There was a time when decision-making in Sint Maarten took place rapidly and efficiently. Particularly in the era of Claude Wathey, the dominant politician whose outstanding communication skills and understanding of the community, led to quick results and rapid advancement of the territory. Fast forward to 2019 and decision- making has clearly become so difficult, that serious questions arise in respect of governance of the territory.
There are, of course, huge differences between the nature of decisions in those early years. Many decisions were made in Curaçao until 2010. The institutions that played a role in decision-making were far fewer. The constitutional processes for decision- making were far fewer. The territories’ challenges were more obvious.
The constitutional processes are of Dutch design. Decision-making processes were the nuanced result of centuries of development. Endless entities to cover all eventualities to ensure good governance and equitable management of public resources are the basis of the Constitution and government structure. A model that was relatively successful in Europe and well regarded, but showing a dramatically different track record in this very young governance entity that is Sint Maarten.
The failure to function is not leading to a fundamental review of the structure, it is instead leading to extensive rhetoric against “the Dutch” who have inherited the seat of blame from Willemstad, the earlier incumbents of this doubtful honour.
The backdrop to this decision-making is a stratified community. The private sector is dominated by persons without strong connections to the core political elite. The population with the most local roots is challenged in respect of its identity and is searching for solutions that avoid it being overrun by newer immigrants; a group of highly varied origins.
The control of the public sector therefore becomes – from their perspective – vital to its protection in the long run, and hence the intense conflicts in the public sector leading to logjams in decision-making and instability as the conflicts are not resolved. The focus on the public sector inevitably leads to a lesser focus on the private sector and the economic motor that supports the country as a whole.
The further backdrop is a community where the social control that existed in a small island community is waning, and social media, television, access and view to many lifestyles is the basis of increased expectations. Those expectations are increasingly voiced, but do not translate into governance execution.
There are clearly opportunities for innovative leadership both in the Sint Maarten government as well as the Kingdom government to escape the logjam position the country finds itself in. The instability and lack of decision-making has been with us now for the majority of the country status period (2010 to 2019 ) and there has not been any action that is likely to reduce the instability. If there is any surprise, it should not be about the continued instability but more about the lack of action to prevent it.