Spies: Polite, but clear in dealings with islands

THE HAGUE--Businesslike and professional; polite, yet clear and direct. That is what politicians in the Dutch Caribbean can expect from new Dutch Minister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Liesbeth Spies, who started her first-ever visit to the islands yesterday, Thursday.

"I am going with an open mind. I want to get my own impression. I will not go there wearing glasses of whatever Member of the Second Chamber," she told The Daily Herald in an interview on the eve of her visit to the islands.

The islands will meet with the new Minister for the first time since her appointment mid-December last year. She succeeded Piet Hein Donner, who became Vice-President of the Council of State. Like Donner, Spies is a member of the Christian Democratic Party CDA.

Spies started her visit to the islands in Aruba on Thursday and will be in Curaçao today, Friday. From there she will go to Bonaire, where she will spend the weekend. Then it is on to St. Maarten on Monday, Saba on Tuesday and St. Eustatius on Wednesday.

Spies has many meetings and appointments on the islands, but there is also time to watch the children's Carnival parade in Bonaire on Sunday. Asked why a Minister was going to a Carnival parade, she said Carnival was an important part of culture and the people's identity.

Having an own identity is important for people, said Spies. "People are proud of their identity. I realise that the islands greatly vary and that you cannot compare them, just like you can't generalise people from Friesland and Limburg."

Solid relations in the Kingdom are important to Spies. "We have to treat each other with respect and respect each other's responsibility. At the same time I am responsible for Kingdom Relations. I expect everyone to stick to the agreements that we have made."

She said she would be polite, but also very clear in her statements and opinions. One of the topics that warrants clear and concise dealing with is the financial situation and the financial supervision of the governments of Curaçao and St. Maarten.

According to Spies, St. Maarten had shown improvement where it came to presenting a realistic, balanced budget. "But we are not there yet. The 2012 budget has yet to be approved." She said there was also the multi-annual aspect of sound long-term government finances and planning and the accompanying legislation that still needed to be put in place.

Asked whether she would continue to provide technical assistance to St. Maarten in the process of building the country, Spies said: "We can look into additional assistance if they so desire. But it is not up to us to initiate that. They have to indicate that they want that help."

Spies complimented the islands for the immense strides that have been made since the new constitutional relations went into effect on October 10, 2010. Curaçao and especially St. Maarten have been working hard to build their countries. Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba have become part of The Netherlands and that has proven to be no small task.

"I understand very well that there is impatience. But we are only a year and a half along the way. Much effort is made to improve things," she said, referring to the contribution that the Dutch ministries and their Ministers and State Secretaries have made in Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba. She mentioned the general health insurance, investments in education and the setting up of the youth and family centres.

Spies said her colleagues in the cabinet felt very responsible and involved. She hoped that the Dutch Parliament also had seen this during the debates with the individual Ministers and State Secretaries this week and last week. "Parliament must have seen the immense involvement and feeling of responsibility of this cabinet. The Second Chamber hears and sees a lot, but not everything."

About the complaints by people of the three smaller islands, Spies said: "I hope that people are willing to share their concerns, so I can get a clear view of what is happening." She acknowledged that the decreased spending power was a problem. But she noted at the same time that this was an issue for everyone in the Dutch Kingdom, with many people wondering if they would keep their jobs and how they would pay their mortgages.

Spies announced in her meeting with the Permanent Committee for Kingdom Relations on Monday that she would have a serious talk with Representative of the Dutch Government for Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba Wilbert Stolte.

In the interview, she nuanced that statement somewhat: "That was not threatening talk. There are no dark clouds. The Representative and I know each other very well. I can imagine that he also wants to have a serious talk with me. We will discuss in an open manner what we can do to improve things."

The Minister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations has a coordinating role where it comes to the Dutch "public entities," but it is up to the individual ministries to deal with the specific issues on the islands, said Spies.

"Minister Schippers was right when she said that her ministry could best tackle the issues of health care. as it has the expertise, the contacts and the network."

Spies (45) has never visited the Dutch Caribbean before. When asked why not, she said: "We are not great globetrotters. It is busy at home with two daughters of 12 and 15, a husband with an international position and a mother as Minister.".

(The Daily Herald)

10 fenruary 2012

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