Plasterk and Richardson smoke a peace pipe in The Hague

POSTED: 08/28/15 5:01 PM


Protocol remains in place, cooperation back on track

ST. MAARTEN / THE HAGUE – Tensions between the Netherlands and St. Maarten have eased after a meeting between Justice Minister Dennis Richardson, Minister of Safety and Justice Ard van der Steur and Minister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Ronald Plasterk during a dinner in The Hague on Wednesday. The brusque announcement by Gerard Bouman, chief of the Dutch national police, that he will not work together with the local government and the local police force to combat corruption and organized crime in St. Maarten is off the table. The protocol Minister Richardson signed with Plasterk on May 24 remains firmly in place and the two countries will tackle the issues together.

In St. Maarten, Prime Minister Marcel Gumbs explained on the same day the country’s position on the way Dutch top civil servants will be received on the island, and this, too, contributed to a better understanding and an improvement of the relationship with the largest Kingdom partner.

Plasterk’s ministry issued a joint statement of St. Maarten and the Netherlands after the meeting with Van der Steur and Richardson on Wednesday. Gerard Bouman was not present at the dinner.

“Sint Maarten and the Netherlands jointly tackle the strengthening of law enforcement in St. Maarten,” is the statement’s telling first sentence. It furthermore refers to the Four Party Consultation – the regular meeting of the justice ministers of the four Kingdom countries – earlier this year that concluded that law enforcement needs strengthening.

“The ministers emphasize that the strengthening of the police force in St. Maarten and a decisive approach of cross-border and undermining criminality and corruption are in the interest of the population of St. Maarten and of the Kingdom.”

“The Protocol Establishment Integrity Chamber and Strengthening Law Enforcement, as agreed upon between Sint Maarten and the Netherlands on May 24, remains valid,” the statement continues. “In St. Maarten an independent Integrity Chamber will be established, To give content to the Protocol, further agreements will be made about tackling cross-border and undermining criminality, money laundering, drugs trafficking, robberies, human trafficking and human smuggling.”

With this statement, the controversy national Police Chief Gerard Bouman triggered in July when he told Minister Richardson “I don’t need you” and further adding “We have so much information about St. Maarten that it does not justify working together with any of you” is off the table.

At Wednesday’s press briefing, Prime Minister Marcel Gumbs said in answer to a question from this newspaper that Dutch civil servants remain welcome in St. Maarten but that they will no longer meet with ministers but with their peers in the civil service instead.

“Normally civil servants who go to another country meet with their equals,” Gumbs said. “For the sake of easing and improving relationships and for the sake of goodwill this government has met with top civil servants. Normally we would tell Dutch civil servants to meet with our civil servants to work out the technical details. At the end of a meeting the minister can be present for a meeting with both civil servants.”

The prime minister said that back in July Bouman had asked for a meeting with Minister Richardson. “Out of goodwill we went ahead, hoping there would be an opportunity to discuss the contents of the protocol. Regretfully that turned out to be a meeting with a civil servant who has an attitude, who was pretty blunt and I would even say disrespectful to a minister.”

After this meeting, Gumbs called in Dutch Representative Gert Versluis to inform him that members of his cabinet would no longer meet with Dutch civil servants. “It is not that they are not welcome here,” Gumbs emphasized. “Everyone is welcome here, but they will have to meet with our civil servants to work out matters, whatever they are. At the end of a meeting, when agreements are reached, our civil servant will inform the minister about the results.”

The approach the cabinet has chosen matches the way these contacts are done “all over,” Gumbs said. “I cannot send my secretary-general to the Netherlands and tell him to meet with Plasterk, because Plasterk won’ receive him. I cannot send him to Aruba to meet with Eman either, because he will say, I’m very sorry, but go and meet with your counterpart.”

Dutch civil servants therefore remain welcome to the Friendly Island. “Our civil servants can learn from Dutch civil servants,” Gumbs said. “They can also learn from civil servants from Curacao or Aruba. But those civil servants could also learn a thing or two from our civil servants. We are going to level the playing field. A big honcho, a top gun will no longer meet with my ministers, but with his peers. That is not the proper procedure. We have tolerated this up to now, but not anymore.”

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