Elton Jones about five years country St. Maarten: “Basically we are back to colonial status”POSTED: 09/29/15 6:05 PM
St. Maarten /By Hilbert Haar – Eleven days from now, St. Maarten will mark the fifth anniversary of its existence as an autonomous country in the Dutch Kingdom. Are we better off than before, or not? And where do we go from here? Elton Jones, a former Island Council member and a former Commissioner back in the nineties, is of two minds: we’re not better off, but there is still hope for our country.
“The politicians in Philipsburg set the bar far too high,” the former air traffic controller says. “We did not reckon with the fact that we had to provide all the services that we got from the central government. We overlooked the costs, and we did not have the budget to cover those costs.”
The failed debt relief program was another stumbling block. “We did not get all of our debts paid because there was a lack of information and we entered our accounts too late and the Dutch did not want to revisit it. We had to start from scratch with a measly budget. We were fishing behind the net from the start.”
The first four years did not help St. Maarten forward either: “The government and the parliament were unable to set clear policies because we had three governments in four years. It is hard to realize policies when there is no stability.”
“We spent the first four years playing catchup,” Jones observes. “The last year there seems to be some stability with a coalition that has ten of the fifteen seats in parliament. But they are still playing games. Everybody wants to be a power broker and if they don’t get what they want ….” Jones does not finish the sentence, but the hint is clear.
“One of the biggest mistakes is that everybody who supports the government should have a minister. I believe that some of the layers in government should not have been there. We knew going into the elections that some of them had investigations hanging over their heads, but we still went ahead and put them on a list. If there is any more grumbling or political grandstanding in the coalition, I honestly believe that the parliament should be dissolved and they should go back to the people for a new mandate. We cannot continue to run the country like this. Because for the little man in Nazareth, who cannot pay the school fees, nothing is being done.”
Asked whether the citizens are better off than they were before 10-10-10, Jones remains somber. “I don’t think so. If you see the unemployment among young people – 27 percent – that is an emergency. Overall, unemployment is 12.2 percent according to CBS.”
Jones says that the lack of employment policies is not helping the situation. “You cannot continue to invite everybody in to work here while you cannot provide work for your own people. That just does not make sense. You give from your household when you have more than you need. If you’re at the bare minimum you cannot afford to do that. Look how the people live in the districts that we don’t show to tourists and high level visitors. I heard a tirade from a young man, with a lot of bad words, who said that doesn’t care about tourism, because tourism is not doing anything for him.”
People need to have a stake in what is happening in their community, Jones adds. “If they feel that they are not part of it, they are going to make bad choices. Then the effect of all the money you put in tourism marketing becomes nil.”
Parliament is not helping either, according to Jones. “While the grass is growing, life of people in the streets is not getting any better. Parliamentarians have their exotic trips, their high salaries and their per diem. That is nice, people should be paid for what they do, but then at least work for what you are paid for. I don’t get the feeling that parliament is really working for what they are getting paid for. Maybe three or for parliamentarians are regularly at their office in the parliament building, the rest only shows up when there is a meeting. You cannot say this is a full time job and then not show up. What the government says to civil servants – no work no pay – should apply the other way around as well. You have to lead by example. You cannot say do as I say, don’t do as I do.”
Still, not all hope is lost for the country. Jones: “This country has potential still. I differ with what they say abroad – that we are too small, that we have a one-pillar economy. There are a lot of countries in the world with a one-pillar economy. That has to be protected. Our largest danger is crime, we need to get that under control.”
Jones says that a budgetary committee could take over the role of financial supervisor Cft. “We need the discipline and the political will to put it together ourselves. It does not have to be mandated from the outside because we know what needs to be done. It is the political will to do it.”
Jones objects to the concept whereby the Dutch come to the island to tell locals how to do things. “When they leave I am still in the same rut. Training is the best way to go. Help is not coming in and taking things over. You have to sit by me and give me guidance so that when you leave I can take over. Otherwise we will never be ready to do our own things.”
One of the reasons for St. Maarten to seek its autonomy was to get away from Curacao. Are we better off now? Jones: “No, we are worse off. At the time of the referendum in 2000 I have said that we should stay in the Netherlands Antilles if we did not vote for independence. The argument was that we would get more money and that we had only three votes in the parliament, enabling Curacao to do what it wants.”
“How can we consider ourselves to be on a better position when we have no ministers in the Kingdom Council of Ministers, no parliamentarians in the Dutch parliament? Basically we are back to colonial status. We have no vote, no say. The Van Raaks and the Bosmans understand that. All they are doing is applying colonial law.”
The Netherlands Antilles worked as a buffer, Jones observe s. “I had a vote in that parliament and if something affected me directly I could lobby to get others to back me against the influence of the Dutch. I don’t have that buffer anymore, so we cannot be better off.”
Jones sees little reason to celebrate the country’s fifth anniversary. “We cannot give this country to the next generation in the same status whereby all we do is wait for dictates from across the pond. It is not acceptable that the Dutch government can say who should and who should not be our prime minister. It is undemocratic. The step Statia is taking, we should have taken a long time ago.”
In the 2000 referendum, 15 percent voted for independence. If a referendum were held now, would the result be different?
Jones is convinced that this is so. “I believe we would get a majority for independence. The 15 percent during the 2000 referendum was the result of misinformation. You can guide things any way you want. The three leading parties got together at the time and said that separate status was a good idea and that everyone would be better off. They sold that to the people. They ran the referendum like a regular campaign. Instead of giving information, they guided people how they should vote.”
The reasons to make the choice for independence should be the right ones, Jones says. “You should not vote for independence because you don’t like the Dutch. You have to be convinced in your own mind that you are ready to take this step. But you have to take the next step. You cannot say I want to be independent because of something that was said about you. When you are ready you must take the next step.”