Professor Elzinga: “Position governors is weakening”

POSTED: 06/17/13 11:33 AM

St. Maarten – Is the position of governors in the Caribbean weakening? Douwe Jan Elzinga, a professor in constitutional law at the National university in Groningen thinks this is the case. He explained his point of view in an opinion piece in the magazine Binenlands Bestuur. The article appeared in the April-issue and Elzinga therefore wrote it before the second Wescot-Williams cabinet fell.

Elzinga begins his op-ed with a description of the political situation on the islands. Helmin Wiels was still alive, the Hodge-cabinet in Curacao getting ready to make place for a regular cabinet and in St. Maarten Justice Minister Roland Duncan, in Elzinga’s view, “was struggling with criminal perils.” We’ll just add here that Duncan was heard as “a witness” in the Bada Bing-case and that this newspaper revealed his deep involvement in the prostitution industry.

Elzinga’s take that the governors in the three autonomous Kingdom-countries in the Caribbean have their hands full supervising all these issues. From this point forward, we’ll follow the professor’s reasoning verbatim.

“From where do these governors derive the right to get involved in these matters? It is assumed that the governors hike on the – mostly unwritten – rights and obligations of the Dutch Head of state. King Willem-Alexander will soon also be the Head of state for the three Caribbean countries. He is represented as head of the government by the three governors.

The King is no longer involved with the formation of cabinets in the Netherlands and that results in a weakening of the position of the governors. If King Willem-Alexander gets a different position it becomes increasingly more difficult to maintain that the governors should have further reaching competencies. And this is not just about the cabinet-formation. After the elections there is also intensive contact between the Caribbean cabinets and the governor. During serious political conflicts the governor is quite often the neutral troubleshooter.

The second chamber broadly supports the governor’s neutralizing activities. The political divided in the Caribbean are much sharper than in the Netherlands. There are integrity-disputes about ministers and civil servants on a regular basis. To achieve good governance the position of the governor is crucial.

The presence of authoritative governors makes it possible for the Kingdom government to keep a certain distance from the Caribbean autonomy. However, the position of the governors has been subject to erosion for some time now. The discussion about the position of the monarchy seems to have had its effect on the position of the representatives of the king in the West.

Increasingly there are political backdoor dealings whereby coalitions are put together and taken apart without the governor’s involvement.

During the formation perils in Curacao last year – with a Prime Minister Schotte who did not want to leave and who holed up in the government buildings – the governor was hardly able to keep control. In the formation of the new cabinet in Curacao the governor also seems to have a weak role.

The governor of St. Maarten has to put up with a Justice minister that has been interrogated by the police and the Public prosecutor’s Office and he does not want to go anywhere. A solution for these problems is nowhere near.

A majority party in Aruba is able to put together a cabinet without too much trouble without the involvement of the governor. For the political establishment in The Hague dark clouds begin to appear in the blue Caribbean sky. Weakening of the governor’s position increases the need for interventions. Previous interventions in the Caribbean political process have negatively affected the atmosphere in the Kingdom.

The Caribbean countries are obviously free to give a different content to the position of the governor than that of the head of state. But that creates the awkward situation that the governors are allowed to do more than their boss Willem-Alexander. That situation is not sustainable.

If the Caribbean politicians decided one day – considering the Dutch precedent – to put more distance between them and the governor, there will be no cure for it. Attempts by the Second Chamber to turn the tide will be labeled as neo-colonialism. And there is not much to say against that.”

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