Islands cannot make use of leftover food aid subsidy

Islands cannot make use of  leftover food aid subsidy

Member of the Second Chamber Sylvana Simons of the BIJ1 party asked whether the leftover subsidy for the food aid programme in the Dutch Caribbean could be retained by the islands.

 

THE HAGUE--The 3.5 million Netherlands Antillean guilders leftover from the subsidy granted to the Netherlands Red Cross for the emergency food aid programme in Aruba, Curaçao and St. Maarten will not be available for continuation of the programme under the auspices of the countries.

  Dutch caretaker State Secretary of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Raymond Knops stated this during the handling of the 2022 draft Kingdom Relations budget in the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament on Thursday evening.

  Members of Parliament (MPs) Sylvana Simons of the BIJ1 party, Joba van den Berg of the Christian Democratic Party CDA and Jorien Wuite of the Democratic Party D66 had asked about the possibilities to use the funds for the continuation of the food aid programme in the Dutch Caribbean countries.

  Simons, with the support of Marieke Koekkoek of the VOLT party, submitted a motion at the end of the debate in which she asked the Dutch government to keep financing the necessary humanitarian aid (food assistance, housing and medical care) at least throughout 2022 and to guarantee the basic needs of vulnerable groups, including undocumented persons.

  Simons pointed out that more than a quarter of the population of Aruba, Curaçao and St. Maarten depended on food aid during the pandemic. She reminded the state secretary that many people on the islands lived in poverty and that therefore the continuation of this programme was essential. “There is a structural need,” she said. Voting on this motion will be on October 26. The state secretary advised against the motion.

  MP Wuite asked if it was possible to allocate the leftover funds for disaster relief and strengthening the capacity of relief organisations so that if a disaster hits the Caribbean, these organisations could act quickly.

  Knops confirmed that NAf. 3.5 million euros was indeed leftover from the subsidy that was allocated to the Red Cross to provide emergency food aid. He said the general line of the Dutch government was that unused subsidies during the coronavirus COVID-19 crisis flowed back into government coffers. “There is no possibility to request an exemption,” he said.

  In total, the Dutch government allocated 85 million euros as a gift, for emergency aid on the islands during the first 1.5 years of the pandemic. The state secretary said the food aid programme under the Red Cross had ended and that per October 1, it was now the responsibility of the autonomous countries to continue the programme.

  MP Simons also asked about the possibility to waive the repayment of the liquidity support loans that the Dutch government has been providing to Aruba, Curaçao and St. Maarten during the pandemic. She did so in a motion that she filed.

  Simons asked whether it was realistic that the countries had to start repaying the interest-free loans in April 2022 while the crisis was still ongoing, and the islands’ economies had not sufficiently recovered.

  Knops replied that talks with the countries had started to discuss a possible refinancing of the liquidity support loans, which totalled more than one million euros. He said he could not anticipate the outcome of these talks and that decision-taking on this matter was up to the next Dutch government.

  The state secretary explained that compared to last year, the countries’ economies showed recovery and that the need for liquidity support was diminishing. He said with the implementation of structural reforms as part of the country packages, the economies of Aruba, Curaçao and St. Maarten should become stronger, government revenues should increase, and government expenditures decrease.

  In addition to the interest-free liquidity support loans, the Dutch government made 30 million euros available for St. Maarten to construct a new prison and to improve the existing penitentiary facilities. Curaçao received 30 million euros to improve schools and Aruba received an interest charge relief of 40 million euros for the repayment of international loans.

  Asked about the reform deadlines, Knops said six years had been reserved to implement the country packages. “We have to remain realistic while at the same time, keeping the pressure on the process.” He said the countries and The Hague had jointly drafted the planning for the execution of the reform measures.

  Knops said he agreed with MP Aukje de Vries of the liberal democratic VVD party that it was “nice” to have plans, but it was about the execution of these plans. De Vries urged the state secretary to ensure that taxes were collected. Knops replied that tax reform was a cardinal point and that this was a priority.