The Daily Herald: ‘Call in Second Chamber for intervention in Isla refinery’

THE HAGUE–The Labour Party PvdA is moving to seek a majority support in the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament for intervention by the Kingdom Government to halt the excessive pollution caused by Curaçao’s Isla refinery.

Enough is enough, Member of the Second Chamber Roelof van Laar (PvdA) made clear during a general debate with Minister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Ronald Plasterk on Thursday. He wants the Kingdom Council of Ministers to start preparing an instruction ordering the Curaçao Government to ensure that the refinery sticks to the environmental norms.

Van Laar announced during Thursday’s debate that he would be seeking the support from the Second Chamber to establish that indeed the fundamental human rights of people in Curaçao who are living under the refinery’s smoke are being violated and that the Curaçao Government is guilty of bad governance in this issue. A request has been filed to discuss the matter in Parliament in the near future. The Democratic Party D66 and the green left party GroenLinks expressed their support for intervention during Thursday’s debate.

Unlike Minister Plasterk, Van Laar is convinced that action is needed by the Kingdom Government because the Curaçao Government has done insufficient to redress the situation and to put an end to the continuous violation of human rights. Especially residents of neighbourhoods such as Wishi, Marchena and Habaai under the refinery’s smoke are affected.

Plasterk called the invoking of article 43 sub 2 of the Charter, the guarantee function of the Kingdom, and the issuing of an instruction a “bridge too far.” Besides, an instruction is a “heavy measure” that would really upset Willemstad, he added. “Intervention would cause much resistance.”

The Minister maintained that there was sufficient redress and offered his assistance for an extensive study of the pollution caused by the refinery and by bringing experts with him on his next working visit to Curaçao.

The four parties that were present at Thursday’s debate, PvdA, the liberal democratic VVD party, D66 and GroenLinks all agreed that human rights were being violated and that the Curaçao Government has demonstrated poor governance by allowing the situation to continue.

However, this didn’t mean that the Kingdom Government has to intervene, in the opinion of VVD Member of Parliament (MP) André Bosman. He contended that the Country Curaçao carries its own responsibility in the area of environment and that Curaçao has to make its own choice in this matter.

The PvdA, GroenLinks and D66 all indicated that they were in favour of intervention. “Of course environmental affairs are a national matter of the Country Curaçao. But this touches on fundamental human rights. Environmental norms have not been enforced and it doesn’t seem likely that the government will do so either,” said Van Laar. “Setting norms and enforcing these is a matter of proper governance. When this is not the case, the guarantee function gets in the picture.”

Van Laar referred to the decisions of the Kingdom Council of Ministers to give an instruction to Aruba (July in 2014) to get its finances in order and to St. Maarten (October 2014) to carry out an integrity audit. He stated that in these cases, the Kingdom Council of Ministers considered that there’s insufficient redress, resulting in intervention.

Van Laar stated that in 2008, the Second Chamber already concluded that the Curaçao Government showed poor governance by not enforcing the environmental norms at the Isla refinery. “The situation has only become worse since then. There is obviously no redress. Therefore, Kingdom Government has to take steps in the direction of intervention,” he said.

According to Van Laar, the Curaçao Government should be given a warning that it must enforce the norms within a certain timeframe. In the meantime, the Kingdom Council of Ministers can prepare intervention. Also a “serious” plan needs to be drafted, because the problem is bigger than simply issuing a fine to the refinery’s operator PdVSA.

MP Sjoerd Sjoerdsma (D66) asked Minister Plasterk about the possibility to issue a pre-warning that the guarantee function would be invoked and an instruction would be issued if Curaçao didn’t comply. Plasterk responded that issuing a warning and setting a timeframe was in essence an instruction. “That would be crossing the bridge between a country task and a Kingdom affair.”

Plasterk said it was not a matter of simply saying “You will enforce,” because there was a bigger picture involved. “It is not a matter of turning the switch. Investments are required.” He said that there were financial consequences that had to be taken into account in case of intervention.

“Enforcing is only possible if investments are made to modernise the refinery and the plans for the long term are taken into consideration,” said Plasterk, who hinted that an instruction would have financial consequences for Curaçao and possibly also the Netherlands. PvdA, D66 and GroenLinks, however, were of the opinion that future plans had nothing to do with an instruction to enforce the current norms.

The Minister said that “undoubtedly” the refinery was a“nasty affair” that brought stench and adversely affected the environment and people’s health. “It is evident that it is an unhealthy situation.” He remarked that the energy production plant caused many of the problems. He said that pollution could be greatly reduced if the plant used cleaner fuel to generate electricity.

MP Liesbeth van Tongeren (GroenLinks) referred to the Isla refinery as “the largest fossil scandal in the Kingdom.” “Enormous damage has been caused to the environment, nature, the people and their health. We are being told year in year out that this concerns an internal affair, while in the meantime the pollution continues.”

Van Tongeren pointed out that the environmental norms to which the refinery has to stick are very much outdated. The American standard on which the norms are based dates back to 1979. She stated that these norms were not in line with the modern standard of clean industries. She chided the refinery for not even being able to comply with the outdated, low norms.

Source: The Daily Herald

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