WILLEMSTAD--Another hurdle in the bumpy road to country-within-the-Dutch-Kingdom status for St. Maarten and Curaçao was cleared in Curaçao's World Trade Centre on Thursday afternoon with the signing of an agreement on the Plans of Approach for areas for which the new countries will not be fully able to assume responsibility from the Central Government.
But the battle is not over. Yet another hurdle in the process looms just days away. The Dutch Senate will begin on July 6 to handle the package of Consensus Kingdom Laws that includes changes to the Kingdom Charter that will provide for the birthing of the new countries. A delegation from the Central Government, St. Maarten and Curaçao heads to The Hague on Sunday to defend the dismantling of the Netherlands Antilles and the build-up of the new Countries St. Maarten and Curaçao.
Signing the agreement that also covered the percentages for the division of assets of the Netherlands Antilles (see related story ) were Dutch caretaker State Secretary Ank Bijleveld-Schouten, Antillean Prime Minister Emily de Jongh-Elhage, and Constitutional Affairs Commissioners William Marlin (St. Maarten) and Zita Jesus-Leito (Curaçao).
The Police Force, Federal Detectives, the Prison, Immigration and the Census Office will be monitored via General Measures of the Kingdom Government (Algemene Maatregelen van Rijksbestuur) for St. Maarten, and the Police Force and Bon Futuro Prison for Curaçao.
Plans of Approach to build up the island territories' ability to take over these tasks have been drafted and in some instances, such as the restructuring of the Police Force and Justice system in St. Maarten, are already being implemented. Commissioner Marlin explained that the reason St. Maarten had more plans of approach was that Curaçao would inherit the Central Government structure, but St. Maarten had to develop its own.
The plans are to span a two-year period and implementation will be overseen by the Dutch Minister of Kingdom Relations and the relevant minister of St. Maarten or Curaçao. Parties stressed in the press conference following the signing that this would be a mutual working partnership – a cooperation – and the Dutch Government would not dictate to the new countries how things must be carried out.
Plans of Approach for Legal Affairs, Physical Planning and Environment DROB, and Foreign Affairs will not fall under the General Measures of the Kingdom Government. St. Maarten has presented its own plan to build up and strengthen these areas, but it must begin implementation now for the plan to be deemed workable by September when the Vetting Roundtable Conference V-RTC is held to review Curaçao's and St. Maarten's preparedness to become countries.
Thursday's meeting, a continuation of the Kingdom Political Steering Group (PSG) session that started on June 21, lasted less than three hours, a marked change from the days when negotiations stretched into the wee hours of the morning as parties grappled to obtain what was best for their people.
Commissioner Marlin said it was yet another "historic day," as another hurdle had been cleared en route to country status, but "we are not there yet," as there were still "bigger battles to fight."
"We have cleared another hurdle, but there is one more, two more or three more to go before we are confident we will attain 10-10-10," Marlin said.
He added that St. Maarten might have had to "wander the proverbial Antillean desert for another 40 years" had a date not been set last year for the attainment of country status, or the island territory would have had to wait "an eternity" to become 100 per cent ready for country status, because it was a continuous fight against deadlines.
"St. Maarten has lagged behind in its development," Marlin said, adding that the island would need more time to build up its structure, because it would not inherit much of the Central Government's apparatus, as Curaçao would. "There is still a lot of work to be done to become country like the Dutch want to see."
As for the hurdle of the Dutch Senate, Marlin hopes good sense will prevail, because to stop or turn back the process now makes no sense. "We have already come this far. ... We have begun to take over responsibilities. Personnel have been hired."
St. Maarten has abided by all decisions and agreements made since the process started with the June 23, 2000, referendum in which the people voted for country-within-the-Kingdom status. And now, Marlin stated, it has been agreed to have Plans of Approach in place, so not much has been left undone.
Opposition Democratic Party (DP) leader Island Councilwoman Sarah Wescot-Williams, who was part of the local delegation, said the meeting had gone "as expected," based on the discussions of June 21. She said the Plans of Approach could be explained better as implementation plans that would prepare the island territory for its responsibilities as it continued to develop as a country.
A hallmark of the meeting was finding ways to incorporate Dutch Parliamentarian John Leerdam's motion that called for the possibility of extending the Plans of Approach for another two years, and yet again, if the islands needed time to adjust and build up.
Wescot-Williams and Marlin thanked the advisors who had worked tirelessly "day and night" to prepare the plans for the meeting.
Curaçao Commissioner Jesus-Leito said her island would work to ensure that the Plans of Approach were fully implemented within the two years for which they were valid. The plans can be renewed for another two years to give the islands sufficient time to build up the departments, but Curaçao is aiming for no renewal.
She said the focus last year had been on setting a date for country status. Now it is on getting ready, she said, and if the islands fall short of being ready, the Plans of Approach are there.
Prime Minister de Jongh-Elhage said it was a "big day" for the process of constitutional change that would ultimately see the Netherlands Antilles disappear and two new countries within the Dutch Kingdom emerge on 10-10-10. Everything is now in place for the V-RTC in September.
De Jongh-Elhage commended Bijleveld-Schouten for her involvement in pushing constitutional change for the island territories. "She understands the need of the people and their thinking."
She chided the Curaçao opposition for labelling the agreements for Plans of Approach and the process as "back to colonisation by the Dutch" to some extent. They also decried the signing of the agreement on Emancipation Day, July 1. "It's not about colonisation. It's about cooperation. Some people don't take the time to read the documents," because these clearly show that the new status is about working together with the Dutch Government, not being dictated to by it.
Bijleveld-Schouten echoed the sentiments of all four signatories when she said, "We are not there yet," as there is still much work to be done. She compared the process to ironing clothes, saying that as you get closer to finishing with the garment, the smoother it becomes. She is counting on that smoothness to prevent the Dutch Senate from being overly critical when it meets on July 6. "But the game is not over until the referee blows the whistle."
She noted that the agreement and Plans of Approach were solid and anyone looking closely at them would realise that they were to the benefit of the people of the island territories. "When you see what is being done for the people [through the constitutional change], no one can be against [it]."
She said a lot of work had been carried out since the process had started, and as a realist, she was well aware that there was still more to come in the lead-up to 10-10-10.