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
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
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
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
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.