SER wants more consistent dialogue with government

POSTED: 06/24/13 11:54 AM

Chairman René Richardson concerned about neglect of advice:

St. Maarten / By Jason Lista – There has been “only one instance where government has reacted to advice” from the Social and Economic Council (SER), said Chairman René Richardson, along with his senior policy advisor, Arjen Alberts. “A more consistent and structured” dialogue is needed. “We are lacking feedback and replies” from government to SER queries, the chairman complained. “Compared to the High Councils of St. Maarten,” in particular the Council of Advice and the General Audit Chamber, who often deal with more lofty and abstract matters, the “SER hits closer to the reality of the people,” Alberts pointed out.

While the Council of Advice and General Audit Chamber are vital organs in the constitutional functioning of the island, it is the SER researches and addresses topics that affect people on a daily basis, such as cost of living, quality of life, social security and pensions. Ideally, a situation should exist whereby there is continuous dialogue and constructive feedback with government, especially with parliamentarians, who can use the information provided by SER to inform their debates on future legislation and questions posed to the Council of Ministers. “Parliamentarians,” regardless of party, “ought to be the first filters and critics” of social and economic issues, Alberts said, and can use the findings and reports of SER to back up their arguments.

St. Maarten’s government structure is essentially a miniature of the Netherlands, which also has its own Social and Economic Council. The SER is a non-partisan advisory body that provides both solicited and unsolicited advice to government on vital socio-economic issues. These types of councils also act as a check on the actions of the executive and legislative branches of government and guide public policy in the national interest. Councils like the SER “are based on the West European approach” to checks and balances, said Alberts, unlike the Americans who have Senate oversight committees to check the President.

In the Netherlands the main political goal is to “promote social harmony” among the key stakeholders in society, continued Alberts. This is the “polder tradition,” he said, whereby “everyone is involved before, or while, you create policy.” It is a reference to the “tripartite approach” common in the Netherlands, where there is some degree of consensus and cooperation on broad social and economic issues between employers, unions, and the government. Like its Dutch counterpart, the SER on St. Maarten comprises representatives from a broad cross section of the island’s society. Its ultimate goal, therefore, is the promotion of social harmony through consensus.

Although the SER does not have any formal political power, the accepted custom is to seriously consider its advice. This type of behavior is largely based on the unwritten rules of Dutch political custom, which St. Maarten does not always share. “If you don’t listen to that advice, then provide reasons why” to the public, said the chairman. For example, while the SER agreed that the old license plate system was cumbersome and inefficient, it advised that until the necessary “technical infrastructure” was in place it made no sense to change it. But this advice was ignored without clarification as to why.

In its defense, St. Maarten’s experience with the Western European parliamentary model is in its infancy. By contrast, the Netherlands is much older as a nation and has history and precedent to draw upon. But the island would do well to listen to its own SER, because it “meets with all stakeholders,” Alberts said.

It is clear that St. Maarten still has a ways to go in developing the kind of broad, consensus building approach that defines Dutch politics, with its emphasis on including various stakeholders when formulating public policy. If it is to achieve this, however, a serious reading of SER advisory reports is a step toward that goal.

 

 

 

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