PHILIPSBURG–How is the cooperation between the four countries in the Kingdom of the Netherlands shaped moving forward?
From the opening remarks at the Interparliamentary Kingdom Consultation IPKO 2022 in St. Maarten, on Wednesday, it became clear that there was no consensus on this. But IPKO 2022 ended on Friday with the observation that the countries had reached consensus on the need to amend the draft Kingdom Act Caribbean Body for Reform and Development COHO.
In her opening statements on Wednesday, IPKO 2022 host Grisha Marten-Heyliger, said: “If we look back at our shared history in the Kingdom Parliament, a few things become clear: since 2010 twelve years and a number of IPKOs have passed, and yet we don’t have a dispute regulation. And since 2020 two years and four IPKOs have passed without us reaching an agreement on the CRE, the CHE, the COHO and the now-called COHO 2.0.”
She wondered aloud what lessons should be learned from this. “Are we busy mopping with the tap open?”, considering that first Suriname left the Kingdom in 1975, then Aruba left the Netherlands Antilles in 1985 and the Netherlands Antilles was dissolved in 2010. “Have we been trying to make an unworkable structure work all these decades? And have we, in doing so, been dealing with the proverbial elephant in the room all this time?”
Marten-Heyliger believes that “history is trying to tell us that we cannot continue with business as usual within the Kingdom. We cannot continue without addressing the fundamental issues that have led to disputes within the Kingdom, and the changes that resulted from these disputes.”
She host the hope that IPKO 2022 would be the “IPKO of all IPKOs”, whereby “the elephant, or elephants, in the room would finally be addressed”.
In current form
The National Aruba Financial Supervision Act (RAFT) and the COHO Act were presented to the Parliament of Aruba on February 12, 2022.
“The content of these Kingdom Laws, as presented to us, is to the disadvantage of the Aruban population,” said President of Aruba’s Parliament Edgard Vrolijk, who emphasised that the Aruban parliament takes its task very seriously. “It is up to us as representatives of the people to make decisions. The MPs [members of parliament – Ed.] have been confronted with two consensus kingdom laws in which they do not recognise their role as parliamentarians.”
The countries in the Caribbean part of the Kingdom should be given the opportunity to determine the form of cooperation, based on open and real consultation, according to Vrolijk. “Conversations based on mutual respect, which increases the chances of successful implementation of reforms.”
Aruba has appealed to the Netherlands for help, not for forgiveness of debts, said Vrolijk. “Aruba should be given the opportunity to refinance the existing Aruban loans from before the pandemic at a low interest rate and for a longer period, just as is done for the other countries within the Kingdom.”
The financial challenges with which Aruba is struggling, and the various attempts to achieve cleaned and sustainable government financing are the biggest buzz of the government in Oranjestad. The standards set in the two consensus kingdom laws are “not realistic,” according to Vrolijk. “These standards are based on the results in the success year 2019, when Aruba had a small budget surplus. Aruba is currently struggling with high inflation and a budget deficit of hundreds of millions.”
According to the Aruban delegation, “the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic and the effects of the conflict between the Ukraine and Russia” were not taken into account when setting the standards.
According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), since the beginning of 2020, tourism in Aruba has been hit the hardest in the Caribbean region. said Shailiny Tromp-Lee, chairman of the Standing Committee on Kingdom Affairs and Foreign Relations. She said Aruba has taken immediate measures to make the almost-entirely-tourism-dependent economy more resilient.
“Already at the beginning of the pandemic, Aruba presented a masterplan, entitled ‘Repositioning ourselves’,” Tromp-Lee said. “This plan is 80 per cent in line with the agreements that the government of Aruba has made with the government of the Netherlands in the mutual arrangement in November 2020, the so-called country package.”
She pointed out that Aruba complies with the agreements that are made with the Netherlands every quarter in that context. “It is not easy to comply with this, especially because of the limited human capacity and limited resources. But Aruba does comply, as evidenced by the regular reports that parliament receives from the government.”
Tromp-Lee emphasised that Aruba had never been financially dependent on the Netherlands prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. “The pandemic and the necessary loans that Aruba has had to take out with the Netherlands have led to a very drastic package of conditions.”
Aruba is aware of the need for systematic reforms in medical care, Tromp-Lee said, “but the speed with which this is happening now leads to concerns.”
The Aruban Parliament discussed the two Kingdom Laws during a closed meeting on Friday, April 29. Most MPs are very concerned, Tromp-Lee said. “COHO assigns many powers to the Minister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations, a minister who does not have to give political responsibility to our parliament. This erodes the essence of the controlling duties of parliamentarians.”
The state laws put the parliament of Aruba out of the game, according to Tromp-Lee. “Aruba’s autonomy is thus further undermined.”
President of the Parliament of Curaçao Charetti America-Francisca raised the question whether it was wrong of Curaçao to go along with the sanctions of Europe against neighbouring Venezuela, with which the island has a historical connection.
“Better a good neighbour than a distant friend, right?” said America-Francisca, who referred to her favourite book, Proverbs, citing verse 27:10: “Don’t abandon your friend and your father’s friend, but don’t go to your brother when you’re in trouble. You need a friend nearby more than a brother far away.”
The relationship with neighbouring Venezuela is now ruined after centuries, said America-Francisca, whose grandparents are from Venezuela. “I think we agreed to the sanctions because we want to be part of it.”
The people of Curaçao have chosen to stay within the Kingdom. “Nevertheless, we cannot ignore the fact that the damage to our economy caused by the border closure is enormous,” she said. “It hurts.”
But, she said, “COHO is even more painful.” Curaçao has cut itself in the fingers with COHO, according to America-Francisca. “The Parliament of Curacao recently unanimously approved a motion in which the bottlenecks with regard to the current draft of the COHO Kingdom Act are explicitly mentioned.” The kingdom government has been urged to pay attention to this list.
Curaçao will be “eternally grateful” to the kingdom for the help after the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in the form of vaccines, teams of doctors and nurses, and financial support for entrepreneurs on the island, America-Francisca said.
She added: “Curacao does not need COHO to see that reforms are necessary. We are already coming up with ideas ourselves, as contained in the growth strategy and country packages.” Those country packages do not have to be imposed, she stated. “Without COHO, reform is already going well.”
COHO is divisive, said America-Francisca. “The National Act reinforces anti-Dutch sentiment, even though we need to be closer together.”
Amerigo Thode, chairman of the Committee on Government Affairs, Interparliamentary Relations and Foreign Relations of Curaçao, pointed out that no sustainable agreements have been made with the Caribbean countries with regard to investments to promote economic development on the islands and for the realisation of reforms. This prompted the Parliament of Curaçao to adopt three motions regarding COHO on April 26th.
In its current form, the proposal of the COHO Kingdom Act cannot remain on the table, Thode concluded. “That brings me to the question: how do we proceed now? Parliament agrees with the government of Curaçao and the Kingdom government that reforms are needed in the public sector to make our country more resilient.”
Thode pointed to the need for a multi-year investment programme and self-determination of Curaçao, which wants to implement reforms on its own, supported from a distance with advice and funding by the Netherlands.
According to Thode, a constructive debate must be held about “how we can sustainably improve the relationship within the kingdom with each other.”
In this context, there are three motions from the Senate and House of Representatives in The Hague – motion Rosenmuller in 2021, motion Van Raak et al from 2019, and the motion De Graaf et al from 2016. Together with the coalition agreement of the Dutch government and the debate around COHO, there is “a good basis to determine a joint future” in the opinion of the Parliament of Curaçao.
Joint planning of
The Parliament of St. Maarten has not taken a position on the draft COHO law as yet. “We are in the handling phase of this trajectory,” MP Rolando Brison said to the joint delegations at IPKO 2022, explaining that the Government of St. Maarten has publicly provided Parliament with a list of concerns that it still has with the draft.
“Some factions have already provided their points of concern or have given their full positions on the draft COHO as is,” Brison said. “The prime minister has stated in her public interpellation regarding the COHO that she felt under duress and pressure to accept the conditions due to the importance of liquidity support.”
Parliament under the guidance of the Kingdom Relations Committee decided to use different instruments in researching this draft, Brison said. “It is currently at the table at the parliament. We have not only requested advice from our Advisory Council, but we have also requested the Social Economic Council SER to give their view. And we have also had different experts come into the Parliament to discuss the pros and cons of this consensus kingdom law.
“I think it is important to emphasise the need for consensus,” Brison said. “The question can be asked if the planning of the handling of such a consensus kingdom law should not also happen in consensus.”
Brison thinks it is also necessary to analyse and review the interaction between the National Recovery Program Bureau (NRPB), World Bank and St. Maarten Government, to obtain answers to the question why the whole Trust Fund has not been disbursed for the recovery of St. Maarten.
“Close to five years ago, when this trust fund was established, no one would have expected that the progress would have been this slow.” St. Maarten needs to re-evaluate how the entire system of financing has worked out in the best interest of St. Maarten’s reconstruction, Brison stressed.
After a difficult formation process, the Netherlands has had a new government since January. According to Marielle Paul, leader of the Dutch delegation at IPKO 2022, the long wait for the formation hurt the public’s trust in the government. “In the battle to regain the trust of the citizen, we all have a responsibility, meaning the Cabinet, the implementing organisations and Parliament.”
Just like the islands, the Netherlands is also confronted with the consequences of the war between Russia and the Ukraine, all the more so since the Netherlands opened its borders to a stream of Ukrainian refugees. “This poses major challenges for Dutch society, seeing that many are still dealing with effects of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Paul said.
But she sees opportunities for the Kingdom. “During our working visits to the islands, we came across positive energy, resilience and decisiveness,” said Paul, for whom the Caribbean is new territory. “Everywhere we met resilient entrepreneurs who want to move forward with full force after COVID-19.”
Paul referred to a passage in the Dutch coalition agreement, “A better future for our Kingdom”. “The new government strikes a new tone, a foundation is being laid for mutual investment in the relations within our kingdom,” said Paul, who indicated on behalf of the Dutch delegation that she wanted to listen to what the countries have to say about COHO. “Points of concern. Any input you would like to give us is welcome.”
Asked about her personal views on COHO, Paul said she is convinced “something needs to be done.” It is important to “exchange as many ideas as possible,” so that the Dutch delegation can prepare properly for the treatment of COHO in the Senate and the House of Representatives, Paul concluded.
Source: The Daily Herald https://www.thedailyherald.sx/islands/no-to-coho-in-current-form-but-yes-to-structural-reforms