she said.

The committee concluded that there was still a lot of room for improvement. “It is now up to the authorities that commissioned this evaluation, the public entities and the Dutch Government, to jointly take up this challenge, based on the results of this evaluation, and initiate the changes deemed necessary and ensure they are implemented.”

Making the most of the islands’ public entity status requires the governments involved to “jump over their own shadows” to create room for self-development, to take responsibility and to invest, also in mutual trust.

“Each of the islands will have to come up with an answer to the question what they can do themselves, where they should do better and where they need help and support. A higher level of facilities and economic development can be achieved together, in consultation with the people.”

The findings of the committee were largely based on the input of the islands, its residents, private sector, social organisations and government. Aside from the committee’s general conclusions, there were three individual reports that served in the evaluation.

The Social and Cultural Plan Bureau of the Netherlands SCP analysed the consequences of the new relations for the people. Pro Facto of the University of Groningen looked at the effects of the legislation, while the DSP Group of Dr. Oberon Nauta studied the workings of the new administrative structure.

Elaborate information, including the four reports, as well as a video for the general public, can be found on the committee’s website, www.evaluatiecn.nl. Much of the information, mainly the conclusions, is also available in English and Papiamentu.

The Evaluation Committee consists of Chairperson Spies, Fred Soons, Glenn Thodé, Luc Verhey and Frans Weekers. The committee was assisted by a secretariat and a supervisory committee of experts.

No comments: