Nicolaas “Koos” Sneek in front of the new tower at F.D. Roosevelt Airport in St. Eustatius before departing for the Netherlands.
ST. EUSTATIUS--Independent Island Councilman Nicolaas “Koos” Sneek left St. Eustatius this weekend to present an action plan to leaders of the six main political parties in The Hague. The parliamentarians are all members of the influential Kingdom Relations Committee.
Entitled “A New Beginning”, the action plan launches Sneek’s ideas for improving Statia people’s welfare and economic life.
Formerly a member of the Democratic Party (DP) of St. Eustatius, Sneek will meet the Dutch party leaders as a recently proclaimed independent.
“I do not expect my new status to detract from the nature of our discussions. Island Government Commissioner Marnix van Rij has already voiced his support for these initiatives and I will press home the need for changes and the government investment to bring them about,” he said.
Constitutional affairs is one area where Councilman Sneek seeks change.
“Our status as a special Dutch municipality does not correspond to the number of our elected representatives. Take a Dutch island like Schiermonnikoog in the north of the Netherlands. With only 941 inhabitants, this smallest municipality has nine council members, whereas Statia has only five. … Unlike Statia, small Dutch municipalities do not have institutions to run like an airport, a seaport, a hospital, a primary and secondary school. Often the expertise and support needed are not available in the local organisation.”
According to Sneek, too often in the past Statia has become over-dependent on government ministries in The Hague. “It makes sense to collaborate more with the Island Councils of Bonaire and Saba to increase our chances of success.”
Sneek realises that many of his ideas come with a price tag, but he insists that island finances can be fine-tuned to promote the island economy through lower taxes to create greater revenues.
“Collection of local taxes on Statia is not well organised and should be drastically improved. Some national taxes such as duty on transport cost for imported goods jack up the cost of living. They should be abolished.”
Statia is slowly managing to get its household in order, but its financial means are still far from sufficient to carry out all tasks. Investments made by the ministries in The Hague are welcomed, but are actually the responsibility of the local government. They simply do not have the money for this in the budget. Future cost for maintenance and depreciation will add to this shortfall. Therefore, an increase in the free allowance is necessary, said Sneek.
One bill that Sneek does not like to pay is for a Windward Islands Airways International Winair ticket. “Their airfares are the highest in the world – per mile they cost more than first-class connections – but without the safety, luxury and dependability.”
Sneek proposes affordable scheduled flights from Bonaire with, for instance, EZ Air. “Flamingo Airport is a good hub to … Curaçao and Aruba, but also to Amsterdam and the rest of Europe, to South America and maybe even to the United States.”
He quoted former Chief Executive Officer of Royal Dutch Airlines KLM Peter Hartman, who recommended a public subsidy on air travel to and from Statia to make ticket prices more appealing. “Hartman should know. Moreover, we need an alternative hub during hurricanes and pandemics.”
Sneek said the housing market on the “Historical Gem” is not working. “Home ownership should be encouraged. Supply should be raised through, for example, lower transfer taxes and a way to resolve undivided and neglected property [issues – Ed.].
“We must also allow Dutch banks to do business in the Dutch Caribbean. This will bring down interest rates to the level of the European Netherlands and provide a mortgage guarantee for receiving 100-per-cent financing for potential homeowners.”
More than 100 ideas are included in “A New Beginning”. Sneek is optimistic that his 12-page document will spark reflection at least and action at most.
“I want to convince these major Dutch political decision-makers that the ‘Historical Gem’ is an island of opportunity, confidence and self-reliance. There has never been a better time to invest in the future of the people of St. Eustatius.”