If you want to go far, go together: A message on collaboration within the Kingdom

If you want to go far, go together: A message on collaboration within the Kingdom

The following is an excerpt of the keynote speech delivered by Maria C. van der Sluijs-Plantz at the opening of the Kingdom legislation conference in Curaçao on March 20. Van der Sluijs-Plantz is a member of the Kingdom Council of State on the recommendation of Sint Maarten. Together with her colleagues, she advises the Kingdom Council of Ministers on treaties and laws. She was born in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, grew up in Curaçao, and has deep roots in St. Maarten. The speech focuses heavily on the importance of collaboration within the Kingdom.

Without further ado, here’s her message in her own words:

Excellences, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Do you know the feeling when you get to know or read about certain people? People who are bigger than life, who inspire you? They are so inspiring that you want to be your best self, by standing on their shoulders.

I am going to tell you something about one of my heroes.

Edward William Brooke was born on October 26, 1919, and passed away on January 3, 2015. He was the first Afro-American, ever elected as Attorney-General, in one of the United States in 1950. In 1967, he was the first Afro-American, elected as Senator. He served until 1979.

Great grandson of a slave, hero of World War II, champion for civil rights next to Martin Luther King, for female rights next to Gloria Steinem, fighter against poverty who was able to guide laws through the Senate, as Republican, with the support of Democrats.

In 2004, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom; and in 2009 the Congressional Gold Medal.

He was a friend of our islands, fell in love with Sint Maarten and married my cousin Anne Fleming. In the extended family sense of the islands, he was family.

I had the honour to attend the ceremony where he was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal. I witnessed how he addressed the audience as last speaker. Masterly!

The New York Times reported the same afternoon how he scolded members of Congress in his acceptance speech. He called for party politics to be set aside for the common good.

This is wat the New York Times wrote:

“Former Senator Edward Brooke, a Republican from Massachusetts, rebuked lawmakers for partisan bickering today at a ceremony awarding him the Congressional Gold Medal, the body’s highest honour. As Democrats, including President Obama, tried to use the occasion to highlight their commitment to working with Republicans … Mr. Brooke grew professorial about the members’ responsibility to work together in a speech in the Capitol Rotunda.

“What is it? If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen? We can’t worry about those things, Mitch,” Mr. Brooke said, addressing Republican minority leader, Senator Mitch McConnell. “We can’t worry that you all can’t get together. We’ve got to get together. We have no alternative.”

“It’s time for politics to be put aside on the back burner,” he added. “You have awesome responsibilities, not only this country, but this world looks to you.”

That was almost 15 years ago.

I am happy that Edward does not have to experience the state of affairs of the world of today.

That in the USA in 2024, again a candidate for president, whose integrity, stewardship of the rule of law and guardianship of America’s legacy as international peacekeeper are extremely doubtful, looks to be the sure winner.

I am happy that he does not have to experience that today, already for more than two years, a war is raging in Ukraine, led by a Russian president, who we know for certain does not respect the democratic legal order.

And I am happy that he does not have to experience that a gruesome fight has ensued in Gaza, led by an Israeli president, who does not care about the opinion of his own people or the world at large. That he does not have to ask himself how it is possible that descendants of the holocaust seem to be able to commit such horrible deeds, to the extent that they may even qualify as genocide.

But I am also happy that he cannot ask me, how come in the Kingdom of the Netherlands, during the formation of a new cabinet, parties feel the necessity to assure themselves of the commitment of the others to the democratic legal order, because I cannot explain that.

After almost 70 years Statuut, the time has come for the countries on both sides of the ocean to take responsibility to finally commit to the substance of the Statuut: … the will to support each other.

Together we stand, divided we fall.

Since 2018, I am a member of the Kingdom Council of State on the recommendation of Sint Maarten. Together with my colleagues, I advise the (Kingdom) Council of Ministers on treaties and laws.

The advisory framework used by the Council of State follows four steps:

-Policy analysis asking questions like: Which problems does this law solve, is legislation the only way to achieve a solution?

-Constitutional and legal analysis asking questions like: Does this law respect the Statuut, the constitution, international treaties and does it fit within the wider legal framework?

-Execution analysis asking questions like: Can this law be executed by the relevant authorities? Is the law understandable and executable for the population?

-Analysis of consequences for the legal practice asking questions like: What is the impact of the law on the authorities that have to enforce the law, the police, inspection authorities, the courts of law?

There is a relation between drafting laws and advising on these drafts. But drafting legislation by the legislator and advising on the draft legislation by the Advisory Council of the Council of State, or the Councils of Advice, are however independent processes.

There is always room for improvement. You never know everything. Specialists and generalists can complement each other to achieve good quality legislation.

An overarching goal of the conference is to facilitate capacity building to realise the legislative tasks that emerge from the Landspakketten.

The first step was set on April 4, 2023, when the mutual agreement collaboration for reforms was signed by the Countries.

The collaboration in this mutual agreement is shaped as a collaboration between the Netherlands and Curaçao, the Netherlands and Aruba and between the Netherlands and Sint Maarten.

The focus and historical reflex whilst shaping this collaboration is automatically geared towards one-way traffic from the Netherlands as largest country in the Kingdom to each of the Caribbean countries individually.

But if I compare the Country Packages, there are many similar reforms. Realising the reforms for each of the countries, with blinders on, means that there will be many wheels that will be reinvented. That is not efficient. If three different solutions are pursued for the same problem, just because there are three Caribbean countries, this will also have an impact on an efficient administration of justice. The courts will need more judges and this has an impact on costs.

Fortunately, the collaboration between the public servants of the four countries is improving slowly but surely… despite the fact that local politics sometimes acts as spoilsport.

The Netherlands has given up a part of its autonomy to the European Union. Together with its European partners, the Netherlands stands strong in the world. As LGO’s the Caribbean countries are associated members. Maybe on some issues, we should investigate EU legislation, adapt to our needs, rather than reinvent the wheel. “A good steal is better than a bad idea.”

Screening the legislative capacity in the Caribbean countries showed that all three countries wrestle with capacity issues. Believe me, there are challenges also in the Netherlands to fill vacancies for legislative lawyers.

What I miss is attention to synergy, making efficient use of the knowledge, know-how and skills available in all four countries. Efficient deployment of available capacity will enable us all to find relief.

Ask yourself what the Caribbean countries contribute to the Netherlands. We should acknowledge the so called “seventh island”: The diaspora from the Caribbean countries, who contribute to various sectors in the Netherlands: culture, the social domain, justice, sport, science, education, industry, healthcare….. With focussed attention and a worthwhile perspective, this diaspora can be mobilised to also contribute to, and advocate for, the Caribbean countries.

There is an African saying: “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.”

This life wisdom is a part of our intangible cultural heritage. In Sint Maarten, we call it “jollification”.

According to Abraham Maslow, man is constantly seeking gratification for his needs, ultimately in search of self-actualisation. Maslow arranged these needs, which, according to him, are universal, in a hierarchy. According to his theory, man can and will only strive for gratification of the needs in a higher level of the hierarchy, after having satisfied the lower needs.

But what if there is no perspective at all to satisfy the basic needs? No hope? If there is total stagnation of development, despondency, vulnerability, nothing to lose.... then chaos looms comparable to what is going on in Haiti.

Making self-actualisation possible, both at the level of the individual citizens as on a collective country level, in all four countries of the Kingdom, would be a beautiful mission to pursue. To achieve this, we will have to go far – not alone.

Maybe I am naïve, but I see many benefits in collaboration with multi-directional traffic – next to reciprocal collaboration with the Netherlands, also reciprocal collaboration between the Caribbean countries. I realise that institutionalised collaboration may be a bit too far, most of all for politics. This looks too much like the former Netherlands Antilles.

I still want to encourage you all, urge you, as teams of the four countries, to look for synergy and reciprocity in collaboration. Form an informal network which contributes to the quest for a perspective of self-actualisation, happiness, sense of autonomy, a sense of belonging for everyone in our Kingdom. Leave no man behind.

What can you do?

Networking with others is crucial. Be inspired, make valuable contacts, build genuine relationships, share knowledge, discuss challenges and solutions. Support each other. There is work to be done.

Strive for individual and collective self-sustainability: work together to increase each other’s capacity, find creative solutions befitting our own aspirations, the values and needs of the countries. Bundling complementary talents in collaboration can lead to a platform for co-creation of new knowledge, for solutions to meet unknown future challenges.

This informal network could be an important contribution to better communication between the four countries. It could lead to a greater awareness of the challenges, but also of the diversity.

Our Kingdom is not without obligations. Collaboration is not self-evident. It requires patience, courage and persistence. Not only from politics in the four countries, but also from each and every one of you.

For successful collaboration, a positive mindset is a prerequisite.

My former management team from over 80 countries have assembled examples of desirable behaviours to enhance collaboration. Here are some to inspire you.

1. Leave your ego at the door

2. Trust: “He who does not trust his travelling companion will himself not be trusted.”

3. Walk the talk.

4. Communicate: My grandmother Valentine Beauperthuy always said: “Don’t just hear, but listen. God gave you two ears and one mouth, use them proportionally.”

5. Control your bias: Acknowledge your own bias, control it. Realise that everyone is biased. Open your mind for ideas of others; they may improve your idea.

6. Accept criticism, do not fear cynicism. You will face criticism and cynicism. Don’t be distracted, go forward on you mission. Don’t be afraid to take decisions.

7. Know your limits. Nobody knows everything. Asking for help is not a weakness, but a strength, extending help is not exerting power.

8. Embrace change. Dare to leave your comfort zone. It opens new perspectives.

9. Strive for simplicity. Of course, it can be difficult, try to make it simpler.

10. Be positive.

11. Be passionate.

12. Be humble.

13. Be empathy, embody empathy every day. Don’t just show it.

14. Be patient, be forgiving.

15. Be a leader, a mentor, a coach, a role model.

16. Have fun with everything you do.

17. Follow your heart.

Your collaboration could be an inspiration for politics in the four countries of the Kingdom. After 70 years Statuut, this could lead to a material execution of the adage: “Supported by own strength, but with the will to support each other.” I wish you a productive and successful conference and close with the words of the prayer with which my hero, Edward Brooke, started every team meeting:

God of justice, save the people

From the clash of race and creed

From the strife of class and faction

Make our nation free indeed

Keep her faith in simple manhood

Strong as when her life began

Till it finds its true fruition

In the brotherhood of man.

Team kingdom, stand up, applaud yourself, I salute you!

Thank you for your attention.


Image credit: www.simplypsychology.org

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