That the draft Kingdom Act Caribbean Body for Reform and Development COHO raises issues regarding its compatibility with the Kingdom Charter, according to the Council of State, does not mean agreements made with Curaçao, Aruba and St. Maarten on restructuring measures in exchange for more coronavirus-related financial assistance are off the table. In fact, the advisory body backs the goal to make their economies and public finances healthy, strengthen their public administrations and improve the circumstances of their people.
The council even calls it “self-evident” that the Netherlands imposes conditions on granting aid to the islands and links this to a reform programme. However, it finds the approach taken by caretaker State Secretary of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations BZK Raymond Knops “unfitting” and doubts whether the chosen set-up would lead to successful results.
Knops is advised not to present the bill in its current form to the four Parliaments in the kingdom, because it falls short. The fear is that giving far-reaching powers to a group of Dutch civil servants will weaken the three Caribbean countries’ autonomy and governing force, rather than the intended strengthening of their capacity.
The division of responsibilities and authorities between COHO and the respective governments as well as the Committee for Financial Supervision CFT is unclear. The new body would have far-reaching powers that also belong to local government, while the council at the same time questioned COHO’s role as a (Dutch) independent administrative body because it “functions to a large extent under the direction” of the BZK ministry in The Hague.
The Minister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations is not only placed above the COHO, but also above the national governments of the countries concerned. The council believes the bill offers the Netherlands too much possibility to change the rules of the game along the way as well, because the conditions for further support can be unilaterally adjusted in the meantime.
Another point of criticism is that the Caribbean countries have little influence on the composition of the board and that is bad for the support base. Ultimately, the decision on what to do with the advice rests with the Kingdom Council of Ministers: either ignore it –based on legitimate arguments – or amend the law proposal to address the concerns expressed.
But COHO is merely an instrument to oversee execution of the “country packages” of measures. Considering that preparations for such have already started in Philipsburg with the so-called Temporary Work Organisation (TWO) as predecessor to the COHO, there is no good reason to delay the scheduled implementation and much-needed accompanying financing.