Interview in The Daily Herald

In de Antilliaanse krant The Daily Herald verscheen een interview van Suzanne Koelega over ons werkbezoek aan de Antillen en mijn visie op het Caraïbisch deel van het Koninkrijk.

Daily Herald

Senator Ganzevoort: “making space for others, yet critical”

Making space for others and their views. It is this motto that Member of the First Chamber of the Dutch Parliament Ruard Ganzevoort of the green left party Groen- Links, professor of practical theology and former preacher also applies in his approach towards the Dutch Caribbean. But that doesn’t mean he isn’t critical about some developments, especially on Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba, the Caribbean part of The Netherlands. The burden of too many taxes and regulations, the steep prices, high airfare between the Windward Islands, a trimmed health care package and the lack of commitment to assist where help is really needed bothers him.

According to Ganzevoort (47), a member of the First Chamber’s Permanent Committee for Kingdom Relations and part of the delegation that visited the islands early January 2013, The Netherlands is especially over-regulating in the Dutch public entities Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba. “While on the islands it became clear to me that we are doing too much. We can do without so much legislation, especially considering the small scale of these islands. Take infrastructure. Prohibiting the dumping of waste water is beautiful but what good does it do when you have no sewage lines. The islands are plagued by regulations that are quite impossible to execute.”

The new tax structure that The Netherlands implemented on the public entities is another example of too much and too complicated, according to Ganzevoort. Instead of making things too complicated, authorities should work on a better tax compliance. “The number of people paying taxes should go up. There are too many tax evaders. Authorities should not compensate with higher taxes because you punish those people that already comply. Higher tax compliance will result in more income for local government which means that there is more money for improvement of infrastructure and social facilities,” said Ganzevoort.

The Senator sees a solution for the increasing poverty on Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba by tackling three issues: increasing salaries, lowering of (food) prices and a better tax compliance. “in my opinion the solution lies within that triangle,” he said.

Combined effort

According to Ganzevoort the solution would have to be a combined effort of the local government and the business sector in consultation with The Netherlands, Curaçao and St. Maarten. The latter two countries have a big influence on the prices of goods because they serve as transhipment points and in many cases taxes are levied on products that go to Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba. Ganzevoort said that when he visited the islands with a delegation of the Senate he became well aware of the urgency of the situation and the need for a solution. “Many people simply do not manage and that is unacceptable.” The high prices, the steep cost of living increase, the low wages and elderly allowance AOV, health care and the role of local government were recurring topics during the meet and greet gatherings that the Senate’s delegation attended on Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba.

The December 21 decision of Dutch Minister of Public Health, Wellbeing and Sports Edith Schippers to restrict the health care insurance package in the Caribbean Netherlands per January 1, 2013 is not wise, said Ganzevoort. As a matter of fact, the entire First Chamber is objecting to this decision which was taken without consulting the islands.

Killing health care

“You run the risk of killing the local health care system,” said Ganzevoort. He said the principle of making the system equal to that of The Netherlands doesn’t apply because it is not a level playing field: people on the islands cannot take additional health insurance and cannot switch health care providers. “Measures to cut cost are always painful but you cannot transplant the system one on one.”

Overall there are three larger issues that need to be solved in the Caribbean Netherlands: fewer regulations/ legislation, clearing the backlog especially where it comes to infrastructure, working on truly better relations and more cooperation among the partners in the Kingdom. Firstly, it is important to determine which laws and regulations are really needed and which are not. Overregulation makes no sense, said Ganzevoort. Secondly, “We also have to look at the aspects that have not been cleared and check what is really necessary such as the infrastructure. For example, the roads on St. Eustatius and a water distribution system in Saba; aspects that were never addressed when the islands were part of the Netherlands Antilles.” Thirdly, partners in the Kingdom have to constructively look at ways to improve relations and cooperation. “Fact of the matter is that St. Eustatius and Saba will remain dependent on St. Maarten. Cooperation with surrounding islands is essential. We have to approach this as a network, see what is possible not only geographically with other islands but also with organisations, NGO’s,” said Ganzevoort.

High airfare

The Senator was struck by the high prices of air tickets in the Windward Islands. He agreed with residents and governments of St. Eustatius and Saba that this has an adverse effect on the accessibility of the islands and the economic development in general. He said it was important to determine the exact cause of the high prices and who is responsible. Asked if Winair should be considered a form of public transportation which should be subsidised by government just like the Dutch railway company NS, he said that the two cases could not be compared. Also, The Hague would have to look at the cost involved. Ganzevoort agreed that the Dutch Government is partly responsible for good, affordable connection by air. “Fact is that it is a problem. The issue does require a deeper analysis.” He suggested consultations with the St. Maarten airport to see if the airport taxes could be lowered. The problems of St. Maarten are of an entirely different nature. Ganzevoort has respect for the way the largest of the Windward Islands is building a country and the determination to make something of it. But St. Maarten remains fragile, he added. “The people whom I spoke with seem to be well aware of the challenges. After all it is a very small country.” According to Ganzevoort, St. Maarten seems to be searching for its own position in the Kingdom and trying to find a balance in its relationship with The Hague as far as its dependence on The Netherlands while at the same time showing the willingness to cooperate, also in the interest of its sister islands St. Eustatius and Saba.

Short mandate

Asked about his impression of the new Curaçao Government, the Senator pointed out that this cabinet has a short mandate. “The question is how things will be in one year. The measures that this government will have to take are very far-reaching. It remains to be seen to what extent the measures can really be executed,” he said. He noted that it will be a challenge to close the gap in the government’s finances. “Fact is that they are taking responsibility and that is very good, also for the people and the relations in the Kingdom,” he said, stressing that his remarks were based on what he had seen and heard during his visit and that by no means he meant to interfere in Curaçao’s own affairs or how Willemstad manages its own finances.

How did Ganzevoort end up in the Permanent Committee for Kingdom Relations last year? “I spent part of my childhood in Suriname. I have a more than average consciousness of the width of the Kingdom and the importance of good relations. I want to contribute to these relations, also from the perspective as to whether the decisions that we take here are good for the islands.” There is every reason to handle the islands with care and not to lose sight of their interest, said the Senator. “The islands are small and deserve to be treated with care. Democracy is not only power of the majority but also the protection of the minority,” he said, aiming at the role of The Netherlands as the biggest country of the Kingdom.

So why does a preacher who studied theology become a Member of the First Chamber? Because of his motto: making space for others. Diversity, accepting one another for who they are is important to him. “There is too much polarisation, certain groups in society are excluded. One political party said that the islands should be put on marktplaats.nl. That is in contradiction with my motto. People from the Dutch Caribbean are citizens of the Kingdom. We should care.”

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