Dutch Representative Gilbert Isabella: “Poverty is the most grinding problem”

POSTED: 10/27/15 5:35 PM


Dutch Representative Gilbert Isabella. Photo Caribisch Netwerk / Janita Monna


KRALENDIJK – On the table are a plate with pineapple and a plate with ‘speculaas.’ Plain coincidence,” Dutch representative Gilbert Isabella says laughing. “I find them both very tasty.” Nevertheless those plates are more or less a symbol for the worlds in between which Isabella moves: the warm tropics and European Netherlands, Janita Monna reports on Caribisch Netwerk.

Also on the table are four bulky reports, 800 pages altogether. These are the results of the research into the effect of the constitutional relationship between Bonaire, Saba, Statia and the Netherlands. Shortly after the presentation of the report of the Spies Committee, the talks moved towards structure. “Nobody is talking about the largest problem that surfaces from the evaluation – the fact that a large part of the population experiences poverty on a daily basis. That is in my opinion the most grinding.”

“I do not believe that this poverty results purely from the new constitutional status,” Isabella says. “The global economic crisis has also played a part. Money lost value, food became more expensive. The report became public on October 12. If it has been up to me, the Kingdom government and the islands have started immediately in the thirteenth: where do we go from here?”

The first step in the fight against poverty was made. Per January 2016 the islands will get a system of child support. “Every month $38, that makes a difference if you have to make do with little,” says Isabella. “It is a start.”

What more could the Dutch Representative do? Because the report of the Spies-Committee also shows that his own position is insufficiently able to make the difference. Isabella is the second man in his position. In September 2014 he succeeded Wilbert Stolte. He is happy with the criticism.

“I represent the Kingdom, I am the ears and eyes of the Netherlands in the Caribbean. At the same time I am the voice of the islands in The Hague. Commissioner of Caribbean Netherlands were a better title,” he says with a smile.

More serious: “I do not think it is useful to overturn the constitutional structure again after five years, but I do see possibilities to strengthen the position of the Dutch Representative.”

He has to monitor good governance and should, for instance with the appointment of civil servant, have more authority. In The Hague he wants to bang his fist on the table more often.

“Several ministries intervene with Caribbean Netherlands. That results in tunnel vision – the evaluation report points that out as well. That has to be broken down. The Netherlands has to become more flexible and leave matters that can be settled at the island-level to the islands.”

Isabelle notes that dispatched civil servants – from liaisons to researchers – could be more loyal to the islands. “Sometimes they say: I work for my minister. If that is the way you are thinking, you should go back to The Hague.”

At the same time Bonaire, Saba and Statia have their own responsibility. “For Saba and Bonaire there are now signed multi-annual plans. Stick to those as islands. Make the next step in their execution in a timely manner.”

Isabella believes in better communication. “There is distrust between the Netherlands and the Caribbean. You only overcome that by talking with each other. That mistrust is older than 10-10-10. It is part of our history. The question remains: how can we nevertheless continue based on that history?”

The minister will react before the summer of next year to the evaluation report. Isabella also finds the reactions of the island governments thrilling. He considers the Netherlands and the islands to be friends. “Then it is okay to be critical, to get matter sharper into focus. In the end we should not measure each other up all the time, but we have to hold each other and execute improvements together in the interest of the inhabitants of the islands.”

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