CKAIR Chairperson William Marlin at the opening of IPKO.
THE HAGUE--Members of the Parliaments of Aruba, Curaçao and St. Maarten during the opening of the Inter-parliamentary Consultation of the Kingdom IPKO on Wednesday, expressed in no uncertain terms their dissatisfaction with the Dutch conditions that have been attached to liquidity support during the coronavirus crisis.
“Conditions are forced down our throats to accept much-needed financial assistance,” stated Chairperson of the St. Maarten Parliament’s Committee for Kingdom Affairs and Inter-parliamentary Relations (CKAIR) William Marlin (National Alliance).
Marlin said that while French St. Martin got direct assistance from Paris and the European Union (EU), the Dutch side was “struggling and fighting” with the Netherlands. “Conditions are placed upon us. We are being forced to accept conditions rather than having a dialogue between the governments as to our needs and how we can help each other.”
Chairperson of the Committee for Kingdom Relations of the Curaçao Parliament, Stephen Walroud (PAR party) said that the conditions tied to liquidity support were not only stringent, but “as we go along, presented as take it or leave it.” He said Curaçao was in survival mode and the collective standard of living had drop to a bare minimum.
“But not everything can be done simultaneously,” he said, referring to the severe cost-cutting measures and salary cuts. “It has to remain bearable for the people. Otherwise people will lose hope and mass migration will follow. Some patience is needed. Arrogance, impatience, pedantic behaviour and forcing things through too roughly, are out of place. Having consideration for each other and truly assisting each other works better,” stated Walroud.
Chairperson of the Committee for Kingdom Relations of the Aruba Parliament, Rocco Tjon (MEP party) emphasised that the corona crisis could never be used to tear apart Aruba’s autonomous position in the Kingdom. In this regard, he was highly critical of the recent remark by State Secretary of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Raymond Knops that this crisis had shown that the Dutch Caribbean countries were unable to handle their autonomy.
“It is a mistaken assumption that Aruba cannot carry its autonomy. We have been a country since 1986 and we did not receive debt relief in 2010. Besides that, the government has been complying with the budget requirements and we did manage a surplus in 2019. The state secretary’s comments are completely unjust, incorrect and surely unethical,” said Tjon.
During the virtual opening of the IPKO on Wednesday, the representatives of the four Parliaments gave an update on the state of affairs in their countries and the enormous impact of the current pandemic, especially on the small Dutch Caribbean economies.
Marlin said St. Maarten was suffering a “double whammy” because the country was still dealing with the effects of the devastating September 2017 Hurricane Irma. He was critical of the current Trust Fund structure with the World Bank acting as intermediary.
“If it is not broken, do not fix it,” Marlin said, referring to the much smoother reconstruction period after the 1995 Hurricane Luis with one local coordinator and a back office in the Netherlands. “Now we have a completely different construction with a World Bank that has bureaucratic, complex and time-consuming working methods.”
According to Marlin, the funds have certainly not benefitted the St. Maarten people. “The reality is that people have virtually received nothing. Homes are still without roofs. Schools and shelters have not been repaired. The money is in Washington banks, but not on people’s roofs.”
Due to time constraints and Internet woes, Marlin was unable to give an update on how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted St. Maarten. Tjon of Aruba said that unemployment had risen from 7.3 per cent in 2019 to 77 per cent per June 2020, and that more than 25,000 people were without a job. “We are very dependent on tourism. Thankfully, our borders will be reopening soon under a strict protocol.”
Walroud said unemployment in Curaçao was now around 50 per cent. He said the food bank had been working around the clock to provide food parcels for the neediest. He warned of a “total implosion” of both the private and public sectors. “We will have to strip away all luxuries.”
Chairperson of the Committee for Kingdom Relations of the First Chamber of the Dutch Parliament, Paul Rosenmöller described the developments in the Netherlands since early March. He said that at seven to eight per cent, the unemployment rate was much lower than on the islands, but that the crisis was affecting many people in the Netherlands and the national debt was growing fast.
Rosenmöller said that in these times of crisis, it was important to support one another in the Kingdom. He said it was customary to set conditions. The Netherlands did the same for financial support within the EU. He agreed that the conditions had to be “reasonable.”
The two-day IPKO concludes today, Thursday, with a public virtual closing session.