DH | St. Maarten refuses election observers, The Hague critical

St. Maarten does not want a set of eyes | John Samson

THE HAGUE–The Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament and Minister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Raymond Knops are highly critical about the refusal of the St. Maarten government to have international, objective observers during the January 9 elections.

During a general debate on Thursday, Members of the Second Chamber’s Permanent Committee sought clarity from the minister on reports that the St. Maarten government does not wish to make use of international election observers.

“We understood that St. Maarten does not consider it desirable to have election observers present. Why is that? Having international observers is common usage in elections. Not having observers on St. Maarten would be putting a stain on the Kingdom,” said Member of Parliament (MP) André Bosman of the liberal democratic VVD party.

St. Maarten does not want a set of eyes; it wants no one snooping around during the elections, was the conclusion of MP Ronald van Raak of the Socialist Party (SP). “They want no observers from other parts of the Kingdom, from which I deduce that they have something to hide.”

MP Attje Kuiken of the Labour Party PvdA also asked the minister why St. Maarten didn’t want election observers. “It would be a logical thing to have them present. Orderly elections are, after all, a basic requirement for a well-functioning democracy,” she said.

Minister Knops explained that after the appointment of the interim St. Maarten government, he had called interim Prime Minister Silveria Jacobs. “Naturally, I pointed out the importance of decent elections. I consider it a sign of strength when a country accepts observers at the elections. It is a very normal process. I have offered to make observers available, but St. Maarten indicated that it didn’t feel the need. That’s just how it is,” he said.

Van Raak asked the minister if he agreed that not allowing observers fed the impression that there was something to hide and that it could provide leeway for cheating, fraud and vote-buying.

Knops said he “completely understood” Van Raak’s frustrations. “I deplore this. I think it doesn’t show much strength to refuse observers, especially in these trying times,” he said, referring to the several corruption and fraud cases involving (former) politicians. MP Kuiken said political stability and good governance were very important to make St. Maarten more sustainable, also in regard to future hurricanes.

MP Chris van Dam of the Christian Democratic Party CDA mentioned the importance of building up civic society and urged people to vote. “People have the key. I hope that the people will take this opportunity. I hope that the St. Maarten democracy will not move in a backward direction, but that it will make a step forward.”

Van Dam said this step forward can only happen if people “elect politicians that will untie their public task from their private benefit.” He said there was a new party, that there were new faces. “And, there are also decent politicians; people have a choice.”

Van Dam warned that if that step forward was not made, if politicians decided to continue putting their own interest before the general interest, the relations with the Netherlands would be put under heavy strain.

Van Raak said he had some hope for the elections and the new party, but overall, he remained sombre. “St. Maarten is on a dead-end track. The situation is bad and the elections will not bring much change. There is no real alternative, except for the one new party. Mr. Heyliger or Mrs. Heyliger, it is all the same family.”

Van Raak lamented the fact that the St. Maarten MPs, all but one member of the previous Parliament, so far have refused to take a salary cut. “They refuse to show some solidarity, and they are the best-paid parliamentarians in the Kingdom.” Knops confirmed that the salary cut of the St. Maarten politicians was still a pre-condition for St. Maarten to receive liquidity support.

Minister Knops said he was very worried about St. Maarten, but that he also had hope for a better future. He said that while many people shared their frustrations about the St. Maarten politicians and about the lack of progress in the reconstruction process, there were still many good things happening in society with people helping each other.

MP Antje Diertens of the Democratic Party D66 focused on the reconstruction. She suggested that the main issue should be to assist those who needed it. “The situation has stagnated and warrants our complete focus on how to move forward. We have a joint responsibility for the St. Maarten people. We can’t bail on the people. I hope 2020 will become the year of great progress,” she said.

MP Bosman pointed out that St. Maarten was responsible for the execution of the reconstruction projects. “They have to move,” he said. Van Raak said the Dutch government and the World Bank were doing their homework. “St. Maarten does not do its homework. Talking, being friendly, insisting, getting angry – nothing works,” he said.

Minister Knops explained that the lack of capacity at the different government departments remained a problem. He said the fact that the World Bank has not received a permit as yet to establish its own office in St. Maarten didn’t help either. “I can’t take decisions for St. Maarten; they have to do that themselves.”

Knops said he hoped that St. Maarten would get a new government soon after the elections, a government that would move quickly with the reconstruction process. “Fact is that these changes of government always lead to delay.”

Bron: Daily Herald

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