St. Maarten MPs Melissa Gumbs (left) and Sarah Wescot-Williams during Wednesday’s IPKO meeting. (Otti Thomas photo)
THE HAGUE--There will always be tensions within the Kingdom; it became clear during the meeting of the Inter-Parliamentary Consultation of the Kingdom IPKO in The Hague on Wednesday morning.
Tension in the Kingdom was the main focus of a presentation of historian Gert Oostindie and political scientist Wouter Veenendaal to the delegations of the Parliaments of Aruba, Curaçao, St. Maarten and the Netherlands.
Examples of agitation include the lack of knowledge of the local situation on the islands. But conversely, politicians also know little about the sensitivities in the Netherlands. Oostindie praised the IPKO as a means of creating more mutual understanding.
An important element of the agitation is the lack of influence by Aruba, Curaçao and St. Maarten on decisions that have an impact on the entire Kingdom, such as Kingdom laws and decisions of the Kingdom Council of Ministers.
Veenendaal mentioned a number of possibilities to reduce this democratic deficit. For example, the residents of the Dutch Caribbean countries could get the right to vote for the Second and First Chambers of the Dutch Parliament, but it remains to be seen whether candidates of the islands would secure enough votes for a seat in the Dutch Parliament.
Another solution is to expand the First and Second Chambers with a number of Caribbean seats that decide on matters relating to the Kingdom and possibly on more general matters. A third option is the establishing of a specific Kingdom Parliament in addition to the First and Second Chambers, said Veenendaal.
The Dutch Caribbean parliamentary delegations appreciated the options, but at the same time doubted whether this would be a true improvement. “The discussion about the democratic deficit has been ongoing since 1954 and every time another constitutional relationship is opted for,” said Curaçao Member of Parliament (MP) Sheldry Osepa of the National People’s Party PNP, who asked whether amending the Charter was not a better solution.
The St. Maarten delegation made similar remarks. “Many issues that we face today are related to the interpretation of the Charter. How do you see us moving forward from where we are right now without changing the Charter?” asked St. Maarten MP Sarah Wescot-Williams of the Democratic Party (DP).
Independent Member of the St. Maarten Parliament Christophe Emmanuel agreed with this. “There is no solution for the democratic deficit as long as we don’t speak about the Charter. There are so many proposals, but with all due respect, they mean nothing if we don’t tackle the Charter. It is the foundation of the argument,” he said.
Oostindie and Veenendaal confirmed that the Charter was not perfect and that the different interpretations indeed caused many problems. They said amending the Charter was not realistic for the problems in the short term, because it involves a lengthy process and requires the approval of the four countries in the Kingdom. A solution for the democratic deficit is complex, but more realistic, they said.
According to the two experts, Caribbean Members of the First and Second Chambers should be seen as a step on the road of improvement. They pointed out that in all former colonies that are still part of a much larger constellation, there were sounds of dissatisfaction about the lack of understanding by the mother country. However, having a say through elections was considered important and was appreciated.
Dutch Senator Paul Rosenmöller of the GroenLinks party, and leader of the Dutch delegation, remarked that no solution was perfect. “Every solution of the democratic deficit will cause further forms of agitation. A Kingdom without agitation is an illusion,” he said. Oostindie and Veenendaal agreed.
Curaçao MP Rennox Calmes of the Employment for Curaçao TPK party gave reason for some tension during Wednesday’s IPKO meeting. His contribution about the democratic deficit was entirely in Papiamentu. He said the fact that MPs of Curaçao and Aruba could not speak in their own language was also an example of the democratic deficit.
Calmes was interrupted by IPKO Chairperson and Member of the Second Chamber Mariëlle Paul, who noted that the agreement at the IPKO was to use English and Dutch as languages.