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Time to make use of all the tools at our disposal

Dear Editor,

With much interest I read the letter by some of the leaders and lecturers of the University of St. Martin (USM) on the opinion page in The Daily Herald of Saturday, June 20. I believe it is a good initiative whereby an objective view is given on what is happening in Statia by knowledgeable individuals who are not directly in a party or affected by the situation we are in.

I fully agree that it is important to answer the question behind the question. I believe that, based upon developments that have taken place in Statia's government, the decision Minister Plasterk has taken to impose his instruction is most likely the right one. The protests, however, although focusing on the validity of this instruction, have far deeper underlying reasons. Those protests are based on sentiments, as the authors are stating, that are rarely about the truth. They are not only about what people are considering valuable, but also based on their perception of this truth.

Their truth, again, is often built up by the information they have received whether correct or not, and how they perceive their particular circumstances. An example is mentioned by the authors whereby the small man and woman are taxed to death for daring to display entrepreneurial skills, by selling for instance mauby or Johnny cake. This message is time and again given by those in public service, while it is incorrect.

Our income tax law knows an exemption of almost US $12,000. Any income below this amount is free of not only income tax, but also free of AVBZ and AOV premiums. On top of that there is no health insurance premium to be paid while the individual receives full coverage. Comparing this with our sister island St. Maarten, this small man or woman is much better off. Individuals receiving minimum wage, which is also below the threshold of $12,000 came complaining to me about how the tax is killing them, while their pay slip showed that no tax was deducted.

The political arrangement since 10-10-10 did not make the islands Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba overseas municipalities. In a meeting, I was recently in with the Council of State, Mr. Donner also stressed to the members of all the three island councils not to make the mistake to claim that. The islands are, based upon Article 134 of our constitution, each a public entity (openbaar lichaam) with substantial differences and more autonomy than a Dutch municipality.

After none of the other islands opted to remain with the Netherlands Antilles, this public entity status, no matter how imperfect it may be, basically remained the only option left for the three islands. The ultimate result of this status could not be predicted by any of the parties involved, including The Netherlands. It is, therefore, that by the inception an evaluation was agreed to take place after five years. This evaluation is now being concluded and should eventually lead to an improved status.

I fully understand the feeling for autonomy and the desire to have control over ones life and livelihood. What I have problems with understanding is that it seems this can only be achieved by emotional decisions. In my opinion, some pragmatism and realism is in place. It will take a very long time for Statia to become self-sufficient, whereby the leaders of our island can guarantee the people a minimum state of welfare. For this we need to build an economy with a better balance between export and import. Also the difference between the total of government expenses and income, presently being four to one, is huge and needs to be overcome. As responsible leaders of our community these are the things we have to realise and explain to the people.

We ignore these realities and we cannot come up with a plan on how to prepare our island for a more self-sufficient status needed to achieve more autonomy. We, therefore, construct as the authors of the letter state, the menacing other who prevents us from getting direct control.

It is indeed time to ease the tension, control our emotions, accept the assistance that is there and make use of all the tools at our disposal to create a better living environment for the people of our island.

Koos Sneek

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