Published On: Thu, Mar 19th, 2020

We are all in the same boat

Global Village - Antilliaans Dagblad

By Hilbert Haar

We are all in the same boat and it is now a matter of rowing in the same direction. That’s the conclusion of an analysis published in the Antilliaans Dagblad (AD). The analysis is – like everything else these days – about the devastating effect of the corona-virus on the global economy and about the role the Kingdom of the Netherlands has to play (or should play) towards its overseas brethren in the Caribbean.

The AD writes that it expects the Netherlands to agree with supporting the Caribbean islands based on the calamity regulation because of damages caused by extraordinary events. Creating a fund that should provide assistance to corona-crisis victims is a second step.

And why not? The European Central Bank has launched an $820 billion emergency package to ease the impact of the corona-virus pandemic. President Christine Lagarde said according to a Reuters report that there are no limits to the central bank’s commitment to the euro. The ECB will buy government and company debts across the euro zone.

If European countries cannot handle this crisis alone, why would anybody expect this from St. Maarten, Aruba or Curacao?

St. Maarten is still reeling from the aftermath of Hurricane Irma and it already needs liquidity support from the Netherlands to keep the government apparatus afloat.

The corona-virus has created a completely new, and much darker, scenario. The cruise industry has shut down for 30 to 60 days, businesses have been forced to close their doors and stayover visitors are unable to enter the territory.

All this has a heavy impact, not only on the tourism industry but also on state revenue. Turnover tax will collapse, businesses and private citizens will soon be unable to pay their taxes, their mortgages or their personal loans. Let’s not even talk about disastrous unemployment numbers.

The AD analysis speaks in this context of the global village, a term coined by information age prophet Marshall McLuhan in the sixties and more recently defined by Thomas Friedman as “a world tied together into a single globalized marketplace and village.” In this sense the Caribbean islands in the kingdom are tied together with the Netherlands.

But will The Hague actually do something to at least soften the corona-virus blow to the islands? St. Maarten finds itself in a bit of a bind in this respect; to say that the Dutch don’t trust local politicians would be an understatement. The way the Netherlands made hurricane-assistance available through the World Bank trust fund speaks volumes in this respect.

So I do not expect the Netherlands to send a large sum of money overseas anytime soon. Forget it. But doing nothing is not an option either.

It is a bit early to state this, but suppose that the corona-virus crisis makes it impossible for the local government to guarantee fundamental human rights and freedoms, legal security and good governance? In such a situation article 43 of the Kingdom Charter ought to kick in. Guaranteeing these rights is the responsibility of the kingdom.

In spite of its best efforts, the government in Philipsburg has limited means at its disposal to weather this storm. The budget is already in deficit and reallocating the resources that are available is not as simple as it sounds because many budget posts are contract-bound. Suppose the government would stop paying rent for its administration building to SZV –how long can SZV continue without this revenue?

To the AD it is clear what needs to happen. The kingdom has to step up to the plate without hiding behind legal rules and bureaucratic procedures and it has to keep the control over its efforts.

But first and foremost, at least in my mind, Dutch decision makers will have to give at least an indication that the situation in the Caribbean has their attention, express their intentions and then take decisive action.

Photo caption: A deserted Hato Airport departure hall. Photo taken from AntilliaansDagblad.com.

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Related links:
Analysis Antilliaans Dagblad: ‘Global Village’; nu waarde Koninkrijk bewijzen