Wescot-Williams affronted by tone of Minister’s letter: PM strikes back at Ronald Plasterk

POSTED: 02/14/13 12:49 PM

St. Maarten – Prime Minister Honorable Sarah Wescot-Williams has reacted with a lengthy statement to the letter from Kingdom Relations Minister Ronald Plasterk. The minister demanded action in the fields of Winair-ticket prices, medical emergency helicopter transport to and from Saba and Statia, the abolition of turnover tax on exports to these islands and the landing of a fiber optic cable.

The prime minister emphasized that Minister Plasterk was asked to provide specifics on the concerns he might have during a recent meeting held with the PM and the Council of Ministers in January. During that meeting he did not provide any concerns. “He did not have any information from his civil service. We asked that specific points be outlined in a letter and that that letter should be sent to our Council of Ministers. It is in that vein that I would like to read the Minister’s letter. Despite its tone and the reports that appeared in the press in the Netherlands and in other territories within the Kingdom where it reads that Minister Plasterk is calling me as prime minister to order where these matters are concerned, I do not want to use that same tone in my reaction. I do however want to clarify some matters and I do believe that some things need to be set straight,” Wescot-Williams stated

“I would like to remind everyone that before there was a BES there was a SES. There was Saba, St. Eustatius and St. Maarten. What I would want to stress with that is that the relationship between these three islands goes back much longer than there was a BES which became an integral part of the Netherlands,” the PM stated.

Wescot-Williams said that St. Maarten is not levying indirect taxes. “The Dutch Government decided that the taxes they have in the Netherlands, including a General Revenue Tax, be levied on the Dutch islands as well. That is where the so-called double taxation comes from and not in any way a taxation that happens from St. Maarten. We indicated to Minister Plasterk that our turnover tax is not of the same construct as a value added tax. The turnover tax is part of the turnover of the businesses and is calculated therein.

“The idea that this tax is some form of a duty that we are imposing on exported goods (to Saba and Statia – ed.) is simply incorrect,” the prime minister added. “There is no holding area anywhere on St. Maarten where goods come from wherever in the world to be transported directly to Saba and to Statia. The turnover tax is being levied by businesses here indiscriminate of who purchases the goods that are subject to it. We indicated to the minister that this is not something the government of St. Maarten does not want to look at, but it is more complicated than just saying that we are imposing a duty on the items that are bought by Saba and Statia on St. Maarten and taken to the islands. We also ask ourselves why that tax must be levied by the Dutch tax system on Saba and Statia indiscriminately. That would also be a relevant question in this case.”

The PM said that the government still does not have a firm hold on the issue of the medical transportation helicopter and the problems that are apparently faced by the helicopter in providing the so-called medevac service to Saba and Statia. “We are still looking at why the information is being sketched in the way that it is by the minister and who the responsible party really is in a case like this.”

The PM stressed that she clearly informed Minister Plasterk that the flights to Saba and Statia have been carried out at a loss for a very long period of time and that the former Antillean government subsidized the flights so that the tariffs remained at a certain level. “You all will recall that the Antillean Government committed to the subsidy but did not carry it out and so, with the constitutional change of 10-10-10, the government of St. Maarten and Winair needed to engage in a recuperation of Winair itself in order to have Winair to be where it is today.

“The minister suggests in his letter that because that happened and because Winair now has its head above water we have to reduce the tariffs of the airline. Firstly, and I clearly explained this to the minister, the Dutch government is as a shareholder represented on the board of Winair and it has been part and parcel to the reorganization of Winair. The government of St. Maarten has never stated to the minister or any Dutch authority that we are not willing to talk but it cannot be so that the Dutch government tells us that it is not a matter for governments to discuss,” Wescot-Williams stated.

The prime minister acknowledged the request for an additional fiber optic cable to land on St. Maarten during the recent meeting with Minister Plasterk and that there was a court instruction to the government to give information about this request. “Before we answered we awaited information on the technical aspects of the placement of a fiber optic cable such as Environmental Impact Assessments and other technical matters. Again we explained to Minister Plasterk our feeling with regards to having the type of competition which would be allowed when a new fiber optic cable comes in to the detriment of local companies, in particular TelEm. The tone set by Minister Plasterk is that we are not allowed to have objections as a country. Of course we will.

“We hear from the Dutch Government that this is a business venture and that it has no implications for government; absolutely not. If the minister cannot sit down and discuss the alternatives which we both have worked on to make this a win-win situation for all parties than we have to play along the formal way in which they get an answer based on the request for the landing of this cable. We already have a fiber optic cable managed by TelEm with which we have made a lot of progress in its management. To have an additional cable come to St. Maarten without discussing the connectivity to that cable would not be in the interest of the people of St. Maarten.”

The prime minister also addressed the establishment of an arbitrary body which would provide independent advice on Kingdom matters. “If the Netherlands had dealt with this in the correct manner we would have not have had to be communicating in this fashion, especially not via the media to which the minister has made the letter public. We all agreed within the Kingdom to come with an arbitrary body that if there were differences within the Kingdom we would have an independent body looking in on the matter and giving an opinion on it. We have never heard anything regarding that particular point. Apparently to come to that arbitration the Dutch civil servants are back peddling on that agreement and do not feel the need to honor it. They are now claiming that the agreements were never made while the documentation and the resolutions are there. When I explained to the minister that there is an agreement to come to such a body he said that he was of the opinion that this was not the case. I believe that paper is patient and it is there for everyone to see what the conclusions were. That kind of institution, separate from the Council of State, needs to be in place and would have avoided issues like these.”

Wescot-Williams appeared affronted by the tone of Plasterk’s letter: “We asked the minister to put his concerns in writing but not in the kind of tone that is being conveyed in this letter and in the media. However I will stay above that tone and give the necessary explanation on those items.”


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Wescot-Williams affronted by tone of Minister’s letter: PM strikes back at Ronald Plasterk by

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