Published On: Thu, Nov 1st, 2018

The language issue myth

By Hilbert Haar

Interestingly, MP Frans Richardson once more brought up the issue of the Dutch language in a meeting of parliament on Wednesday. The occasion was a presentation by the Progress Committee about the situation at the police force and the Pointe Blanche prison.

It is really odd how parliamentarians are able to rail with a straight face against things they – or their predecessors – have themselves agreed to. MP Richardson is a prime example but I seem to remember that MP Christophe Emmanuel also has a problem with Dutch.

But to identify, as MP Richardson did, the Dutch language – or the apparent problem people have with that tongue – as one of the reasons why the police and the prison are understaffed is quite ridiculous.

It is true that mastering the Dutch language is a requirement if you want to become a police officer or a prison guard – or a member of the Coast Guard, for that matter.

Why is this? Because our legislation is in the Dutch language. All laws – with the exception of a few that have been translated into English – are in Dutch. And even then: in case of doubt or dispute, the Dutch version of these laws prevails.

Richardson and other MPs make it look like the Dutch language is like Chinese to most people. But it cannot be all that difficult for determined people to learn that language. It is apparently beyond MP Emmanuel but alright, that’s not the issue here.

When I was 45, I decided to immigrate to Greece. Half a year before my departure I began to study that language – every evening, every weekend. Relentless. After half a year I still could not speak the language but at least I understood the basics and I was able to communicate with my Greek neighbors in my new country.

Locals who dream of a job within the police, the prison or the Coast Guard have to make an effort to meet the requirements. It is never gonna be like, I could not play the game so I had to change the rules.

No my friends, the rules have always been there and you can be aware of them from the day you start Kindergarten.

Now, of course, I am damn well aware that children in our schools do have language issues. They either do not master Dutch, or their English is very bad, or they only speak another language.

If the education system is the problem, parliament has the power to do something about it. If you want to give your constituents a shot at a decent job that requires mastering the Dutch language, then make sure the schools offer programs that meet these needs.

Nobody is going to tell me – after my journey through the Greek language that I could not even read in the beginning – that it is impossible for kids to learn Dutch in preparation for future careers.

So the cheap cries of politicians about this language issue are just that – very cheap. And as former MP Leroy de Weever once famously said in parliament: cheap no good, good no cheap.

Politicians are not only there to identify problems, their constituents also expect solutions from them. I am not here to solve these issues or to tell anybody what to do. I am just a baffled observer who wonders why politicians do not take action when they see a problem. Like, shake up the education system in such a way that this language problem goes away once and for all.

Let us not forget that the same politicians who are crying wolf now over this issue are the same ones who approved a constitution that mentions Dutch and English as the country’s official languages.

The same is true for the constant whining about financial supervision and the perceived trouble this institution causes the country when it comes to borrowing money. The Cft is not an invention from outer space, but it is something local politicians have agreed to in exchange for obtaining so-called country status.

In my opinion, the Cft has protected St. Maarten and its citizens from financial disasters. If a St. Maarten member of the Cft – if I remember correctly this was Richard Gibson Sr. – had not objected so fiercely, former Justice Minister Roland Duncan would have borrowed something like $100 million against outrageous interest rates back in the day to build a new prison.

Politicians are fond of such pipedreams. They think that borrowing money will solve all their problems while in reality the solution lies much closer to responsible financial management. Part of that management would be a review of the salaries members of parliament take home – those are also ridiculous. Once they have cleaned up their own house, we’ll talk again – about the Dutch language and about borrowing money.