Published On: Sun, May 17th, 2020

An unthinkable scenario

Government Administration Building with Flags- 20200220 JHBy Hilbert Haar

The conditions attached to the provision of continued liquidity support have put the government in a rather awkward position. Demanding a 25 percent salary cut for ministers and parliamentarians seems to be the least of all concerns: for ministers, it is just a small step from the 20 percent they already agreed to and parliamentarians will have a hard time objecting to a further cut in their income if this leaves their constituents without financial support.

In my opinion, there is nothing indecent about the above-mentioned part of the conditions. Our politicians had it coming for a very long time.

The trouble starts obviously with salary cuts for civil servants and for employees of government-owned companies. According to State Secretary Knops, these cost-cutting measures have to be applied to existing contracts. Is this political daydreaming?

While an agreement is an agreement (‘afspraak is afspraak‘), as the Dutch like to say, this also applies here: a contract is a contract.

Just suppose that the government has the balls to implement such a measure before the first of July. In that case, I foresee a run on the courthouse: the government will be buried in litigation for years to come.

Arguing about the obvious necessity of cost-cutting measures is all fine and dandy but I very much doubt whether this will fly in a court of law. I am not an attorney but I figure that judges will look at the law first and at political power plays later.

Maybe the government can impose these salary cuts right now, but the measure could come back to haunt them after these dramas have played out in a courtroom.

Ah. What is the alternative? As things stand now, there isn’t any I can think of. If the government does not agree to the conditions, the kingdom will not provide liquidity support. According to financial supervisor Cft, the government’s coffers will be virtually empty by July 1; and then what?

Let us not forget that the unions have a role to play in this circus as well. Surely, they will stand up for the rights of their members, but what is the price they are going to pay for it? A massive refusal to play ball could result in an evenly massive walk-out of civil servants, thereby paralyzing the government apparatus.

That would send a message of course, but it still would not bring in the badly needed financial support from the Netherlands. And if the government runs out of money, civil servants can sit at home all they want but they will not receive a penny anymore.

It is an unthinkable scenario, so it behooves all players to come to their senses – not only in St. Maarten but also on the other side of the ocean. What is feasible and what isn’t?

If you want civil servants and employees of government-owned companies to give up something, our decision-makers will have to lead by example. Politicians will have to make a move that will inspire others to follow suit.

Instead of bickering about the demand for a 25 percent cut in their income, politicians could take it to the next level and say: we can do 40 percent. I don’t see that happening but I know one thing for sure: resisting without offering viable alternatives will get us nowhere.


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