The Edge ferry at Saba’s Fort Bay harbour. (File photo)
THE HAGUE--The Dutch government had approved a compensation package to alleviate the socio-economic impact of the coronavirus crisis for residents of Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba. The prices of ferry services, electricity and Internet will go down through subsidies.
State Secretary of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Raymond Knops announced the economic support measures during a press briefing after Friday’s Council of Ministers meeting as well as in a letter that he sent to the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament on the same day.
The joint initiative of the public entities Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba seems to have been effective. In a letter dated March 29, the public entities urged the various ministries in The Hague to take a number of measures that would alleviate the socio-economic burden in these hard times where many residents and companies are seeing their income decline.
The public entities proposed to reduce the fixed tariff of all utility facilities to zero. In his letter to the Second Chamber, Knops noted that this proposal fits the ambition of the Dutch government to reduce the cost of living in the islands.
“Considering the immense socio-economic effects due to the COVID-19, the government has decided to grant a reduction on the water and electricity bill that matches the fixed tariff.” In other words, the fixed tariff will be reduced to zero. Because Saba does not have a fixed tariff for water, – because people have cisterns – the funding will go towards increasing the capacity of the public cisterns.
The fixed tariffs reduction will apply from May 1 until the end of 2020. In the same period, the price of Internet in all three islands will go down by US $25 per connection. Internet is deemed essential in this period where people have to work from home and students do their schoolwork online.
This measure to reduce the electricity, water and Internet prices will cost the Dutch government 7.8 million euros. Another one million euros will be made available annually for the next two years to subsidise ferry transport between St. Maarten, St. Eustatius and Saba.
The Dutch government adopted the proposal of the public entities to start a pilot to improve the ferry service between the Windward Islands and to lower the tariffs. The ferry price will be reduced and the frequency will be increased for two years.
“A solid and affordable ferry will also contribute to a larger number of tourists after the lock-down. Residents will also be able to travel more often and at a better price. This will aid Saba and St. Eustatius in a quicker recovery,” stated Knops.
The ferry concession will be executed locally and will involve multiple parties. The Dutch government pledged to look at the options – together with the islands – to secure affordable connections by air in the longer term.
The state secretary in his letter acknowledged the hardships for the islands. In their joint plea, the public entities sought attention for the increase of poverty. The letter sent to the various ministries mentioned the large economic impact as a result of the cessation of tourism, the lock-down and the turnover loss of companies. Saba is facing an additional challenge because the Saba University School of Medicine (SUSOM) students have left.
To ensure that nobody goes hungry, the Dutch government will support the purchase and distribution of food and hygiene packages for the most vulnerable in the community. Allocated will be 150,000 euros each for St. Eustatius and Saba, and 200,000 euros for Bonaire. For Aruba, Curaçao and St. Maarten, 16 million euros will be made available in humanitarian aid.