Geerlings calls for more substance within Kingdom
ORANJESTAD/THE HAGUE - An urgent call by St. Maarten Member of Parliament (MP) Perry Geerlings of the Democratic Party (DP) to give more content to relations within the Kingdom was rebuffed by the delegation of the Dutch Parliament on Tuesday, the first day of the Inter-Parliamentary Kingdom Consultation IPKO in Aruba.
Following his elaborate, impressive presentation regarding Hurricane Irma, Geerlings brought up the deficit within the Kingdom, the inequality in economic and social development between the countries, and the joint responsibility of the Kingdom to do something about it.
“Yes, we are autonomous countries, but we are also a Kingdom. The joint responsibility within the Kingdom has not been picked up, and it is our task to restore this,” said Geerlings, who called on the countries to “jointly take the Kingdom to a higher level.”
Member of the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament André Bosman of the liberal democratic VVD party made clear that the Dutch Caribbean countries carried their own responsibility with their autonomous status within the Kingdom.
“Nobody is responsible for the Kingdom as a whole. There are four autonomous countries, each with its own responsibilities, with its own government, its own Parliament and elections. The current constitutional structure is dramatic. If the Netherlands puts pressure, you immediately get the discussion on colonialism,” said Bosman. He also spoke of the importance of having sound finances in place to be able to absorb shocks within the countries’ own budgets.
Member of the Second Chamber Ronald van Raak of the Socialist Party (SP) said he stood for the eradication of poverty and eliminating the large differences in social development between the countries. “I want to combat poverty in St. Maarten through the reconstruction fund, but I am not co-responsible for the eradication of poverty in the Dutch Caribbean countries, but we are responsible for good governance,” Van Raak said.
Dutch Senator Thom de Graaf of the Democratic Party D66 praised Geerlings for his “impressive presentation” on Hurricane Irma, but said he found it a “pity” that the dramatic circumstances in St. Maarten after the hurricane had become a part of the discussions on the Kingdom. “Let’s stay away from that,” he said.
Instead, the discussions between the four Parliaments at the IPKO should focus on St. Maarten’s reconstruction and the role of the Netherlands in this process, said De Graaf. “It would be better to talk about how the Netherlands is going about this, how we can contribute to the recovery in an effective way. Let’s not have the debate about the Kingdom, because the St. Maarten people don’t deserve that. They are having a very tough time as it is,” he said.
Dutch delegation leader Alexander Pechtold, who is the Chairman of the Second Chamber’s Permanent Committee for Kingdom Relations, voiced similar sentiments. “We have to remain open to talks about the differences, but we should now focus on St. Maarten’s recovery. I am urging to keep these issues separate. We should do what is necessary now, which is to ensure a quick, adequate spending of the recovery funds. Let’s use the opportunity to discuss this, to see where we can help,” Pechtold said.
MP Geerlings, who is Chairman of the St. Maarten Parliament’s Committee of Kingdom Affairs and Inter-Parliamentary Relations, delivered a presentation titled “Aftermath and effects of Hurricane Irma on St. Maarten.” The presentation focussed on the damage caused by Irma as well as the economic, medical, social, financial, political and environmental impact of the storm.
Geerlings provided figures about the damage in terms of material damage, damage caused to the infrastructure and the economy, the government’s loss of revenues, and the cost of emergency assistance and clean-up. He said that of the almost 4,000 hotel rooms, only some 800 remained usable, and that it would take one to two years to rebuild all hotel rooms. “Hotel chains have shown the commitment to rebuild,” he said.
Residential structures were very hard hit, with some 80 per cent of the dwellings having suffered damage. “Many homes have to be rebuilt,” said Geerlings, who spoke about the resilience of the people and the hard work that has been carried out to ready the island for the arrival of tourists.
Geerlings said getting the recovery going through the 550-million-euro Dutch Reconstruction Fund was most urgent to assist the people. “The longer we wait, the worse it will get. The situation puts a lot of pressure on the people. It takes a long time for the recovery to start and the people are getting impatient, angry. People want to see results,” he said.
Thanking the Netherlands, Aruba and Curaçao for their support, MP Rodolphe Samuel of the National Alliance (NA) said the 550-million-euro Reconstruction Fund would surely help St. Maarten. He asked his colleagues of the other Parliaments to put pressure to speed up things.
MP Frans Richardson of the United St. Maarten Party also thanked the Kingdom partners for their support. He said it was very important to establish a new building code to ensure that buildings were rebuilt more hurricane-resistant. This new building code needs to be in effect before foreign construction companies come to the island. He also said the St. Maarten people needed to come first in the reconstruction and border control was vital. “The reconstruction must be done in the right way,” he said.
During the opening of the IPKO on Tuesday morning, leader of the Curaçao delegation and Chairman of the Curaçao Parliament William “Junior” Millerson expressed criticism where it concerned the conditions the Dutch Government had attached to the St. Maarten Reconstruction Fund.
Millerson said he did not find the manner in which the Netherlands had handled the assistance for St. Maarten’s recovery “very elegant.” “At a time when the island was in deep trouble, The Hague offered assistance under the condition that the Integrity Chamber would be established and that St. Maarten had to leave the border control up to the Netherlands. Things could have been done differently,” he said.