PHILIPSBURG/THE HAGUE--Before an agreement can be signed between the governments in The Hague and Philipsburg about the third tranche of liquidity support and the Caribbean Entity for Reform and Development COHO, the Dutch Cabinet requires explicit approval of the deal by St. Maarten’s Parliament.
This is the stance of Dutch State Secretary of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Raymond Knops in a series of letters exchanged with Prime Minister Silveria Jacobs over the weekend.
According to the letters, the two countries hope to reach an agreement in the Kingdom Council of Ministers meeting on Friday, December 18.
The Dutch Cabinet requires a statement or motion from the St. Maarten Parliament that there is no inconsistency between Parliament’s motion of November 5 and the proposed agreement about the reform entity and liquidity support, wrote Knops in a letter to Jacobs on Thursday, December 10.
The issue the Dutch government has with the motion is that it endorses the “legal actions” of Pro Soualiga Foundation related to the “decolonisation of the former Netherlands Antilles”.
Pro Soualiga has taken the Dutch government to court twice in the latter half of this year. One was a bid to prohibit the Dutch State from implementing the Consensus Kingdom Law to establish a reform entity, while the other was an injunction for the court to rule that the Kingdom Charter does not comply with international law.
Knops warned Jacobs that if this approval does not come from Parliament by today, Monday, the Dutch government will not grant an extension on the repayment of a NAf. 50 million loan during the Kingdom Council of Ministers meeting on Friday, December 18.
The loan was originally set to mature on October 21, but the Dutch government granted a four-week postponement in mid-October, followed by another in mid-November.
Parliament will break its Christmas recess to have an emergency Central Committee meeting at 11:30am today, Monday, to discuss the negotiations with the Netherlands. Motions cannot be presented during Central Committee meetings, which means that if Parliament were to comply with Knops’ request, an emergency Public Meeting would have to be called immediately after today’s Central Committee meeting.
Jacobs responded to Knops in a letter on Friday, December 11.
“In our previous conversation, I have already indicated that we must keep the powers of state separate. In addition, it is common for Parliament itself to decide when and how they express their views. Despite this, I have informed the Parliament of your concerns. I have also stated several times that I have the support of the majority of Parliament,” said Jacobs in the letter.
Jacobs also said that the agreement would be between the two governments, adding that she can guarantee that “St. Maarten will adhere to the agreements.”
“Next Monday [December 14 – Ed.] I have a meeting with Parliament in order to inform them about the state of affairs and the decision of the Council of Ministers to agree with the proposals, in accordance with the conditions, the country package and the proposal for the Consensus Kingdom Law for the establishment of the [COHO]. …
“Finally, I would like to point out that trust is a ‘two-way street’. For our part, too, we must be able to trust that agreements will also be fulfilled by the Netherlands. I can guarantee that I will do everything I can to keep our commitments, and I expect you to do so,” said Jacobs in the letter.
Knops responded to Jacobs in a letter on Sunday. He doubled down on the Dutch government’s need for explicit Parliamentary approval.
“You indicated that Parliament itself decides when and how they express their views. Of course, I share with you the view that the separation of powers should not be altered. That is precisely why it is essential for the Dutch cabinet that not only the executive branch, but also the legislative branch has sufficient support for the path we are taking together.
“The Parliaments of Curaçao and Aruba have also complied with this. The motion … which was passed in Parliament on November 5, is difficult to reconcile with this. I am referring, in particular, to the support for Pro Soualiga Foundation with regard to their position that the ‘Kingdom Charter is not a lawful legal instrument and as such cannot be used as the basis for legislation’.
“On this basis, Parliament does not seem to have support for an agreement [about] … the Consensus Kingdom Law COHO. A statement from Parliament showing that the legal basis for the Consensus Kingdom Law COHO has been accepted is therefore necessary before I can sign an agreement,” said Knops.
Second tranche conditions
Knops told Jacobs in the December 10 letter that the Dutch government also required “sufficient confidence” that St. Maarten would comply with the unfulfilled conditions of the second tranche of liquidity support.
These conditions include a 25 per cent reduction in the total salary and benefits packages of Parliamentarians and Ministers, a 12.5 per cent reduction in the total salary and benefits of civil servants and workers in the (semi) public sector, and compliance with the so-called “Jacobs norm”, in which the salaries of top executives of government-owned companies cannot exceed 130 per cent of the Prime Minister’s salary. All are to be implemented retroactively to July 1.
With Parliament on recess, Knops expressed doubt that St. Maarten would comply with these conditions by year’s end. He also requested that Jacobs explain how these conditions can be achieved as soon as possible.
Jacobs told Knops in the December 11 letter that the three temporary National Ordinances to bring these changes into effect had been approved by the Council of Ministers on November 10, after which they were sent to the Council of Advice.
Jacobs said government had received the advice on the temporary National Ordinance for the 25 per cent benefits reduction for politicians on Thursday, December 10, but was still awaiting the other two advices from the country’s highest advisory body.
“I would like to inform you that, in anticipation of the entry into force of the draft National Ordinances, the payment of vacation pay in 2020 has already been partially withheld and the employment conditions of political authorities have already been lowered. For the sake of completeness, I report that the full implementation of the agreed measures can only come into effect once the legal basis has been established and then retroactively,” said Jacobs.
In his response, Knops indicated that this explanation was not good enough for the Dutch government.
“With regard to implementation, you indicated that you will only start with this after the legal basis has been established. This poses a considerable challenge, since the measures must be implemented retroactively to July 1, 2020, and the discount on the employment conditions must therefore be made up for six months.
“For this reason, I asked you in my letter of December 10 for an explanation of how you intend to realise this. Since you did not go into this in your letter, I ask you to send me this explanation no later than Monday, December 14,” wrote Knops on Sunday.
He pointed out the “situation that has arisen” with the salary of the CEO of utilities company GEBE.
“Although the temporary National Ordinance on the standardization of top incomes and adjustment of employment conditions at (semi) public sector entities has not yet entered into force, I assume that you are already acting in the spirit of the conditions set by the Netherlands in the case of issues such as these, and that of salaries if they exceed the new standard of 130 per cent of the prime minister’s salary,” said Knops.