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Minister Spies pledges to cut civil servants travel to the Dutch Caribbean

MONDAY, 27 AUGUST 2012

THE HAGUE–Dutch civil servants are making so many official visits to the Dutch Caribbean that caretaker Minister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Liesbeth Spies is calling for a sharp reduction.
According to research by RTL News, Home Affairs and Justice Ministry officials made 660 trips to the islands between 2009 and 2012, at a cost of 2 million euros. In fact, so many visits have been made that local officials in Saba, with a population of 1,800, have complained of being “swamped.”

The visits mainly related to the changes in status of the islands that came into effect in 2010, after the dismantling of the former Netherlands Antilles.
RTL News asked the two ministries to provide official trip records, but these often “could not be found or were never written.” This made it difficult to determine the purpose of trips, the broadcaster said.

Labour PvdA has now called on the National Audit Office to investigate the reasons behind the visits.
And the Socialist Party SP said other ministries should also come clean on how many civil servants they have sent to the islands.

One trip highlighted by RTL news was a visit to Saba by the Media Commissariat to talk about freedom of speech on television. “We don’t have any television broadcasters. That meeting took five minutes,” Commissioner Chris Johnson told RTL.

Minister of Education, Culture and Science Marja van Bijsterveldt, who is responsible for the media, said the Media Commissariat would no longer have to pay annual visits to Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba.
Ministers Spies and Van Bijsterveldt both said that regular video conferences would also be a good way to keep in touch with the islands.

SP Member of Parliament (MP) Ronald van Raak asked Minister Spies to reveal before Election Day, September 12, how much money has been spent on civil servants’ travels to the Caribbean Netherlands.
Van Raak fears that several million euros have been spent on civil servants to implement and verify rules that were not even applicable. “That money could have been better invested in the people of the islands.”
Van Raak is of the opinion that the “unnecessary travels” of civil servants were a result of the constitutional structure in which the islands are mainly being governed by ministries where “civil servants have a lot of knowledge about rules, but not of local government.”

“Do you share my opinion that it would be much better if there would be several persons on the islands with much experience in small-scale local government, who would be less occupied with maintaining rules, and much more with the solution of practical problems?” Van Raak stated.

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