MPs have mixed feelings about Dutch conditions | THE DAILY HERALD

~ Buncamper calls conditions ‘criminal’


PHILIPSBURG–While some Members of Parliament (MPs) are strongly against the conditions set by the Dutch government for financial aid for St. Maarten, some see them as mostly achievable.

  The MPs expressed their positions during a public session of Parliament on government’s plans to move forward, given the conditions imposed by the Kingdom government for financial assistance for the country.

  One of the MPs who was firmly against the conditions was United St. Maarten Party (US Party) MP Claudius Buncamper who called the conditions “criminal” and said they could destroy the country.

  Buncamper said if the Dutch government wanted to assist St. Maarten there are many ways in which it could have done so, including assisting the country “fix” its tax system; help the education system and have St. Maarten participate in the Dutch national health insurance system, amongst other things. He said there is a need to bring into perspective what the country is up against, questioning whether the loan for St. Maarten is being given against conditions that will destroy the country.

  If St. Maarten agrees to the cuts and other measures proposed by the Dutch government it would be the beginning of the end of the autonomous country St. Maarten, he said. He urged government to consider “exactly what’s happening with the proposal.” It can be called an “indecent” proposal, “but I call it ‘criminal’. It’s a criminal proposal and I am bold enough to say it’s criminal.”

  He said the proposal is criminal because it violates human rights. He maintained that people have a right to not live in poverty, to proper health care and a good education and “when you start taking away monies from people and telling the country, ‘I don’t care what your unions think,’ then rights of labour as anchored in the International Labour Organisation mean nothing,” Buncamper stressed.

  He said St. Maarten has to “grow up” and decide where it will stand as a country and whether it will be beggars or “suck salt,” “take beatings,” “fix” the country, clean it up and prepare for better days. “There will not be easy days coming.” US Party is very concerned. St. Maarten has to think about diversifying its economy to deal with the survivability of the country, he said.

  National Alliance (NA) MP William Marlin said the Dutch government has again set St. Maarten up not to fail, but to bring the country closer to “their plan.” Marlin believes the Dutch government does not want St. Maarten to become a strong autonomous country in the Kingdom.

  He described the Kingdom as one country with “a bundle of colonies” and suggested that the Kingdom government wants to control St. Maarten so that it can generate enough funds as had been done in plantations years ago to maintain its “colonies” at St. Maarten’s expense. He said also that the Dutch government is using the financial assistance as a tool to pit the population against the government and noted that government has some tough decisions to make in this process.

  United Democrats (UD) MP Sarah Wescot-Williams said she can imagine that government is at “an extremely difficult place.” She said it would be difficult for government to plan properly and to strategize properly when it is under time pressure, noting that this is what the country is under at the moment.

  She urged government to guard against making decisions based on time pressure and to not make statements based on time pressure, but said government should be well prepared for whatever it will put forward.

  National Alliance (NA) MP George Pantophlet said the “take it or leave it” approach of the Dutch government is intended to put the people of St. Maarten against its elected officials. Even if elected officials give 60 per cent of their salaries, “it won’t even scratch the surface.” He urged the populace to not let themselves be divided.

  United People’s (UP) party MP Sidharth “Cookie” Bijlani was one of the MPs who leaned towards accepting the conditions, saying St. Maarten should reset and “get our house clean.” He said the population and the Kingdom government want to see elected officials lower their salaries and this should be done. Bijlani said the majority of the conditions are based on salary cuts, and these should be applied. This can be the start of some “house cleaning” for the country.

  He asked whether St. Maarten has a Plan B if the offer from the Dutch government is rejected. In her response to Bijlani’s question, Prime Minister Silveria Jacobs said she would rather discuss alternatives in a closed-door session of Parliament.

  NA MP Solange Duncan called the conditions “unbelievable” and said the approach has her wondering. She stressed that St. Maarten has to diversify its economy and she called for an industrial revolution for the country to move away from the “old model” and think about small and medium-size businesses and create an environment for them to prosper.  She listed e-commerce as a perfect opportunity in which St. Maarten can become less dependent on tourism.

  NA MP Christophe Emmanuel said St. Maarten is in the same position today as it was after Hurricane Irma. While everyone is pointing a finger at the Dutch government, he points the finger at St. Maarten.

  Emmanuel said he is 100 per cent in agreement with the position of the labour unions and the cost-cutting proposals they have made, and he will not support cutting of civil servants’ salaries. Emmanuel believes that St. Maarten’s position to the Dutch government should be “thank you, but no thanks.”

  Party for Progress (PFP) MP Raeyhon Peterson said the conditions give him mixed feelings. He said the way the conditions were dropped onto St. Maarten was not in a timely manner. His concern with the conditions is mainly the timeframe given to St. Marten to comply.

  “Some changes towards salaries will have to be done per July 1, 2020. However, this may require a change in a law, and this process takes time. We have to deliver a plan for structural change that would have to be made known by June 15, 2020. We need to be realistic with ourselves as well, and not panic at the announcement of conditions. Our pension age needs to go up from 62 to 65, but this had to be done long time.

  “Aside from these grievances, I do not share the sentiment with some of my colleagues that this is the most unfair package of conditions that they are shoving down our throats,” Peterson said.

  “The fact is that most people out there at this moment do not have a salary. The proposal entails a cut for civil servants across the board, as long as their salary does not go under the minimum wage. Coming from the civil service, I understand the position of the unions completely. I myself was one of the civil servants who got underpaid.

  “But sadly, this is a crisis period. This is COVID-19, people. Here is where real solidarity comes into play. Civil servants enjoy the highest job security on this island when it comes to a crisis. It is mainly the private sector that suffers, and that is where the most unemployment is coming from.”

  He said temporary cuts have to be in play, but the cut has to be higher for Ministers and MPs. He said also that the other Kingdom partners, Curaçao and Aruba, had received the same conditions as St. Maarten and they have delivered a plan for a stimulus on time.

  “Do not mistake the Kingdom of the Netherlands for Holland. If you read and understand the Charter of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, Holland is not personally responsible for us as a country. We are all, as a Kingdom, responsible for the human rights of our people.

  “If Aruba and Curaçao by now have accepted these conditions, and Aruba was actually proactive in some of these conditions because, to be honest, this was to be expected, what excuse do we have? Are we going to always go back to the classic argument that because we are in a hurricane belt so that automatically makes us the victims?”

  UP MP Grisha Heyliger-Marten said the Kingdom charter has flaws which have resulted in confusion and conflict between Kingdom partners and “made us into second-class citizens in the Kingdom” instead of partners who are equal to Holland. She wants a review of the Kingdom charter.

  PFP MP Melissa Gumbs said that with the exception of two points, she does not find any brutality or indecency about the conditions. “I’m not particularly surprised by them; several have been bouncing around within this Kingdom since 10-10-10. The debate on lowering salaries started as early as 2014,” and most are simply a repeat of items that this country already agreed to; for example, pension reform.

  Gumbs said she takes issue with two things: the 12.5 per cent salary cut across the board for civil servants and the mention of a “to be established” entity, as mentioned in the Kingdom government’s letter.

  “I am not in favour of another slow-moving entity being established to manage the flow of finances to the public and private sector, which is the mistake the Netherlands made, in my opinion, by installing the World Bank as a managing entity over the post-Irma aid. With regard to the civil servants, I would have preferred to see a cut coming for the highest scales, including those in the directorship positions at various entities such as BTP [Bureau for Telecommunications and Post – Ed.].”

  She said that despite many people saying that the PFP faction is an out-of-touch party, going so far as to say it is the “Dutch” party or even the “new face of the old elite,” the party “is in fact the only party whose recent proposals looked to restructure this country to provide for those same persons we have been ridiculed as not favouring.

  “I’d say we are a St. Maarten party, and that St. Maarten has been guided in the past by Dutch parties, as we have been continuously played into the Dutch government’s hands, through every crisis, through every constitutional status.” 

  She said it is going to be tough and St. Maarten is not protected from the hit that many will take due to this crisis. “Government after government has failed to tighten the country’s belt; we want to drink champagne, but we have just enough money for a Coca Cola.

  “We must, all of us, adjust our way of living and when we think about our own personal wallets, let us remember that there are those in this community who will be hit harder than many of us in this meeting and many of you watching now, who cannot bother to watch these meetings because they are preparing to decide to pay their rent, pay GEBE or buy food at the end of this month.

  “We have to remember that we are in this together, all of us, and we must start to act like it. That is the message that I took from the letters served by State-Secretary [Raymond] Knops, because they are a message I have been echoing since being elected: we are in this together.”

  Several other MPs also commented on the issue during the meeting, including NA MP Angelique Romou; UP MP Omar Ottley; UP MP Rolando Brison and NA MP Hyacinth Richardson.

Source: The Daily Herald