Report: significant improvements needed in licences, supervision and enforcement for construction, environment, and nature in the Caribbean Netherlands.
A study into the implementation of licences, supervision and enforcement as it relates to construction, the environment and nature in the Caribbean Netherlands islands of Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba has discovered a number of shortcomings.
The study, conducted by the Inspection for the Environment and Transport – known as ILT in Dutch - was commissioned by State Secretary for the Environment Vivianne Heijnen. It found that despite the efforts of the island administrations in recent years, the Public Entities are too small to establish and maintain a robust licensing and enforcement system.
Heijnen sent a report on the study to the Second Chamber today, on behalf of State Secretary of Kingdom Relations Alexandra van Huffelen, Spatial Planning Minister Hugo de Jonge, and Minister responsible for Nature, Christianne van der Wal. A well-functioning licensing and enforcement system for construction, environment, and nature is important. Without it, there can be negative consequences for nature, including coral and nature parks, as well as for the living environment, such as air, water, and soil.
In a first reaction to the report, Government Commissioner Alida Francis states: “The report clearly shows that we need to take urgent steps. We have expressed our concerns repeatedly in the past and we fully support the recommendations. It clearly shows that St. Eustatius cannot do this on its own. Fundamental problems ask for fundamental measures and this report shows us the way forward. Proper and transparent licensing and enforcement is not just vital for the protection of our natural environment and living space, it also helps us to protect our precious cultural heritage and improve our investment climate. It is also important that every decision on this will be taken in full cooperation with the local governments. It is a complex issue with several ministries and agencies involved, and we can only come to a sustainable, long-term solution in close cooperation with one another. We urge and encourage the state secretary to take the next steps.”
State Secretary Heijnen requested the investigation due to concerns about the functioning of the licensing and enforcement system. These concerns were shared by members of parliament, the government, as well as the local administrations and residents of the islands. This study found that those concerns were justified. The report was presented today by the State Secretary to the Second Chamber, the governing boards, and the Government Commissioner. Vivianne Heijnen stated, "The study reveals significant shortcomings that harm nature and the environment. For example, the coral off the islands' coast. We must take action now. In the coming period, we will work on improvement. I want to do this carefully and in collaboration with the island administrations."
Conclusions of the Report
The Inspection for the Environment and Transport concludes that the execution of licensing and enforcement tasks for construction, environment and nature on the three islands does not meet legal requirements and local regulations. As a result, the environment and nature are not adequately protected. To achieve the necessary improvements, a fundamental change in the execution of the licensing and enforcement tasks is required. The report concludes that the Public Entities are too small to organise the necessary knowledge and experience properly and to introduce sufficient checks and balances in the work processes. The size of the islands as small communities and the proximity of the administration further hinder a professional and independent execution of these tasks. However, this issue is the result of a historically evolved situation involving multiple parties, including the Dutch Central Government. Efforts are currently under way in the European Netherlands to strengthen the licensing and enforcement system. The Inspection’s report also concludes that the situation in the Public Entities is comparable to what pertained in municipalities and provinces in the European Netherlands until 2013. Since then, the execution of the licensing and enforcement tasks has gradually been transferred to environmental agencies.
The report makes four recommendations for improving the execution of the licensing and enforcement tasks regarding construction, environment, and nature:
- Transfer the execution of licensing and enforcement tasks for construction, environment, and nature from the three local governments to an existing environmental agency in the European Netherlands as soon as possible. This will ensure the preservation of knowledge, experience, and continuity, as well as create distance from the local administration;
- Address the identified issues within the bureaucratic organisation of the three local administrations promptly and specifically, in close collaboration with the environmental agency. Part of the licensing and enforcement process will still be carried out by the public entity;
- Ensure up-to-date and adequate laws and regulations for construction, environment, and nature;
- Strengthen the position of the government commissioner so that intervention can occur when the execution of licensing and enforcement tasks goes wrong.
The parties involved will now work together on the recommendations and conclusions of the report. Shortly after the summer, State Secretary Heijnen will inform the Second Chamber about the next steps, including the recommendation regarding the deployment of a dedicated environmental agency.
This cannot be resolved overnight. Therefore, the existing support to the islands will continue. The involved parties will also explore whether there are measures that can be taken in the short term.