The question whether the Netherlands is still the colonial master of St. Maarten (and by extension of Curaçao and the other islands that formerly belonged to the Netherlands Antilles) is one about perception. Junior Lake, author of 6 4 9, has been a proponent of independence all his life and the powerful drive behind his reasoning is simple: a people have the right to determine its own destiny.
So it is for St. Maarten. If the country wants to become independent, it has every right to go in that direction. Successive governments in the Netherlands have maybe not always said this aloud, but they have certainly been thinking that it would be a relief to see the Caribbean islands depart from the Kingdom. Oddball politicians like Geert Wilders and before him Hero Brinkman have made their position clear in their condescending way of talking – a way of communicating a position that say more about Wilders and Brinkman than it does about the Caribbean islands. Prime Minister Mark Rutte also made clear that there are no objections against departure: all it takes is a phone call he said. Trust liberal Dutch politicians to make a complicated constitutional divorce sound so simple.
However, Rutte is right. St. Maarten has always had the right to choose its own destiny. Why then, is the political establishment shying away from independence? Maybe they find the current situation too cozy. After all, the Netherlands has been moving large amounts of money towards the islands, and the country also has access to European development funds. All that could disappear overnight if St. Maarten opted for independence.
So what? Think about it this way. You are living with your parents and they are treating you terribly. You have no life, you have no freedom to make your decisions the way you see fit. One day you have had enough and that is the moment of truth. Will you continue to suffer the abuse of your parents, or do you prefer your freedom above everything else? Leaving the house could mean sleeping in cheap motels, or even under a bridge. If the alternative is bad enough, sleeping under a bridge starts to look attractive –even though not everybody will be courageous enough to take that step.
How does this hang with St. Maarten? The economy is, relatively speaking, healthy, certainly in the Caribbean context. Still, we have a serious problem, and that is the quality of our government – our administration if you want. We have institutions, but they are weak. We need time to build them up to a level where they will function properly. Our major headaches are our lousy financial management and our deplorable tax collection abilities.
Certainly, these issues need to be addressed. Beverly Hyman recently asked Junior Lake what he thought the first thing was the new government ought to do. He mentioned education. “We are not educated, we are trained,” he said on that occasion, and we felt that he hit the nail on the head there.
However, if we want to improve our education system we’ll have to pump money into it. That money will only become available if we have a solid tax collection system combined with excellent financial management. That way, every penny the state has at its disposal will be spent to the benefit of the people. We are a long way from that situation, but that is not a reason to dismiss the independence option as a fata morgana. Once St. Maarten has its house in order, it is time for the next step.