Erosion over the Lower Town area.
THE HAGUE--The liberal democratic VVD party in the Dutch Second Chamber of Parliament has accused Dutch State Secretary for Kingdom Relations and Digitisation Alexandra van Huffelen of abusing the law when she made fast funding available for the St. Eustatius cliff erosion project.
According to VVD Member of Parliament (MP) Eelco Heinen, the state secretary made incorrect use of the accountability law, existing legislation that the government can use to make payments without the approval of the Second Chamber, in exceptional cases.
During a recent plenary debate about the budget right, which Van Huffelen attended as part of her portfolio digitisation, MP Heinen brought up the 19-million-euro payment for the next phase of Statia’s cliff erosion project as an emergency measure.
The Dutch government has allocated eight million euros in the 2023 Spring Budget and 11 million euros in the 2024 Spring Budget. On May 31, the Dutch government made eight million euros available to the public entity St. Eustatius for an immediate start of the project.
“While we are having a debate about the fact that the exception Article 2.27 of the Accountability Law is used too often, the state secretary sends a letter to the Second Chamber in which she says she is using this article to spend 19 million euros for the cliff project in St. Eustatius,” said Heinen.
The MP disproved the state secretary’s assertion that it concerned an emergency. “The expenditures were needed due to a court ruling of December 2022, half a year ago. The state secretary informed the Second Chamber about this in February 2023. Early May, there was a court injunction which was rejected. That was 3.5 weeks ago,” said Heinen.
According to Heinen, the period after December 2022 could have been used to get approval from the Second Chamber in an abbreviated procedure. He pointed out that Finance Minister Sigrid Kaag showed that it was possible, through an emergency procedure, to draw up a supplementary budget within a period like this in order to purchase shares of Royal Dutch Airlines KLM, without making use of the Accountability Law Article 2.27.
Heinen didn’t consider using the hurricane season, which started on June 1, as an excuse. “That is something that you already saw coming in December 2022. That is why the state secretary [says – Ed.] there is no time for parliamentary approval. But she does have time for a consultation with the Statia Executive Council,” he said.
Van Huffelen remarked that the Statia cliff erosion project had been mentioned in the Spring Budget at the start of 2023. “It is now about making the means available, which are needed to urgently tackle this issue,” she said.
Heinen didn’t fall for this reasoning either and said that it wasn’t about informing the Second Chamber via the Spring Budget. “A budget law needs to come to Parliament, which we need to vote on. Then the government can spend the money. If the state secretary already knows this since the Spring Budget, an incidental supplementary budget can be drawn up,” he said.
Van Huffelen defended her choice. “We did not opt for that because we did not have room in the pace that we had to get this done.” She said that urgency was indeed the reason. “There is little time to intervene.” She denied Heinen’s contention that it was a “very big surprise” for Parliament. “It cannot be a surprise when this has been playing since December 2022,” replied Heinen.
MP Henk Nijboer of the Labour Party PvdA agreed with Heinen. “Budget laws can be handled by the Second and First Chambers within a week. I really find that government needs to respect Parliament’s budget right. A warning was issued. I want to really appeal to the state secretary to not do this again,” he said.
Van Huffelen said she would do her utmost to not have this situation repeat itself in the future. She said the matter would also be discussed with the Second Chamber’s Permanent Committee for Kingdom Relations.