Published On: Sat, May 23rd, 2020

Political storm brewing over “unconditional” letter of Minister Plenipotentiary

Government Building Flags Half-mast

PHILIPSBURG – There is a political storm brewing over a letter Minister Plenipotentiary René Violenus sent to State Secretary Drs. Raymond Knops on May 20, informing him that St. Maarten has accepted the requirements for liquidity support unconditionally. These conditions include a 12.5 percent cut in the labor conditions for employees in the (semi) public sector.

Did Violenus act solo when he sent this letter? Did he send the letter at the instructions of Prime Minister Silveria Jacobs? Violenus apparently claims that he acted solo, but others maintain that the instruction came from the Prime Minister and that she did not inform the Council of Ministers about it. While Jacobs is taking flak for the letter, Violenus seems to be protecting her by taking responsibility.

The Council of Ministers and the governing coalition are apparently in uproar about this. While it cannot fire the minister plenipotentiary, it does have the power to send the prime minister packing.

In this context, the letter Jacobs sent to Knops on May 20 sheds some light on the situation. Jacobs does express her dissatisfaction with the process, but ultimately she wrote: “….the proposal of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, along with the conditions, is hereby accepted.”

That was not the whole sentence though. Jacobs added for good measure: “…insofar as it does not violate local, kingdom or international laws.”

To which Knops responded in a letter on the same day: “I agree that there cannot be any conflict with Kingdom or international legislation.”

Knops nevertheless felt the need to ask whether Jacobs’ letter had to be read as an unconditional acceptance of the liquidity support conditions. In his letter, Violenus confirmed on behalf of the Prime Minister that this is indeed the case.

Jacobs’ remark about accepting conditions as long as they do not violate any law was a way of honoring a motion tabled in parliament by UP-MP Grisha Heyliger-Marten. Given Knops’ response, this remark quickly became a moot point. Still, right now it is a bone of contention between Jacobs and Violenus on one side and the Council of Ministers and the Parliament on the other side.

St. Maarten has now unconditionally agreed with the conditions for liquidity support. And while the Kingdom will immediately transfer 24 million guilders, transfer of the remaining 29 million (earmarked for payroll subsidy) is dependent on the adequate implementation of measures that will affect employees.

The public and private sector labor unions indicated in a statement that they oppose the 12.5 percent cut in the labor conditions for civil servants.

“The pandemic must not be used as an excuse to cut salaries and benefits from workers,” the statement reads. The unions consider such a cut as “a violation of human and trade union rights” and even state that the measure “constitutes an act of racial discrimination and apartheid.” The unions make clear that they are not ready to contribute: “Our members need every penny they work hard for.”

Knops wrote in a letter to Violenus that the route to emergency legislation is open for St. Maarten “to do what must be done.”

The financial aid coming to St. Maarten will enable the government to keep functioning until the end of June. Further financial support hinges on decisions about salary cuts (25 percent for ministers and parliamentarians and 12.5 percent for employees in the (semi) public sector) and a cap on top salaries of 130 percent of the adjusted income of the prime minister. St. Maarten also must implement the increase of the retirement age from 62 to 65 by July 1.