Judging by how this week’s meeting of Prime Minister Silveria Jacobs and Finance Minister Ardwell Irion with Dutch State Secretary of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Raymond Knops went, one could conclude that relations between Philipsburg and The Hague are not exactly at a high point. St. Maarten’s Parliament seeking advice on completing the decolonisation process makes it seem even worse, but that is not necessarily true, because these two issues – in principle – have little to do with each other.
In the former case it regards much-needed coronavirus liquidity loans support, for which the Netherlands is setting difficult conditions that the local government is struggling to meet by the deadlines set, but the intention is clearly to comply. Perhaps it was not the best moment to bring up failure by the Netherlands to subscribe to a capital investment bond for St. Maarten as agreed, despite having the required approval of the Committee for Financial Supervision CFT; however, the matter has already been pending for some time.
One cannot overlook either that Knops is in a bit of hot water these days regarding controversy surrounding the building of his farm in the Limburg municipality where he served as councillor. That extra stress may have played a role in his – as Jacobs and Irion described it – “unbecoming manner,” although there is certainly no excuse for disrespectful behaviour.
A letter about the incident was sent to Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who chairs the Kingdom Council of Ministers, and Minister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Kajsa Ollongren. She is technically Knops’ superior even though they have delineated tasks.
This would be a good moment for her to get more involved in the present dealings with the Dutch Caribbean countries to – if nothing else – diffuse some tension and help make the atmosphere less toxic. After all, Curaçao Prime Minister Eugene Rhuggenaath too complained about feeling treated like a messenger boy by the state secretary, who – in fairness to him – is also quite busy with the so-called BES islands (Bonaire, St. Eustatius, Saba) these days.
As for further decolonisation and calls for a round table conference (RTC), there is nothing wrong in talking about possible full independence in the future, so long as one thing is abundantly clear: Only the people – not just politicians – can decide on any change to their constitutional status in a consultative referendum and both earlier editions did not result in even close to a winning vote for the independence option.
Here again, how the entire matter is presented, in a business-like or rhetoric-filled emotional way, could be a big factor in its reception by The Hague. As the saying goes, the tone sets the music.