Rich Antillans let their poorer compatriots rot

8 May 2008

Rich Antillans let their poorer compatriots rot

Solidarity seems a rare commodity in the Dutch Antilles. The Antilles has both deep poverty and extreme wealth. The islands' multimillionaires pay almost no tax and thus make no contribution to their society's improvement. The major islands of Curaçao and St Martin are seeking more independence and have hopes that the Netherlands will take over their debts of €2.2 billion. The SP can give no support to these ambitions as long as the rich of the Antilles are willing to let their poorer compatriots rot.

Ronald van Raak ( Column by Ronald van Raak ) The islands are the home of tax havens in which companies need pay no turnover taxes, nor any import or excise duties. The only levy required from firms is a 2 percent company tax. In the Netherlands the comparable rate is 25.5 percent. On Curaçao alone, 332 firms are established in special economic zones. Some of these are small, but many are big. A third of the island of St Eustace is occupied by the American multinational Valero, one of the world's biggest oil shipment corporations, which nevertheless falls under the special tax regime. There are further tax havens on Aruba, St Martin and Bonaire. Bonaire and St Eustace are seeking to become Dutch local authorities, which would mean that tax havens existed in our own country.

The tax havens appear to be an Antillan state secret. On 23rd January 2007 I asked Secretary of State Ank Bijleveld to tell me the number of firms to be found in the tax havens and under the tax regimes which prevailed in them. Normally the government answers questions from members of parliament within three weeks, with a possible extension to six weeks. I waited fifteen months!

I reminded the government on five occasions to come up with this information, twice directly to ministers and at other times to officials from the Ministry of Internal Affairs and from the Finance Ministry, but still no answers. Only when I informed the government that the SP would not vote for the debt relief unless we were told more about the tax situation did answers finally arrive.

What took them so long? Does Secretary of State Bijleveld herself actually know that firms in the Antillan tax havens hardly pay a cent in tax? If so, why did he refuse to tell Parliament? Or does she not know? But in that case how can the government conduct serious negotiations on the question of the debt? Whichever, the Secretary of State is clearly at fault.

The Antilles must in the immediate future invest substantially in education, health care and employment. Only in this way can poor Antillans be offered a future. But such expenditure must be covered by income. The many rich Antillans must make a contribution to the society which has enabled them to grow wealthy. Decent government requires decent taxes. The question of the tax havens must be put on the agenda of the negotiations. If the need for solidarity does not speak for itself, then we must speak for it.

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