Impact extra 30 million euros BES cannot be determined

The impact of the extra 30 million euros that the Ministry of Interior Affairs and Kingdom Re­lations BZK allocated for the Caribbean Netherlands (CN) cannot be determined. This was concluded by the Netherlands Court of Audit in their report on the Annual Report 2023, published on Wednesday, May 15.

In the coalition agreement of the fourth Rutte cabi­net, the Dutch government agreed to invest an addi­tional 30 million euros in the Caribbean Netherlands. This in addition to the overall government funding in place since 2022-2023. For this ad­ditional funding, the cabinet set three main goals: a stron­ger labour market on the islands, orderly financing of the public bodies’ basic ser­vices, and more affordable living standards.

The additional funding has been spent on a variety of initiatives and projects in the Caribbean Netherlands. The Court of Audit investigated the three largest projects that had concrete, measur­able goals and concludes that these projects contributed to the third main goal: more af­fordable living standards for the residents of Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba.

However, the auditors won­der whether the additional funding has had an addition­al impact on top of existing plans and policies. In other words, did the additional 30 million euros make an actual difference?

“We could not determine, for instance, whether the projects would have been carried out without addi­tional funding from the CN envelope. Furthermore, we found that the Minister of BZK would not evaluate the contribution made by the additional investments from the CN envelope, despite pledging to do so in the 2023 and 2024 Kingdom Relations budgets (IV),” writes the Court of Audit. Without this evaluation, “lessons cannot be learned and future invest­ments may be less efficient,” conclude the auditors.

The Court of Audit also discussed their findings on the operational management of the ministry’s Kingdom Relations department. The Court of Audit has been criti­cal of Shared Service Organ­isation Caribbean Nether­lands (SSO-CN) for several years. Fortunately, the au­ditors found that “SSO-CN had made good progress in 2023 by taking measures to improve information security and IT management and that the quality of procurement management was satisfac­tory.”

In terms of the operational management of the minister himself, the Court of Audit found that the coordinating role of the ministry can be challenging. According to the Act on the Public Entities Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba WoIBES, the minister is responsible for coordinat­ing government policy in the Caribbean Netherlands. “In other words, the minister is responsible for policy coher­ence and policy ministers are responsible for the formula­tion of their own policies,” it was stated in the report.

However, “in practice, the Minister of BZK has to plot a delicate course between the ministries’ individual responsibilities and his own re­sponsibility for the effective­ness and efficiency of govern­ment policy in the Caribbean Netherlands as a whole. To succeed, he has to rely on the willingness of other ministers because they implement gov­ernment policy in the Carib­bean Netherlands. We also see that money alone is not always the answer. Policy ministries often make ad hoc investments but their bud­gets do not provide for long­term upkeep.”

In his reaction to the audit, sent to President of the Neth­erlands Court of Audit Pieter Duisenberg, Caretaker Min­ister of Interior Affairs and Kingdom Relations says that he recognises the challenges when it comes to evaluating both the additional funds and the coordinating role of the ministry.

“I am pleased to read in the policy evaluation that the three studied projects from the CN envelope have had a positive impact on the af­fordability of the lives of the residents of the Caribbean Netherlands. And also that you think it is likely that all 13 expenses of the CN envelope have positively impacted one or more goals of the CN en­velope. These are important conclusions for me, as we are doing it for the residents of the Caribbean Netherlands,” writes the minister.

Though De Jonge under­stands why the Court of Audit could not determine the effects of the additional funds, the minister is “con­vinced that, thanks to the means of the coalition agree­ment, steps have been made that would otherwise not have been.” The minster ar­gues that, as a result of the additional 30 million euros, both the free allowances and other benefits “could be in­creased to levels that were unimaginable in the previous period.”

In terms of the coordinat­ing role of the ministry, De Jonge writes that he recog­nises the challenging posi­tion described by the audi­tors and that he agrees that expanding the responsibility of the state secretary would ultimately not lead to a bet­ter government policy. But, the minister argues, the state secretary has made impor­tant steps, such as the in­creasing the free allowance, implementing the comply or explain policy and allocat­ing funds to improve the life standards of the residents of the Caribbean Netherlands ­all of which have boosted the ministry’s coordinating role.

The Netherlands Court of Audit checks whether the Dutch central government spends public funds econom­ically, efficiently and effec­tively. Our statutory task is to audit the revenue and ex­penditure of central government. We report on our work once a year to Parliament on Accountability Day (the third Wednesday in May). Parliament can use our audit opinion to grant the govern­ment discharge, thus releas­ing it from responsibility for its implementation of policy. We also report separately to Parliament so that its mem­bers can decide on the ef­fectiveness of each minister’s actions during the previous year.

The Daily Herald.

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