State Secretary Raymond Knops (right) greets Members of the Second Chamber Attje Kuiken (second from left), André Bosman (left) and Ronald van Raak (second from right) at the start of Tuesday’s handling of the draft 2020 Kingdom Relations budget. (Suzanne Koelega photo)
THE HAGUE--Dutch State Secretary of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Raymond Knops is not inclined to intervene in St. Maarten’s political crisis. “I am more in favour of cooperation between the countries within the Kingdom than a forceful intervention by the Kingdom,” he said.
Knops supplied answers in writing on Tuesday, the day of handling the 2020 budget for Kingdom Relations in the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament, to the written questions that Members of the Second Chamber Chris van Dam of the Christian Democratic Party CDA and André Bosman of the liberal democratic VVD party had submitted after the fall of the Romeo-Marlin government.
Stable government is an indispensable prerequisite to tackle St. Maarten’s challenges, especially those that are the result of Hurricane Irma that devastated the island in September 2017, said Knops in response to Van Dam’s and Bosman’s question about now-caretaker Prime Minister Leona Romeo-Marlin’s September 23 speech.
“The Romeo-Marlin government made an effort in the past two years, under sometimes very difficult circumstances, to offer this stability. The Dutch government has continuously very much appreciated this. I regret that the government has fallen in an atmosphere of political crisis. It remains to be seen whether this political situation shows a lack of integrity or a despising of the Constitution and the separation of powers,” said Knops.
Because St. Maarten is an autonomous country within the Kingdom, he said it behoved him to be careful in his judgement about the reasons for the situation that has evolved. “But there is reason for concern and alertness. That is why the Dutch government is keeping a close watch on the situation, especially because of our involvement in the reconstruction and the strengthening of the constitutional state in St. Maarten.”
Knops said it was correct that the autonomous position of the Dutch Caribbean countries was “not without limit.” He explained that based on Article 43 of the Charter, the Kingdom was responsible for guaranteeing the values of fundamental rights, legal security and good governance.
Based on the autonomous position of the countries and the right of self-determination, the guarantee function in the Charter requires careful use. “An intervention by the Kingdom can only take place under exceptional circumstances.”
The constitutional relations do not mean that the Kingdom and the Netherlands as biggest partner should not remain alert, Knops said. Where there is reason to believe that the democratic state of law is in a precarious situation, as unfortunately is currently the case in St. Maarten, the Kingdom government or the Netherlands is obliged to do whatever is possible to help improve the situation, he noted.
As such, the Netherlands has been working together with St. Maarten authorities by contributing to the strengthening of the constitutional state in the area of security and law enforcement, the strengthening of border control and the establishing of an Integrity Chamber.
Knops explained that classic supervision regulations in the Charter are present in Article 50, the right to annul decisions, and Article 51, a neglect of tasks regime. Both procedures can only be used if the democratic state of law is in “severe and acute danger” and St. Maarten’s constitutional institutions are unable to intervene. These articles have to be used with great restraint, stated Knops. “The point of departure remains St. Maarten’s autonomous status within the Kingdom.”
Responding to the question by Van Dam and Bosman whether he was willing to “consider unorthodox measures” to protect the St. Maarten people, Knops stated that “naturally the Dutch government prepared itself for all sorts of situations.” “I cannot anticipate [the answer to – Ed.] the question what we will do exactly at that point.”
Possible decision-taking by the Kingdom government will always have to take place within the constitutional framework. “An intervention by the Kingdom involves very cautious treading. I have more faith in cooperation between the countries within the Kingdom than a forceful intervention by the Kingdom – naturally, only if the circumstances allow such,” Knops concluded his letter.
Several Members of the Second Chamber expressed their deep concern about the political situation in St. Maarten during the handling of the draft 2020 budget for Kingdom Relations on Tuesday.
“The majority of the St. Maarten politicians don’t want anyone from the Netherlands to look over their shoulders. They don’t want expertise from the Netherlands or Schiphol Airport. And who suffers from this attitude? The St. Maarten people,” said André Bosman.
“I have never been this sombre about St. Maarten. There are too many politicians who are obstructing good governance and positive development, too many politicians who have been arrested, investigated and convicted.
“I was hopeful after Hurricane Irma. We contributed a lot, only under the condition that the money would not end up in the wrong pockets. But the bad politicians are blocking projects. Fraud and corruption have become the way of making money for many St. Maarten politicians,” said Ronald van Raak of the Socialist Party (SP).
Antje Diertens of the Democratic Party D66 said the St. Maarten people should not become victims of the political situation.
Attje Kuiken of the Labour Party asked Knops how he would ensure that the reconstruction projects would continue. She hinted at a specific intervention in this regard by the Kingdom Council of Ministers.
Stieneke van der Graaf of the ChristianUnion said her party had warm feelings for the Kingdom and its people. “But I am very concerned about the situation in St. Maarten. I hope that good forces will rise which will serve in the best interest of the people.” She said it was a good thing that new political parties would be able to participate in the upcoming elections. “The people deserve a good and honest government.”