Published On: Sun, Apr 24th, 2022

Reform or referendum?

By Hilbert Haar

Member of Parliament Grisha Heyliger-Marten is sending mixed and confusing messages through her most recent letter to Prime Minister Silveria Jacobs. So maybe it is time to clarify a couple of things.

What I get from MP Heyliger-Marten’s latest letter is that she opposes the establishment of the COHO, the Caribbean Organization for Reform and Development. That much, at least, is clear.

What I do not understand is why she would still be interested, as she is now requesting from the government, in “a written overview and plan of action.” With regard to which trajectory she wants to obtain this overview remains unclear.

Interestingly, MP Heyliger-Marten is convinced that the draft COHO law should not be supported by the Parliament of St. Maarten. There is no need to establish the COHO, she states elsewhere in her letter, dated April 21.

So what is the alternative? The good MP has a solution: after rambling on about scandals that are costing the Dutch tax payers so much that the country is no longer “in a position to implement and staff a COHO that will function in the best interest of St. Maarten” (as if the Dutch state is close to bankruptcy) she turns to the crux of the matter with a by now familiar theme: achieving “a full measure of self-government through constitutional reform.”

MP Heyliger-Marten notes that she picked up a couple of useful clues during parliamentary meetings in Panama and Argentina. These meetings have convinced her that “the only way for St. Maarten to achieve its development objectives and ambitions is by ensuring true capacity building outside of the Kingdom of the Netherlands based on a full measure of self-government.”

There you have it: MP Heyliger Marten wants the country to leave the Kingdom to obtain something it already has: a full measure of self-government. At least, that’s the way I see it.

St. Maarten is, and always has been, in control of its own destiny. Its current status is the result of a constitutional referendum that took place in 2000. A vast majority of the voters said at the time that it wanted to remain in the Kingdom as an autonomous country.

Sure, twenty years have gone by and perspectives change. No doubt about it. But to make it look like St. Maarten needs constitutional reform to realize its objectives is ludicrous. The country is, and always has been, free to leave the Kingdom. It does not take a phone call to The Hague, as Prime Minister Mark Rutte once infamously suggested. No, no. What is takes is another constitutional referendum that gives the population the opportunity to express its opinion about a different constitutional status.

Guess who has to call such a referendum? Right: the Parliament.

The question is therefore why the Parliament is not doing this. In my opinion, the answer is simple: politicians fear the result of such a referendum. They love talking about leaving the Kingdom, but they hate walking the talk.

I absolutely support the principle that people have the right to choose their own destiny. If the good citizens of St. Maarten voted to leave the Kingdom in another referendum: so be it, and I would wish them all the best.

As long as politicians keep sitting on the fence, confusing the people with nonsensical letters to the prime minister (and immediately releasing them to the media) without taking the required action to make something – anything! – happen, St. Maarten will remain a rather unwilling part of the Dutch Kingdom while its politicians conveniently forget to ask themselves what is really the best option for all those people who call St. Maarten their home.


Related link: Letter MP Grisha Heyliger-Marten to Prime Minister Silveria Jacobs