Tjeenk Willink pounds on lack of cooperation with French side

POSTED: 11/15/11 4:35 AM

The farewell tour of the Kingdom’s viceroy

St. Maarten – “A country reaches adulthood when it manages to involve its people in resolving concrete social problems and gives them the feeling that they have control over their lives. This is the only way of contributing to the well-being of all inhabitants of this unique island,” the departing vice president of the Council of State, Herman Tjeenk Willink said yesterday morning in a central committee meeting specially organized for his farewell tour to the Caribbean islands of the Kingdom.
Tjeenk Willink, a social-democrat who devoted his career to public governance and who is due to his close ties the H.M. Queen Beatrix often referred to as the viceroy of the Kingdom, did not come to the meeting empty-handed. His address to the parliament contained several distinct messages. Without naming names, he snubbed those who have criticized St. Maarten’s Advisory Council, and he expressed his amazement about the lack of cooperation with French St. Martin.
Tjeenk Willink worked as an advisor at the Ministry of General Affairs after his law study in Leiden; in 1987 he became a member of the Senate, aka as the First Chamber of Parliament. He stayed for ten years, the last six as the Senate chairman. On July 1, 1997 he became the vice president of the Council of State. At the end of January next year, he will step down. On the 23rd of that month, Tjeenk Willink will turn 69.
With the exception of Louie Laveist, Johan Leonard and Romain Laville, who stayed away from the meeting without giving notice, all members of the Central Committee were present to bid Tjeenk Willink a proper farewell.
“As a former parliamentarian – and if you will, a former colleague of yours – I know not only the complexity but also the importance of your work as legislators and overseers of the government of St. Maarten,” he said. “In a democratic state governed by the rule of law, it is vital to strike a balance between the exercise of power and the scrutiny of the powerful. There can be no balance without counterweight; there can be no dialogue without dissent. That is the importance of a parliament and parliamentary debate. This is the only way to uphold a democratic legal order in which everyone is equal before the law, whether rich or poor, public official or ordinary citizen.”
Tjeenk Willink referred to article 43 of the Kingdom Charter that states that each country in the Kingdom shall promote the realization of fundamental human rights, freedoms, legal certainty and good governance. “A country’s stability depends on robust institutions,” he remarked, further referring to not only parliament, the government and the civil service, but also to independent institutions like the Court of Justice, the Constitutional Court, and the Central Bank; the Advisory Council, the Audit Chamber, and the Ombudsman.
“These are elements of a system of checks and balances, without which a democratic legal order cannot exist. It is necessary, especially in a new country’s early stages, to focus on strengthening institutions.”
Tjeenk Willink also mentioned the press (“We do read your newspapers in the Hague you know”) and to the university as important components. “But at the heart of all this is the individual citizen. Too often he or she is seen merely as a voter, A citizen is more than that. Not an object or client of the government, but a stakeholder, with rights and responsibilities. The government and its citizens depend on each other.”
Later on, after MPs had said their piece, Tjeenk Willink returned to the importance of the high Councils of State. “Some here have said that these institutions, like the Advisory Council as bothersome and that they hinder the business of government. We heard those opinions also in the Netherlands. Montesquieu said that every power, left to its own devices threatens to become an absolute power even if it has been elected democratically.”
Tjeenk Willink pointed out that the balance of power is important, because maintaining the legal order has become a condition for economic competitiveness. “All those who say that an Advisory Council is bothersome ought to think about this,” he said. Nothing moves faster than investments and tourists.”
Tjeenk Willink urged St. Maarten to invest in the Kingdom. “If you think the Kingdom in its present form is too Dutch, I would be the first to agree.” St. Maarten ought to make sure that its Minister of Plenipotentiary has “the scope and support to articulate St. Maarten’s point of view in the Kingdom Council of Ministers even more than is the case now, he said. The government should also insist on moving the Kingdom secretariat from the Ministry of Home affairs and Kingdom relations and bring it under the wings of the Kingdom Council of Ministers and the Ministry of General Affairs. And St. Maarten ought to enter into partnerships with the Dutch parliament and the senate, and also promote informal exchange of information.
“You can help change the color of the Kingdom – quite literally – and make better use of the Kingdom’s institutions,” Tjeenk Willink said with a reference to already existing relationships with the city of Amsterdam. He also urged St. Maarten to make use of the Kingdom’s international network and its access to organizations like the European Union and Unesco.
But the most important link for the island could be the Dutch embassy in Paris. “You are the only country in the Kingdom that actually shares a border with the French Republic. If there is anything that has surprised me over the past few years, it is the lack of cooperation with Saint Martin. Dutch border municipalities work very closely together with their German or Belgian neighbors on practical issues that benefit ordinary citizens on a daily basis. They do not wait for the green light from a ministry; these partnerships arise more or less spontaneously.”
Tjeenk Willink said that nothing is stopping St. Maarten from doing the same. “You could take the initiative by stepping up contacts with the parliament in Marigot and urge the executive branches on both sides to work together.”
Start small and then move on to more complex matters, Tjeenk Willink advised. He mentioned bus connections between both sides of the island, and the allocation of taxis at the airport. “Or are we going to wait for the enlargement of the airport in Grand Case? Why not a joint program, financed by the European Union, for the conservation of historic sites and the promotion of tourism?”
Several MPs thanked Tjeenk Willink for his visit to St. Maarten. Opposition leader William Marlin, though careful not to turn the meeting into a political rally, picked up on Tjeenk Willink’s remark about the value of the high Councils of State. “Too often too many refer to the Advisory Council as an obstruction to government, instead of a tool for checks and balances. Members of the government have publicly expressed their dissatisfaction with the Advisory Council. We cannot live without these institutions.”
Independent MP Frans Richardson, after first seriously bastardizing Tjeenk Willink’s name, picked up on the option to find European funding for local projects. He mentioned in particular the conservation of the Emilio Wilson estate and a possible restoration of Fort Amsterdam.

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