THE HAGUE--The annual price tag of taking up the BES islands Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba in the Dutch Constellation as "public entities" exceeds 101 million euros.
The biggest chunk of expenditures is for the so-called "free remittances" (vrije uitkeringen in Dutch), which total 21.3 million euros. The Dutch ministries will spend 80.5 million on services for the BES islands, which brings the annual total cost to 101.8 million euros. Caretaker Dutch State Secretary of Kingdom Relations Ank Bijleveld-Schouten stated this in a letter that she sent to the Dutch Parliament's Second Chamber Monday.
Parliament's Permanent Committee for Antillean and Aruban Affairs NAAZ, specifically Member of Parliament (MP) Johan Remkes of the conservative VVD party, had been asking for a financial overview of the cost involved in integrating the BES islands for several months. The figures are just time for the handling of the financial laws for the BES islands by the Second Chamber.
The Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment SZW will spend most on the BES islands at 19.2 million euros, followed by the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science OCW at 15.7 million euros, and the Ministry of Public Health, Wellbeing and Sports at 13.6 million euros.
Expenditures of the other ministries have been estimated at: Home Affairs and Kingdom Affairs BZK 12 million euros, Justice 8.7 million, Finance 3.2 million, Traffic and Water Management V&W three million, Economic Affairs EZ 2.2 million, Youth and Family Affairs J&G 1.7 million, Public Housing, Physical Planning and Environment VROM 0.6 million, and Agriculture, Nature and Livestock 0.6 million. The figures are only an indication, as Bijleveld-Schouten was still talking with fellow cabinet members in preparing the 2011 budget.
Translated into cost per citizen of the BES islands, it means the Netherlands will be investing some NAf. 15,000 per inhabitant. This can further increase when a definite agreement has been made with Bonaire, because that island has not been included in the 21.3-million-euro component "free remittances."
Bijleveld-Schouten explained in her letter that the 21.3 million in free remittances was an indicative figure because the Netherlands hadn't been able to conclude negotiations with Bonaire about the future division of tasks. "The calculation of the free remittance is based on agreements with Saba and St. Eustatius about the division of tasks," she said.
The Second Chamber had mixed reactions about the 101.8 million-euro calculation. "This is a lot of money. I am sure that the Frisian Islands [Waddeneilanden-Ed.] cost a lot less," said Member of Parliament Ronald van Raak of the Socialist Party (SP). He said he would be asking the State Secretary for clarification.
MP John Leerdam of the Labour Party PvdA wasn't shocked by the figure. "We are letting an entire Dutch establishment loose on three islands that are separated by an ocean and depend on themselves, where it comes to facilities," he said.
Leerdam agreed that it was a lot of money, but he added, "You can't compare the islands to regular municipalities in the Netherlands. Municipalities can share facilities. Bonaire, Saba and St. Eustatius each need to have their own airport, seaport and hospital." He said that 6,000 euros per BES resident might seem a lot, but when looking at it from a Dutch perspective it wasn't that much: six euros per capita.