BES fiscal laws under pressure

THE HAGUE--Time seems to have become a problematic factor to complete the handling of the fiscal laws for the BES islands Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba.

Dutch Second Chamber of Parliament's Permanent Committee for Antillean and Aruban Affairs NAAZ called an extraordinary meeting Thursday to discuss the handling of the BES Tax Law and BES Customs and Excise Law. Decisions were not taken, pending consultation with caretaker State Secretary of Kingdom Relations Ank Bijleveld-Schouten.

Members of Parliament (MPs) Bas Jan van Bochove of the ruling Christian Democrat Party CDA and John Leerdam of the opposition Labour Party PvdA fancy a speedy handling of the BES law package, which includes, besides the Tax Law and Customs and Excise Law, the BES Monetary System, the BES Fiscal System Implementation Law and the BES Safety Law. Van Bochove and Leerdam want the law proposals handled before the June 9 elections.

MPs Johan Remkes of the conservative VVD party, Ronald van Raak of the Socialist Party (SP) and Hero Brinkman of the Party for Freedom PVV, all three in the opposition, are in no rush. "We have asked the State Secretary to give us an overview of the total financial picture. We haven't received that yet. So we can't come to a balanced decision, because you can't decide on the revenue if you don't have an overview of the expenditures," said Remkes.

The new fiscal system for the BES islands will not go into effect until January 1, 2011 for technical and practical reasons, but the legislation needs to be ready and proclaimed by October 10, 2010, the date when the new constitutional relations in the Kingdom will go into effect. The BES islands will become part of the Netherlands as so-called public entities.

The laws also regulate the transition phase between October 10 and January 1, 2011, explained NAAZ Chairman Willibrord van Beek. "If the laws are not ready in time, it means that no tax can be levied this year. We will make ourselves popular on the islands, but Government wants to have the laws implemented per October 10," he said.

Van Beek proposed having a legislation consultation with Bijleveld-Schouten and caretaker Minister of Finance Jan Kees de Jager on May 10. "We can discuss all our questions with them, and after that we will need little time to finish handling the laws in a plenary session," said Van Beek.

Parties agreed that Government would have to provide an overview of the expected expenditures and revenues of the BES islands before that date. CDA and PvdA also agreed that this information was essential to form an opinion on the tax laws.

Johan Remkes proposed splitting the Tax Law and Customs and Excise Law. He said it was technically simple to lift out the regulation for the period October 10 to January 1. "If that happens, I don't need a debate and we can approve that as a formality. Then the new Second Chamber can take time handling the laws that cover the period after January 1," said Remkes.

Van Beek said he needed to double-check with the State Secretary if that was a realistic option. This means that residents, companies and potential investors need to wait for clarity on the new BES fiscal system.

23 April 2010

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