Second Chamber conflicted on ditching COHO Kingdom Law

Second Chamber conflicted on  ditching COHO Kingdom Law

Member of the Second Chamber Jorien Wuite chaired Wednesday’s debate in absence of the Chairperson of the Permanent Committee for Kingdom Relations Mariëlle Paul.


THE HAGUE--Parties in the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament have responded with mixed feelings to the agreement of the Netherlands, Aruba, Curaçao, and St. Maarten to set aside the Kingdom Law proposal for the Caribbean Body for Reform and Development COHO and to continue the implementation of the Country packages based on a mutual regulation.

  The liberal democratic VVD party and the Christian democratic Party CDA shared their concerns during a debate of the Second Chamber’s Permanent Committee for Kingdom Relations with State Secretary for Kingdom Relations and Digitisation Alexandra van Huffelen on Wednesday.

  “The COHO is off the table and what makes us extra worried is the triumphant manner in which this was presented by some of the countries’ politicians,” said Member of Parliament (MP) Joba van den Berg (CDA) about the agreement made during the consultation in St. Maarten almost two weeks ago. She said that the younger people in the countries were concerned as they would be paying the price if the current generation doesn’t implement the reforms.

  “I am concerned about the way in which the local politicians presented this. I have received signals from residents that they are concerned that there is no real commitment for reforms and that their governments are busier with image creation than creating a better future,” said Roelien Kamminga (VVD). She noted that the Kingdom Law COHO did have its advantages, namely the input of the parliaments of the Kingdom in the process to establish the Kingdom Consensus Law and the independent position of the COHO.    

  The Democratic Party D66 and the green left party GroenLinks on the other hand expressed support for the agreement between the four countries. MP Jorien Wuite (D66) complimented the state secretary and the prime ministers of Aruba, Curaçao and St. Maarten that they jointly decided to turn a different corner.

  “With the continuation of the reform agenda based on more trust and more equality. The state secretary confirmed that she trusts her Caribbean partners. I see her passion for our Kingdom,” said Wuite, who emphasised that D66 wanted to continue to build the countries based on the strength of the Kingdom.

  MP Kauthar Bouchallikht (GroenLinks), who also spoke on behalf of the Labour Party PvdA and the BIJ1 party, lauded the decision not to continue with the Kingdom Law COHO. “Consensus is needed for something this big and it would be a pity if something like this would further deteriorate the relations within the Kingdom. In our opinion, this is a lesson learned,” said Bouchallikht.

  Kamminga pressed for true progress to implement the reforms. “We have talked for too long. It is high time to get to work and to also take difficult decisions. Steps are being taken, but there are no real reforms. I urge the state secretary not to get into a new round of discussions about autonomy or money, but to press for forcefulness. Politicians of the countries need to act in the interest of their population, and not to focus on themselves,” she said.

Devil in the details

  Van den Berg said, “the devil was in the details” and asked the state secretary how she would ensure that the agreements about the reforms would be realised. Van Huffelen explained that the mutual regulation that should be signed early March was a binding agreement that the countries have to live up to.

  Van Huffelen said that a unilateral seceding was not an option and that withdrawal from the mutual agreement was only possible with the consent of the other three countries. She announced that the mutual regulation would initially cover a term of four years, with the possibility to extend by two years each time. 

  Wuite pointed out that ownership and carrying capacity were vital components in the process of executing reforms, not only from the politicians, but all stakeholders, including the social partners. At the same time, she said it was important to support the state secretary when she said that she had confidence in the process of reforms.

  Bouchallikht stressed that as the biggest country of the Kingdom, the Netherlands had the responsibility to support the countries, despite their autonomous status, so people can have good living conditions. “It is important to keep building stronger countries together and to keep an eye on the interest of the countries and their people.”

Liquidity loans

  The liquidity loans that the countries received during the COVID-19 pandemic were discussed as well during Wednesday debate. The Dutch government provided NAf. 300 million to St. Maarten, NAf. 900 million to Curaçao and 900 million Aruban florins to Aruba.

  “In total that amounts to about 1 billion euros. That is serious money,” said Van den Berg. The repayment of the loans is due in October this year, but because the countries won’t be able to repay at that time, talks will commence next month on refinancing.

  Wuite suggested for the Dutch government to refinance the liquidity loans and to partly turn these debts into a development fund focused on sustainable strengthening of the countries. The loans have contributed to a high debt quote, especially for Aruba and Curaçao, she noted. Wuite wanted to know whether the countries would be able to repay these debts and how this would affect their budgets.

  Van den Berg said the CDA was willing to pardon part of the loans if reforms were truly executed. She said that financial supervision was a “conditio sine qua non” for her party. “If that is not in place, we can already say that we will not support an extension of the loans in October this year,” she said. MP Kamminga agreed that financial supervision remained “very important.”

  Wuite enquired about the possibility to change the financial supervision law RFT in order to make the execution of tasks by the Committee for Financial Supervision “less rigid” and “more in line with modern times.” Van Huffelen said that the financial supervision would remain. “It is good that there is an independent body that sees to this.”

  The state secretary said she had confidence in the process of reforms. “This will be an exciting year because the reforms now truly have to be implemented. I hope that the countries will get moving with this, in the interest of a stronger, more resilient economy and in the interest of the people.” She agreed with Wuite that ownership of the countries and capacity were vital components in the process.

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