Published On: Thu, Oct 14th, 2021

Political pipedreams

By Hilbert Haar

The Central Plan Bureau in the Netherlands routinely analyses election programs of political parties before an election takes place. Such analyses show whether these programs are financially feasible, or not. During the last Inter-Parliamentary Kingdom Consultation (IPKO) in Bonaire, members of the permanent parliamentary committee for Kingdom Relations asked whether the CPB is prepared to do the same in the run-up to elections in St. Maarten, Curacao and Aruba.

State Secretary Drs. Raymond Knops wrote in answer to this question that such a CPB-analysis “requires profound knowledge of the macro-economic, financial and legal context of each country.” The CPB does not have that information, Knops noted.

“If St. Maarten, Curacao or Aruba find a suitable independent institute prepared to analyze local election programs, the CPB can provide technical assistance. What that assistance will look like depends on the request from each country.”

The question and the answer from the State Secretary both come at an appropriate time for St. Maarten where former Member of Parliament Luc Mercelina just launched a new political party: USRM – short for Unified Resilient Sint Maarten Movement.

Mercelina is a former deputy leader of the United People’s party (UP) and a former member of parliament for the United Democrats (UD), the short-lived combination of the UP with the Democratic Party.

In September 2019, Mercelina brought down the government of Leona Marlin. In the elections that followed in January 2020, he lost his seat in parliament, finishing sixth on the list of the UP with 249 votes after Grisha Heyliger (656 votes), Rolando Brison (485), Omar Ottley (420), Sidharth Bijlani (291) and Ludmila de Weever (266).

Because the UP won just four seats in the January 2020 elections, Mercelina had to stay on the sidelines. On September 13, 2021, he withdrew his membership from the UP.

During the presentation of his party, Mercelina promised change and he presented a long list of initiatives he said he is going to undertake.

What was missing from that list was obviously a financial paragraph. Mercelina promised for instance an increase of the minimum wage and an increase of the old age pension, without indicating how he intends to pay for it. Other plans that require funding are the establishment of a high level hotel vocational academy and of an environmental police force.

While the Central Bank just released a study indicating that dollarizing is not a good idea, Mercelina wants to dollarize the country. He wants a focus on (expensive) US pre-clearance and the ability to borrow money on international financial markets.

That last idea is surely going to be costly. Currently the Netherlands subscribes to (CFT-approved) loans against an extremely low interest rate. International lenders will confront St. Maarten with much higher interest rates.

Then there are two issues that do not square with each other. Mercelina wants to introduce English as the first language in schools. At the same time he wants to “add Caribbean flavor” to the judicial system by stimulating youngsters to go to law school and get trained to become prosecutors. This is a typical example of a job that requires mastery of the Dutch language (since all legislation is written in Dutch and that mastery of this language surely is a job-requirement).

Mercelina made also a claim during his presentation that is difficult to judge on merits. The new party-leader said that 29 percent of the population is living “under the poverty norm.” But what exactly is the poverty norm? This issue has been discussed forever in St. Maarten and nobody has ever come up with a clear definition.

For all these reasons analyzing election programs (not only the plans of Mercelina) sounds like a good idea. Politicians have a tendency to promise the electorate the earth. Is there an independent and suitable institute capable of analyzing these political pipedreams with the assistance of the CPB? I honestly don’t know, but I more or less expect some noise on this issue from the Party for Progress – not from any other political party.