Published On: Wed, Nov 8th, 2017

Elections, reconstruction at centre of budget debate

Dutch ParliamentTHE HAGUE - Should elections be held in St. Maarten or not? And, should elections be tied to the starting up of the Reconstruction Fund?

The developments in St. Maarten dominated the handling of the 2018 draft budget Kingdom Relations in the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament on Tuesday. There was little attention for the other islands in the debate.

Members of Parliament (MPs) André Bosman of the liberal democratic VVD party and Ronald van Raak of the Socialist Party (SP) repeated what they already said in The Daily Herald on Saturday: holding elections in St. Maarten at this time is a very bad idea and is not in the best interest of the people who want nothing else than to see their island rebuilt.

Bosman expressed support for the majority of eight in the St. Maarten Parliament that want to install an interim government which will govern until new elections are held sometime in the future.

“I am not against elections, but why not postpone them until January 2019? Ship-jumping should never be rewarded, but holding elections in three months would be disastrous. Should we not conclude that this is bad governance and does this not touch on the guarantee function of the Kingdom Council of Ministers?” said Bosman.

Bosman clarified that it was not about the Netherlands taking over the St. Maarten Government; however, he pointed out that the majority in the St. Maarten Parliament has the right to form an interim government with which the Dutch Government could do business to ensure that the Dutch conditions were executed and the Reconstruction Fund could go ahead. “Give the interim government a year and then have the elections. What could be against that? It has happened before,” he said.

Bosman reminded his colleagues in the Second Chamber that many of the roofs and infrastructure were severely damaged by the hurricane and that people’s livelihood was at stake. He further pointed out that the Central Voting Bureau had indicated that the elections were close to impossible to arrange at this stage due to severe damage to its offices, a barely functioning post office and the problems to deliver the voting cards with many people not living in their own homes.

The other MPs shared Bosman’s concerns regarding the snap elections, but none were eager to have the Dutch Government interfere and use its power to postpone the elections. The MPs were not in favour of linking the snap elections to the reconstruction, and they made clear that the latter was the first and foremost priority.

The elections should only be postponed if there are no other options, said MP Antje Diertens of the Democratic Party D66. “There should be other possibilities to go ahead with the Reconstruction Fund. It would be awful if a postponement of the elections would mean that no assistance is given. My priority is to help the people,” said Diertens, who did call the move of the eight in the St. Maarten Parliament “courageous.”

MP Joba van den Berg of the Christian Democratic Party CDA said it was St. Maarten’s prerogative to govern their country and that it was up to the local politicians and the people to decide whether to hold elections or not. She said the Netherlands wanted to do business with a government that has an active status, not a lame-duck status.

MP Attje Kuiken of the Labour Party PvdA said that she too was “very concerned” about the political developments in St. Maarten and the holding of elections at this time, but postponing the elections is not the solution as the Netherlands would still have to deal with an interim government in St. Maarten, which might in turn slow down the providing of reconstruction aid, she stated.

MP Liesbeth van Tongeren of the green left party GroenLinks was even more outspoken and questioned Bosman about his suggestion to intervene. “You cannot just take a decision on behalf of St. Maarten. We don’t intervene in election dates of other countries. You are telling St. Maarten, with a bag of money in your hand, to postpone the elections. The people need a future perspective. Power play and threatening words of Dutch intervention are not helpful,” she said.

MP Van Raak (SP) stressed that the last thing the people of St. Maarten wanted were elections. “People are not interested in political bickering; they want a roof over their heads, a job and food on the table. This beautiful island needs to be rebuilt as soon as possible because the high season is nearing.”

Van Raak said it did not matter to him what colour the (interim) government had as long as an agreement was achieved to immediately start the reconstruction. Having the Kingdom Government interfere in this internal political matter did not have his priority. “Only one thing counts and that is the well-being of the people and starting the reconstruction post-haste.” He said that it was important to have the local people and companies carry out the reconstruction work as much as possible, and to keep consultancy companies like KPMG out.

Support for the reconstruction also came from MP Machiel de Graaf of the Party for Freedom PVV. He said the destruction caused by Hurricane Irma obligated the Kingdom to assist, but that things were being made very hard by the Government headed by William Marlin. “The chaos is complete,” he said.
De Graaf urged the local government officials, Governor Eugene Holiday and the people to work together and make the change they desire happen and to transform St. Maarten into a society free of corruption and the mafia. “That would benefit the man in the street.”

MP Van Raak asked State Secretary of Kingdom Relations Raymond Knops to give an insight to the plans that were being drafted for the reconstruction. Bosman said it was important that the reconstruction took place in a clear, transparent manner with strict supervision. He proposed investing directly in projects.

The State Secretary will provide answers to the questions that were posed during the continuation of the debate today, Wednesday. Asked for a comment by the media after Tuesday’s debate, Knops said that he would elaborate on the situation in St. Maarten on Wednesday. He did confirm that he had taken note of the letter from the Central Voting Bureau and its objections to holding elections in three months.

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