Willink wants more “advisers” beyond “narrow and tight knit elite”

POSTED: 11/15/11 4:36 AM

St. Maarten – “The Kingdom is too valuable to be left to politicians and civil servants.” That line near the end of his lecture at the University of St. Martin is the core message Vice-President of the Council of State for the Kingdom Herman Tjeenk Willink had for the leaders of the country’s foundations, non-governmental organizations and community groups. The lecture was the second of two made on Monday as part of a farewell tour. The other lecture was delivered in Parliament.
The only real similarities between the two speeches is that Willink stressed the importance of the just over one year old country contributing to changing the atmosphere in the Kingdom by pressing for a Kingdom Secretariat that falls under the Chairman of the Kingdom Council of Ministers – the Dutch Prime Minister – and his Ministry of General Affairs. He also stressed on the role that both the university and the country’s advisory body’s can play in the public debates that eventually inform the political debates. In parliament he’d also referenced the role of the media in this respect.
Willink’s belief that Kingdom Relations cannot be left solely to the politicians and civil servants anymore is based on his experience over his 14 year period at the Council of State coupled with a belief that the constitutional reforms have open the opportunity for changes right now.
“The current Kingdom does not have an address, a telephone number or a budget. In the Antilles, the Kingdom is seen as being synonymous with the Netherlands. In The Hague too politicians confuse the Kingdom and the Netherlands. Strengthening that Kingdom is seen on the islands as a return to the situation that prevailed before 1954. Achieving closer kingdom ties means making them broader and making them deeper,” Willink said.
In Willink’s view the broadening of ties should move the discussion in the kingdom away from foreign policy, defence, law enforcement and public finances and onto education, public health and poverty reduction.
“In the kingdom we should ask ourselves, if for no other reason than our shared citizenship, what the minimum level of public services should be in areas such as education and healthcare,” Willink said.
The Council of State Vice Chair also sees a need for broader ties across the society where citizens and the national institutions are close to one another. The time where the government managed that cooperation is long gone in Europe, but the kingdom is “lagging behind.”
“Organizations in both the public and private sector, local government and civil society understand that in order to retain influence, they need to work together across borders,” Willink said.
Creating the Kingdom Secretariat is a tool Willink believes will allow for an additional Kingdom organ that parties can participate in and be represented. He believes it will also give the islands something they can make use of as the current forums like the Kingdom Council of Ministers “are not used much, if at all, to develop a shared vision or strategy.
Willink also believes that involvement of people beyond the politicians and civil servants is necessary because people can’t live in structures or in laws. In his view the civil servants and politicians have gotten so caught up in structures and laws but none of them “own the problem”.
“With all the attention we are paying to constitutional structure and related legislation, we risk forgetting that structural changes alone will not make social problems disappear,” Willink said.
The Chair of the Kingdom Council of State also stressed that there is a real need to assess whether people in the various countries know each other and the systems of governance on both sides of the ocean. While the politicians on the islands are busy with the minute details and civil servants have little say, the reverse is true in the Netherlands where civil servants play a strong role in preparing policy and working out the details of ministerial decisions.
“The failure to recognize these differences causes misunderstandings in our political and administrative dealings,” Willink said.
Issues are also being generated because “people in office” on St. Maarten still have an outdated view of the political situation in the Netherlands where politicians take the ties in the kingdom for granted, while politicians in the Netherlands see the islands as “the last remnants of the ‘tropical kingdom’ and others dismiss it as a place where nothing works.
“These snapshots don’t reflect the complex realities,” Willink said.
Because of all these factors Willink reasoned that no true change will happen in kingdom relations unless the status quo is challenged by political vision and outside pressure that requires the Kingdom government and the individual governments of The Netherlands, Curacao, Aruba and St. Maarten to present a vision of where the Kingdom is heading in substantive terms. The fact there is some movement on this already is considered a positive development. He’s clear thought the pressure must be brought to bear from forces outside of politics and the civil service.
“Without such pressure, change often leads to more of the same: even more interference from officialdom here and there, even more Dutch (not Kingdom representatives) here and even less prospect of concrete action to tackle urgent social problems both there and here. The status quo must be challenged, but this will be a difficult task if communication remains confined to a narrow and tight knit elite. Political vision and leadership and the involvement of other civil society groups and representatives of the new generation are crucial. Without them change will not succeed,” Willink said.

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