Published On: Tue, Aug 9th, 2022

Does the goal justify the means?

By Hilbert Haar

The jungle of rules facing foreign entrepreneurs in St. Maarten has a long history. The fear of a European invasion after the Second World War inspired local legislators to establish already in 1946 additional rules for foreign entrepreneurs that did not apply to their Antillean counterparts.

That this violates the constitutionally anchored prohibition of discrimination does not seem to bother anybody.

Back in the day, the legislator created these rules to protect Antillean entrepreneurs. Based on the Economic Research Foundation (SEO)-report about St. Maarten’s business climate, the distinction between those born in the Antilles and those outside of it is still in place. Nobody seems to wonder whether this distinction makes sense or what its possible consequences could be.

Not that it matters: if you swear to uphold the constitution when you take office it’s a bit stiff to violate one of its articles just because it pleases the local electorate.

The SEO-report found some data that are by now ten years old in the Economic Outlook 2012-2013 report. It showed for instance that only 21 percent of all employees were born in St. Maarten, while 15 percent was born on other Dutch Caribbean islands. The remaining 64 percent came from elsewhere.

It is a pity that the researchers did not figure out where the business-owners in St. Maarten come from. If those numbers mirror the percentages for employees the island has a serious problem. It would mean that almost four out of every five businesses belong to somebody who was not born in St. Maarten.

The question is obviously: does that matter? To politicians it apparently does. How often have we not heard one or more of them state in parliament that “St. Maarteners have to come first?” Never mind that the constitution for instance states (in article 17) that “all Dutch citizens are equally entitled to be appointed in public service.” Therefore, somebody born in, say, Groningen, has the same rights to a government-job as somebody born in Middle Region.

In the private sector other rules apply and based on the findings in the SEO-report, the government is still happily discriminating against those who are “not from here.”

One may well wonder why so many employees in the private sector are from elsewhere. I always thought that there is a work permit system in place that aims to protect local workers against foreign competition. Now we see that workers who were born elsewhere have come by the truckload to St. Maarten.

That begs the question whether the work permit system has failed (lack of enforcement or corruption) or whether there is something seriously wrong with the quality of our local workforce.

The question is also whether hampering the development of businesses operated by foreigners is doing the local population any good. Making doing business more costly usually results in higher consumer prices.

The government is constitutionally bound to make the livelihood of the population and the spread of wealth an issue of continuous attention (article 19). For this reason alone, the rules it keeps in place to frustrate the private sector are making no sense at all.

Not that this bothers our decision-makers. Apparently the goal still justifies the means. But does it, really?


Related article: Discrimination of non-Antilleans is a time-tested practice