THE HAGUE – Aruba, Curaçao, and Sint Maarten desperately need more loans to keep their economies afloat. The demands which The Hague has imposed upon them, are on the edge of what is legally allowed, says Gerhard Hoogers, professor of Constitutional Law, during the NTR program Kwesties on NPO Radio 1 on Sunday.
CDA-MP Chris van Dam supports the package of demands. “The financial management of the islands leave much to be desired, that has become clear after so many years.” Hoogers (Rijksuniversiteit Groningen) understands the ‘political frustration’, but says that by pressuring the islands during times of crisis, judicial equality is often hard to find. “You have to follow the Charter of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. I believe that the demands which the Netherlands is proposing come fairly close to edge of what is allowed.”
The Netherlands is demanding that they have a say in where and how the islands make budgetary cuts. Curaçao for example has to cut 12,5 percent on the salary expenditures of its employees, if the island wants to receive more loans. The prime ministers of Aruba, Curaçao, and Sint Maarten believe that the conditions set by The Hague breach their autonomies.
The pace at which The Hague is demanding the budgetary cuts has already led to protests on the island. “The islands also have unions and collective labor agreements which they are required to follow. This would not fly in the Netherlands. It would cost (prime minister) Rutte his job”, says Hoogers.
Aruban prime minister Evelyn Wever-Croes mentioned in a letter to Rutte last week that his government was holding her country in a ‘suffocating chokehold’. A major point of contention is the Dutch institution that will manage the loans and projects for the islands for seven years.
“There won’t be a lot of financial autonomy, when this institute will also have a say on education and social services on the islands”, says Hoogers. “People from the islands should at least have a seat at the table in this institute, not just representatives from the Netherlands.”
‘Charter under pressure’
The tensions between The Hague and the islands have been growing during the past few weeks. The prime ministers of the islands did not (yet) agree with the conditions for a third tranche of corona support last Friday. They want to consult with their respective Parliaments first.
Eventually the Netherlands has the final word when it comes to disagreements through the Kingdom Council of Ministers. Additionally the islands are not allowed to borrow money with the consent of the Kingdom Council of Ministers. This ensures that they are dependent on the Netherlands in times of crisis.
‘The Kingdom is a family, but one with a cohabitation contract’
-Professor Gerhard Hoogers
“We are a family”, emphasizes Van Dam during the broadcast about the relationship between the Netherlands and the islands. “If it becomes interesting we can always consult the Charter, but it should be about love.” Hoogers agrees that the Kingdom is ‘a family’, but: “one with a cohabitation agreement. We have to stick to that.”
The professor notes that the Charter – which the islands and the Netherlands signed in 1954 – stands above the constitution. “The Charter describes how we treat each other, that the islands have the right of self-determination, and how we can work together within the Kingdom.”
The CDA-MP says that he doesn’t adhere to the prevailing notion that the islands are overrun with corruption and that they’re a bottomless pit. A statement that his colleagues Ronald van Raak (SP) and André Bosman (VVD) use frequently when it comes to the islands and money. “Fraud also happens here, look at the municipal council in The Hague.”
Van Dam still approves of the strict measures that state secretary Knops (CDA) has attached to the financing. “Curaçao and Sint Maarten received debt forgiveness during the dissolution of the Netherlands Antilles. They started at zero. That has gone up a lot over the past ten years.”
According to professor Hoogers that’s not totally correct. “The debts of the former Netherlands Antilles were forgiven. Curaçao’s debts stayed with Curaçao and that also holds true for Sint Maarten. They never started at zero.”