Opinion: Priceless

POSTED: 11/15/11 4:31 AM

The visit of Herman Tjeenk Willink, the departing vice President of the Council of State, was a unique event in St. Maarten’s history, if only because it was the first and the only time this will happen.
Tjeenk Willink is also a rather unique character in the Kingdom’s political landscape. He served ten years as a Member of the Senate, but only four years as a true politician. The last six years of his tenure he was the Senate’s chairman – a position that placed the Social Democrat above politics. With his move to the Council of State in 1997 he became effectively the most powerful man in the country who never became Prime Minister. He became the closest advisor to Queen Beatrix and in this function he played a crucial role in the formation of several cabinets. He has often, and not without reason, been called the country’s viceroy.
Tjeenk Willink will step down as the Council of State’s vice Present towards the end of January next year, around his 69th birthday. The country’s citizens won’t fall over backward when this happens; that’s because Tjeenk Willink has operated most of his career in an honorable way in the shadows.
To hear the opinion of somebody of his stature about the development of St. Maarten as a new country in the Kingdom is – as the ad says – priceless. We are now curious to see how the parliamentarians who attended his address will pick up on the clear messages that Tjeenk Willink sent. It’s all advice, and the beauty of it is that it is free – something that appeals probably more to the Dutch Calvinist mentality than to the Caribbean laissez-faire attitude.
Tjeenk Willink made abundantly clear that a country is not able to function properly and reach its full potential without institutions like the Advisory Council, the General Audit Chamber or the Ombudsman. Though the Corporate Governance Council was missing from Tjeenk Willink’s list, it clearly ranks as an important advisory body as well. And it is this body that was heavily criticized by Vice Prime Minister Theo Heyliger in June, when he literally told Eddie Williams in an edition of his for the Record broadcast that “elected representatives govern St. Maarten, not the Corporate Governance Council or any other advisory body.”
This is the same Vice Prime Minister who routinely has avoided St. Maarten Day celebrations over the years, simply because the speeches are the same every year, and the results are zero.
As far as this is concerned Vice PM Heyliger is right of course, but at the same time he is also in a position to make something happen. Tjeenk Willink expressed his surprise about the lack of cooperation with our French neighbors, saying that border towns in the Netherlands have formed many partnerships with their German or Belgian neighbors.
For some reason, such a partnership between Marigot and Philipsburg remains a fata morgana. And it is not for a lack of common interests. Promoting the island in source markets, traffic, environment, immigration and energy are just a few examples.
That it would take an outsider like Tjeenk Willink to put his finger on this is painful. But there is no need to let something painful rot even further. The parliament has the power to pass motions that instruct the government to take certain actions. Talking to the neighbors ought to be at the top of the list. Let’s wait and see how long it takes before somebody – anybody – takes a meaningful initiative in this respect.

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