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Island Council and Executive Council attending WolBES & FinBES conference in the Netherlands


From Monday March 4th until Wednesday March 6th, the Island Council and the Executive Council will be attending a conference in the Netherlands to discuss proposed changes in the WolBES and the FinBES.  Both councils of Bonaire and Sint Eustatius will be present as well at the conference organized on behalf of, and attended by, State Secretary of Kingdom Relations and Digitalization Alexandra van Huffelen.


WolBES and FinBES changes


The Public Entities Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba Act (Wet openbare lichamen Bonaire, Sint Eustatius en Saba; known as the WolBES) and the Public Entities Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba Finances Act (Wet financiën openbare lichamen Bonaire, Sint Eustatius en Saba; known as the FinBES) are laws that, since the constitutional reforms in 2010, regulate administrative and financial relations between the central government and the public entities. Among other topics, the WolBES regulates the roles of the Island Council, Executive Council and governor, and of the Kingdom Representative. In the FinBES, regulations regarding financial supervision and reporting obligations are stipulated.


The Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations has asked the three islands for their input on proposed changes in the two laws, on which ultimately the Second Chamber decides. Major proposed law changes are the abolishment of the Kingdom Representative, simpler administrative supervision and for Saba, an increase per 2027 from 5 to 9 Island Council members and from 2 to 3 commissioners. Also, a model of more gradual financial supervision is proposed, with three possible levels of financial supervision, instead of a single model with just a light or a strict level for financial management and the budget.


Joint response Island Council and Executive Council


Saba’s Island Council and Executive Council jointly responded to the consultation request in the beginning of February, with the assistance of renowned constitutional law professors Hansko Broeksteeg and Douwe Jan Elzinga to ensure constitutional feasibility of the response. The first responses of the islands serve as a starting point for dialogue during the conference.


The Island Council and Executive Council made several proposals for the Ministry to take into consideration.


Permanent representation, involvement in legislative processes and differentiation.


With the abolishment of the Kingdom Representative, his role of representing the islands in The Hague would come back to the islands themselves. Saba proposed to have each island his own permanent representative in The Hague, to be more involved with legislative processes. Since 2010, most Dutch national laws were not applicable to the BES islands, which are governed by ‘BES-laws’. In recent years, with a focus on achieving an equivalent level of services (‘gelijkwaardig voorzieningenniveau’) for the islands, the principle of ‘comply or explain’ is being implemented. This means that in principle when a policy or legislative trajectory in the European part of the Netherlands is being developed, it should also be applicable for the Caribbean Netherlands, unless there are justified reasons to deviate. This principle of ‘comply or explain’ is still developing.


Island Council member and faction leader of WIPM Vito Charles: ‘In national legislation sometimes the islands are considered to be a regular municipality, and sometimes to be a public entity where not the same arrangements are being made for. To guarantee timely involvement in the development of new legislation so Saba’s specific needs can be taken into consideration, we proposed to have a permanent representative in The Hague, assisted by staff and in collaboration with the Association of Dutch Municipalities (VNG). Each island having his own physical representative would be beneficial to interisland collaboration and coordination as well’.


A specific point of attention is to allow more differentiation between the islands.


Commissioner Bruce Zagers emphasizes ‘We have to stop looking at the three islands as being one entity. A lot of resources have been wasted by the one size fits all approach. Each island has their individual ties to the Netherlands, but we have seen that investments by national government could be spread out more between the islands, instead of seeing Bonaire as the face of the BES islands’.


Financial autonomy


Structural tasks need structural financial resources. For Dutch local governments (both municipalities and provinces) the free allowance (Gemeente- en Provinciefonds) guarantees this free spending space. At the same time, European law (in the European Charter for Local Autonomy) prescribes the need for substantial free financial space for decentralized administrative bodies.   Since the financing of the BES islands consists mainly of specific subsidies and there is only a limited free spending space, it must be concluded that this existing arrangement is not in line with the principles in the law.  Therefore, future financial arrangements should provide for a sufficient free allowance and a reduction in the number of specific subsidies. 


Reporting requirements


The WolBES and FinBES include an extensive system of obligations to report on financial performance. The reality of permanent official undercapacity on Saba in almost all policy areas argues for reducing the frequency of these reporting obligations. They should be aligned with the official capacities to meet these obligations. Differentiation in the WolBES and FinBES could provide a starting point to provide the individual BES islands with customized regulations and create a workable, viable system that also recognizes the financial performance of the individual islands. This will also allow Saba to better meet the financial obligations of Dutch municipalities. It is important to ensure clear formats and criteria for reporting and reasonable deadlines within which to report.


Saba has proposed the Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations to differentiate per island and convert all reporting obligations for Saba into an annual obligation.


Gradual increase in Island Council member seats


In the European Netherlands, municipalities have at least 9 council seats, to ensure a broad democratic representation. Saba is not against an increase to that level, but gradually, to 7 seats in 2027, and after an evaluation to possibly 9 seats in 2031. Saba proposes that investing in the development of the democratic institutions, such as a stronger supported Island Council by a broader staffed registrar’s office, is necessary.


Island Council member and PEP faction leader Saskia Matthew: ‘Instead of almost doubling the number of Island Council seats in one time, we should first focus on developing the functioning of the Island Council and increase democratic awareness. Continuous trainings for Island Council members and educative programs will help with that. Not as a goal on itself, but with the aim of having the Island Council membership accessible to broader part of the population, Saba would also like to look at the possibilities of making the council membership into a fulltime position as an option for candidates. Public Entities have more and in practice different tasks than regular municipalities’.


Island Secretary Bram Streppel and Head of Legal Affairs Devi van Groningen support both councils during the conference. After the conference each island will be given the opportunity to give their final written response to the draft legislation.

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