Opinion: On the value of agreements

POSTED: 06/20/11 1:11 PM

Politics, as we all know, if never straightforward. Just when you think you have made an agreement, you will more often than not find out the next day that there is no agreement at all. It’s a bit like telling a teenager that he will get the latest electronic gadget all his friends already have if he promises to keep his room tidy. He’ll keep it up for a week, or for as long as is necessary to make his parents think that now he has things really under control and fork over the money for the gadget. The next day his room instantly becomes a warzone again.

When these teenagers grow up to become politicians they will continue to display this behavior. You can take the boy out of his room, but you cannot take the room out of the boy, if you get our drift.

So how does this hang with actual politics? St. Maarten has been craving its autonomy for decades. For the point we want to make here most of the preliminary negotiations are irrelevant. The starting point is the year 2000, when the island’s population voted in favor of autonomy within the Kingdom.

It took until 2006 before all parties involved put their signature under the so-called Slotverklaring of November 2006, the Final Declaration. This document contains the conditions under which St. Maarten and Curacao would get their autonomous status. Part of the deal was a debt relief program, whereby the Netherlands would assume a large part of the Antillean national debt. Think of this as the electronic gadget for our teenager we referred to above.

Of course the island governments were eager to sign this agreement. It is not every day that your rich uncle opens his wallet in such a generous way.

Here is another obvious fact. The rich uncle may have shown his generous side, stupid he was not. To qualify for debt relief the islands had to substantiate their claims before a certain date. After that date, uncle would close his wallet.

There were other conditions too, and they are related to obtaining country status. Parties agreed to establish one Central Bank. They agreed to temporary financial supervision for a period of five years after the transition date to autonomy. Later they also agreed to set rules for good corporate governance.

All these conditions were meant, one could argue, to keep the autonomous governments on a short leash. The reason for all these rules was clearly to protect St. Maarten’s and Curacao’s citizens against catastrophe. After all, the government of the Netherlands Antilles had shown over time that it was better at spending than at controlling its finances. In the end, the population is paying the price for this irresponsible behavior.

So now the stage is set: all parties have agreed and the Dutch government is ready to hand over its electronic gadget to St. Maarten and Curacao: autonomy.

Remember, this historic event in our history took place on October 10 of last year. Today, that is exactly 254 days ago.

Everybody happy?

No siree.

The government in Curacao declared war on the boards and the management of government-owned companies. It picked a fight with the president of the Central Bank. Parliament passed a motion demanding that Curacao gets out of the joint Central bank arrangement. In St/. Maarten, Vice Prime Minister Theo Heyliger quickly jumped on the bandwagon declaring that St. Maarten ought to go it alone with the Central Bank as well.

Then, Heyliger started whining about the Corporate Governance Council. It’s bureaucratic, it hinders the government’s work, and these people have not been elected, and so on. Of course, the members of this council were appointed by elected politicians, but that detail Heyliger conveniently shoved under the carpet. By making public the council’s negative advice about Regina Labega’s appointment as airport director, he raised some eyebrows, because it is customary to keep such advice concerning individuals confidential.

Apart from all this, Heyliger’s disdain for the Corporate Governance Council does not exactly boost the confidence of foreign investors.

The latest to contribute to the attempts to get away from the agreements laid down in the 2006 final statement is Justice Minister Roland Duncan. In a rather boisterous interview that was published last Saturday in another daily newspaper he railed against the Dutch attitude towards St. Maarten, especially with regard to the Board for Financial Supervision.

Duncan said that St. Maarten is entitled to have a rep on the Cft board and that the Dutch are somehow obstructing the appointment. So why don’t we have one? That is something nobody talks about. Is the candidate not acceptable, and if so, why not?

With Duncan we are not always impressed with statements Dutch parliamentarians make about St. Maarten. However, parliamentarians are free to say whatever they like in the Second Chamber; criticism from one MP however does not equal the policy favored by the government in The Hague.

The impression we’re getting these days is that St. Maarten has agreed to play a poker game with the Dutch but that the players on our end want to change the rules while that game is well under way.


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