When a petition was recently submitted to the United Nations (UN) on behalf of Parliament accusing the Netherlands of racial discrimination against the people of St. Maarten and using coronavirus-related financial assistance as tool to practise such, many feared the worst, and that is exactly what happened. The Kingdom Council of Ministers (see related story) halted liquidity support for the second quarter.
This means that – unless something changes – the government in Philipsburg will not get some 39 million Antillean guilders in soft loans needed to fund its operations, preserve jobs with wage subsidies to companies and provide loss-of-income compensation to individuals for April, May and June. Nothing was said about planned Dutch investments in, among other things, a new prison and one would hope emergency relief aid to thousands of households living in poverty has not been placed at risk.
However, the livelihood of practically all inhabitants very much is. According to the most recent figures published in the Friday/Saturday newspaper, 825 businesses received in total close to NAf. 72 million through the St. Maarten Stimulus and Relief Plan (SSRP) last year, representing a monthly average of 4,894 employees.
Although numbers tapered off near the end of 2020, it still involved 3,758 bread-earners last December. Considering the limited recovery of the tourism economy during the first quarter of 2021 that number is probably not much lower for January through March, and without their taxes and social premiums public finances will quickly deteriorate even more.
The 12 Members of Parliament (MPs) who signed on to this ill-conceived petition, particularly its initiators President of Parliament Rolando Brison and UP faction leader Grisha Heyliger-Marten, must now seek a quick way out of the mess their ill-conceived move has put the entire country in. The people never voted – neither in referenda nor elections – for such a direct confrontation with The Hague certainly at this critical time when the community so badly depends on help from the Netherlands.
A discussion on whether the decolonisation process has been completed together with the Parliaments of Curaçao and Aruba as originally announced is one thing, internationally accusing the Dutch government of systematic racism with what amounts to a discrimination complaint at the UN quite another.
This must be rectified in the interest of the population’s immediate wellbeing, and it needs to be done now.