Published On: Mon, Sep 28th, 2020

What is the best short term solution for the islands?

Dear Sir,
All political positions and posturing are supported by broad supportive beliefs that are held in the communities which the politicians represent. Does this explain how we are ending up with islands in the Dutch Kingdom not being able to make an agreement on a desperately needed liquidity injection from Kingdom partner Holland?

Talk to many people in the islands and there is the belief that Holland is trying to exploit a situation in the Caribbean part of the Kingdom which they should not be exploiting. Yes, they will say there has been mismanagement in the Caribbean, but there has also been a spate of bad luck like hurricanes and oil refineries closing. They will tell you that sovereignty should not be tampered with and that the political rights should not be limited by Holland and that Holland wants to take over the islands. Some will tell you that the Dutch are colonialists by nature and what they are doing is simply a continuation of the mindset that drove slavery in the first place.

Now hop on that airplane to Holland and get in conversation with your average Dutchman. He will tell you that he would support his tax money going to the islands but that if it is being misused, then this is no longer an option. Does he want to have the islands taken over by Dutch administration? Not unless there are no other options. Does he accept that his government is doing something akin to early colonialism and slavery? He will tell you that Holland has spent huge amounts of money supporting third world development, and he cannot believe that this is the mindset of his country.

The conversation lacks empathy from both sides. The chosen focusses are widely apart. The positions remain far apart, no matter how much talking is done.

Clearly, the situation that has developed in the matter of liquidity support would not have occurred if there was not a Raymond Knops. Previous office holders of his position have always been more compromising. There are reasons to doubt whether the challenging support offer made to the islands would have been made if someone other than Knops was in the position. But what is special is that Knops has got such broad support in the 2nd chamber for the quite unusual demands being made. How did that happen?
It is probably because of the many years of failure that was experienced when Dutch taxpayer money was directed at correcting things in the islands. At least that is the view in the Dutch political circles. The view in the islands was inevitably always based on lower expectations and a mindset that never expected results at a level and focus that was dreamt of in Holland.

If there was a strong brightening light at the end of the economic tunnel, then the relationship within the Kingdom could be modified so that these challenges did not repeat themselves and greater separation take place. But the contrary is true. The islands are likely to build up deficits and debt for some years, even with the best possible restarts of the economy. Oil is not likely to be anything close to what it used to be. Tourism, even with a return to previous levels, by itself remains a highly vulnerable economic activity. Replacing Holland with China will not provide any certainty of a better future. CARICOM or OECS would be a costly alternative that would not resolve liquidity issues.

Which leads us to the tough conclusion that in the short term, the best tiny flickering light in the islands economic potential tunnel lies in getting the communities that support the political negotiators around the table where decisions relating to short term liquidity support are made, to get them to see the “other side” in a different light to what it is at present. No openings are currently in sight.

If the present coalitions on the different islands make an agreement with Holland, it is very likely that at the next elections, they will be penalized for doing so. That will find Knops (or his successor) confronted with kingdom partners with every motivation to resist the success of the unusual reform entity that Knops is planning to set up.

There is clearly a “stalemate” like in chess. The difference is that in chess, a stalemate means starting a new game. In the social-economic reality of the Dutch Caribbean islands, it means even greater costs and consequences for the island countries concerned.

Robbie Ferron