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DH | Van Huffelen addresses cost of living, democracy, other issues

STUCO’s chief executive officer Fred Cuvalay giving Van Huffelen a tour of the solar park.

ST. EUSTATIUS–Prior to her departure to Saba, State Secretary for Kingdom Relations and Digitisation Alexandra van Huffelen held a press conference at F.D. Roosevelt Airport in the presence of Government Commissioner Alida Francis.

The state secretary answered questions related to the financial institutions on the island. She said that she was aware that if someone wants to wire money, he or she has to pay high fees, that residents of St. Eustatius are unable to open a bank account in the Netherlands, and that they have to travel for notary services, and that it becomes very expensive to get many of these services.

She said that not only the cost of living is high, but also the cost of doing business. “I’m very interested to work on these issues.”

The state secretary said that prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, there were already calls to create some sort of public transport service by ship or aircraft between the islands. “This is something that has been brought up many times, also in the other islands, because people have the same type of connectivity problems everywhere. It is super expensive to fly out.

She said she would “definitely” speak with her colleagues in the Netherlands who are responsible for transport about how they think of a public transport service, which would make airlift available to everyone in frequency and in pricing.

During her visit to Statia, the State Secretary visited the shops to look at prices. She said she saw a jar of peanut butter for US $8.65. Fresh fruit and vegetables are also very expensive, but are considered essential for a healthy diet. “We have to make sure that people are able to live for themselves with the possibility of obtaining healthy foods, which means more foods grown locally.”

Vegetables are grown under the panels of the solar park of St. Eustatius Utilities Company STUCO producing cheaper and healthy foods on Statia, which is beneficial to the population, Van Huffelen said. “It is a small island, so things will probably always be more difficult to get to the island. This will probably have a lasting effect on some prices.”

She said it will be her and the Dutch government’s task, in combination with the work that has been done by the Public Entity St. Eustatius to make sure people can live on this island and eat healthy.

The State Secretary of Kingdom Relations said she agreed with her predecessor Raymond Knops concerning his statement about the return to democracy that this could be done as soon as possible, but that the road to democracy would take as long as necessary. “I want it as soon as possible, but I also see that it is necessary to make it a sustainable return,” to avoid having to go back and forth.

During her meeting with the Island Council, council members expressed that they want to be more involved to understand what steps need to be taken and what is expected of the council, the government commissioners, the state secretary and the government in The Hague to expedite the process of restoring democracy in Statia.

Van Huffelen said a more in-depth discussion is needed to understand what steps need to be taken. “We need to take steps at the quickest possible pace but work needs to be put in by everyone. It needs three to tango, which includes the Island Council, the government commissioners and the Ministry of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations.”

The state secretary said she had spoken with members of the public. “Many people believe that democracy should be returned quickly, but there are other people who say this needs to be done in a good way.”

When democracy will be restored, she does not know, Van Huffelen said. There is a timetable but no set calendar date. Island Council members said they would prefer a fixed timetable before the next Island Council takes place. She said she understands the reasoning behind this, “but this really has to be discussed very closely with all parties involved.”

Bron: Daily Herald

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