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Parties disagree on course of action for Isla refinery

THE HAGUE--Curaçao’s Isla refinery makes people sick and is very bad for the environment. No disagreement on that during the handling of the draft 2016 Kingdom Relations budget earlier this week. However, parties in the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament differ in opinion on the follow-up action.

The Democratic Party D66, the Socialist Party (SP) and the ChristianUnion pressed for quick, decisive action, and on Thursday presented two joint motions for a sustainable solution for the refinery. Parties expressed disappointment that the Labour Party PvdA, which they had hoped to be on their side on this issue, toned down its position.

Member of Parliament (MP) Ronald van Raak of the SP proposed in his motion, which was co-signed by Wassila Hachchi of D66, to have the Dutch Government on a Kingdom level ensure that the refinery complies with all health care and environmental norms.

Hachchi’s motion, in return co-signed by Van Raak, called on the Dutch Government to pro-actively develop scenarios with Willemstad, based on which a decision could be taken to solve the Isla problem in a sustainable manner.

On Wednesday, MP Roelof van Laar (PvdA), during the first day of the budget debate, had stated that he considered it time to “start preparations for a new instruction” to force through a solution, and to check whether there was no redress from the side of the Curaçao Government to deal with the issue.

Van Laar further expounded on his thoughts on Thursday. He said that the matter of the Isla pollution required strict maintaining of the laws and regulation, whereby the refinery would be warned and if it didn’t adapt its emissions, it would ultimately be forced to shut down. “Why is the law not strictly applied, and why are no warnings issued?”

According to Van Laar, an instruction came into view in this case. “The Kingdom can intervene when Curaçao doesn’t meet the financial norms. But if Curaçao doesn’t meet the environmental criteria, we don’t find that it touches on good governance. The environmental norms are all of a sudden an autonomous affair where Curaçao can do as it pleases.”

In his reply on Thursday, Minister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Ronald Plasterk said the Kingdom Government, the Netherlands, has been providing assistance when this was asked by Curaçao. He said the Isla refinery was “fully on the political agenda” in Curaçao and that as such, one couldn’t say that there was no redress.

Ronald van Raak reminded the Minister that people were dying because of the pollution. He said the deadly situation has been continuing for many years. “I see two options: either the Curaçao Government doesn’t want to uphold the regulations because the influence of the refinery was too big, or Curaçao is unable to do so because of a lack of capacity. A combination of the two is possible as well.”

Van Raak asked whether the size of the problem required the intervention of the Kingdom. He said the structural violation of proper governance, people’s health and even their rights justified intervention.

Plasterk didn’t budge. “I am not going to say as Dutch Government that we are going to fix this, or that we are going to intervene and solve it. That would not be responsible and the Curaçao Government hasn’t asked for this either.” He said an instruction to drastically address to pollution would have major consequences for the Dutch budget, along the line of several billion.

MP Hachchi said that in her opinion, the Kingdom needed to assume a much more active role in the pollution caused by the Isla, and not to wait and see what Willemstad would do to remedy the situation. “This problem is too big for Curaçao. Also because of the employment and economic dependence on the refinery.” She said that talking wasn’t enough and that proactive thinking was needed.

Plasterk promised he would check with the Curaçao Government about the status of the court cases on whether the refinery kept to the hindrance law and environmental regulations, and inform the Second Chamber of the outcome within two months. However, he would go no further to intervene in what he termed as an autonomous affair of Country Curaçao.

Van Laar said the Minister’s promise to check which actions were being taken by the Curaçao Government was sufficient for him. He said giving an instruction required a careful process, one that could not be rushed. “An instruction could be given in a year, but not in a week,” he said.

Van Raak and Hachchi were disappointed that Van Laar softened his approach and didn’t co-sign their motions. “People are being poisoned and all the while there is talk and more talk. We need action,” said Van Raak. The motion will be voted on this Tuesday.

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