Opinion: Backbenchers

POSTED: 10/19/11 6:39 PM

The chair of the Dutch Second Chamber does not have a political function, unlike St. Maarten’s chair who is simply a member of a political faction in parliament.
When we spoke to the amicable Gerdi Verbeet yesterday morning she said at a certain moment: “You are not interviewing me, are you?”
We sheepishly admitted that this was, indeed, the case. Verbeet quickly pointed out that she could not be quoted, given her position as the impartial chair of the Dutch Parliament. Of course, we respect this, so our conversation with Verbeet will remain forever private.
At the dinner for the Dutch faction leaders on Monday evening however, Verbeet held a brief dinner speech. That speech contained a remarkable line: “St. Maarten is doing well.”
We thought this odd, and for a moment or two we suspected that the lady had somehow been misled into believing that St. Maarten was thriving since it became a country.
A journalist from the respectable NRC Handelsblad enlightened us. It appears that everybody knows that St. Maarten is not doing well. The thing is, you don’t say stuff like that in a dinner speech.
Maybe that’s proper etiquette – that’s not one of our fields of expertise. But after that remark, and after speaking with several members of the delegation we could not help but wonder about their rather lackluster opinions.
There was of course at least one strong statement from Alexander Pechtold who was honest enough to say that the interest of Dutch politicians in St. Maarten is zero. We did not perceive this as an insult, we perceived it as the truth.
But apart from that there were no helpful opinions about where St. Maarten went wrong, or where it was going right.
We are a country in transition, we have to solve our own integrity issues, there is concern about the environment, the traffic and the youth – blah, blah, blah.
We heard that the politicians that have the Caribbean – the BES-islands, St. Maarten,. Curacao and Aruba (how easy it was to describe all these islands when we still had the Netherlands Antilles) – in their portfolio are not the most influential politicians. They are, Pechtold said correctly, backbenchers.
But now that six faction leaders have visited St. Maarten, future debates will benefit from it – or so we are led to believe.
In what way? Faction leaders deal with the big issues, and they basically do not know the former Netherlands Antilles. Their backbenchers sweat the details, and if something really important comes up (like a decision to send in the marines to straighten out the government in Curacao; God forbid that we will ever get to that point) the faction leaders will probably come into the picture. But they would still act upon the advice of their portfolio-specialists, the only exception being Alexander Pechtold who knows the region like the back of his hand..
That makes us wonder why the faction leaders came here at all. Would it not have been much better, and much more effective to send the backbenchers who deal with the Antillean issues?

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