Published On: Fri, Mar 19th, 2021

State Secretary Knops: “Fight against poverty is the responsibility of St. Maarten”

THE HAGUE — State Secretary Raymond Knops (Kingdom Relations) resolutely dismisses the notion that financial support for the inhabitants of St. Maarten is a form of suppression, racism and colonialism, as a petition the Parliament of Sint Maarten submitted to the United Nations suggest.

Answering questions from Dutch Second Chamber parliamentarian Ronald van Raak (Socialist Party), Knops wrote: “Suppression, racism and colonialism are serious abuses. I absolutely do not share this opinion. The Netherlands supports Sint Maarten and the other countries in the Kingdom in the context of the consequences of the worldwide crisis that has come into being because of the COVID-19 pandemic. This support is financial as well as material and consists next to liquidity support of the provision of medical personnel, medical supplies, and food support for those who have been affected the most by this crisis.

But the state secretary hedges his bets at the question whether he is prepared to suspend support and to talk with the parliament about the feasibility of the support-plans. “I hope that it does not have to come to suspending the sorely needed support for the citizens of St. Maarten. Nevertheless, I share the opinion that political support is necessary to continue on the chosen path.”

The petition St. Maarten’s parliament submitted to the United Nations shows that “a majority in the parliament of St. Maarten turns away from the proposed kingdom law COHO and its associated country package,” Knops points out, adding that he has asked Prime Minister Jacobs for a clarification and a reconfirmation of the support from her government and the parliament. “As long as those statements are not there, suspending support remains a possibility.”

Related article: Knops hints at termination of liquidity support

Van Raak also jumped on the independence-bandwagon, asking Knops whether he is prepared to ask St. Maarten to organize a referendum.

That is not going to happen: “It is not up to me to initiate a process towards independence for St. Maarten. This initiative has to come from St. Maarten. The choice for leaving the kingdom is the most fundamental constitutional decision a Caribbean country can make, but they decide this unilaterally. Based on unwritten kingdom law this does not require permission from the Netherlands and therefore we have to exercise restraint in this respect.”

Knops also answered written questions from VVD-parliamentarian André Bosman about the UN-petition. The State Secretary notes that the petition has not been submitted on behalf of Bonaire, Saba, Statia, Curacao and Aruba and that, as far as he knows, the government of St. Maarten has not expressed its support for the petition.

Knops dismisses allegations in the petition that the COHO (the Caribbean Reform and Development Entity) is a “neocolonial fiscal authority that shoves a democratically elected government aside.”

“The COHO will not be established to shove a democratically elected government aside. It aims to support St. Maarten with the execution of administrative reforms, the realization of sustainable and viable public finances and strengthening the resilience of the economy. This includes the necessary strengthening of the rule of law. There is no resilient economy due to the long-time absence of necessary reforms. As a result, the consequences of the COVID 19-pandemic have hit the country hard.”

Knops also disagrees with the petition’s notion that “the Kingdom’s treatment of the overwhelmingly white population of the Netherlands is far superior than its treatment of the people of African descent and other racial and ethnic minorities that comprise the considerable majority of the three Caribbean islands.”

“Since October 2010 St. Maarten and Curacao are autonomous countries within the Kingdom of the Netherlands with their own constitutional order and their own responsibilities. Aruba already had this status. The economic situation in these countries differs and that can result in differences in the economic position of citizens. That has nothing to do with racial inequality.”

Knops furthermore confirms that St. Maarten’s financial troubles already existed before Hurricane Irma and before the COVID-19 pandemic. “The evaluation committee kingdom law financial supervision concludes in its report from 2018 that St. Maarten did not meet the financial standards of article 15 Rft in the period 2015-2017 and that therefore the financial supervision cannot be terminated. The committee wrote that St. Maarten is struggling with payment arrears and increasing budget deficits and that the public finances are of a worrisome level.  From 10-10-10 until Hurricane Irma St. Maarten achieved no result in improving the country’s financial-economic situation.”

The petition’s allegation that St. Maarten is incurring heavier debts because of the financing by the Dutch government does not make a lot of sense either it appears from Knops’ answer to Bosman. “Before the COVID-19 pandemic St. Maarten could borrow from external financiers if their offer was equal to or better than the offer from the Netherlands. In practice, it appears that the offer from the Netherlands is always better because this way St. Maarten can use the credit rating of the Netherlands.”

Knops points out that St. Maarten borrows interest-free from the Netherlands for its liquidity support and that borrowing on international financial markets would have resulted in a higher national debt.

Bosman also asked Knops about the responsibility for social affairs and the fight against poverty. That belongs fair and square to St. Maarten: it is an autonomous country with its own responsibility for these issues. “The Netherlands is not responsible.”

St. Maarten cannot unilaterally opt for a different form of self-government within the Kingdom. “That requires the cooperation and the approval of the other kingdom-countries.”

Independence is a different matter: the Kingdom will have to go along if St. Maarten wishes to go that route. “The country has the right to unilaterally determine that it wants to leave the legal order of the kingdom. The choice for independence must be established in a way that is embedded in sufficient democratic guarantees and the implementation will have to take place in agreement with the other countries in the kingdom. But this implementation, that requires a change to the Kingdom Charter, cannot stand in the way of the realization of independence.”

Knops will however not take the lead for talks about independence, because that initiative has to come from St. Maarten.


Related articles:
Knops hints at termination of liquidity support
Emmanuel: Prime Minister must explain her position on petition
The answer is clear: Parliament opposes conditions for liquidity support