Not If, But Rather How Much Politics Will Impede Recovery in Sint Maarten

The devastation caused by category 5 Hurricane Irma — the strongest hurricane ever to impose a direct hit on Sint Maarten — has been nothing short of catastrophic to the small Caribbean island. The sheer natural destruction, not to mention the emotional toll, it’s taken on Sint Maarten has presented an epic challenge that, even in the best of political environments, is extraordinary to overcome.

In such a situation it’s important and prudent to recognize the position it places a community in. It’s hard on everyone. Transitioning from post-Irma has meant looking towards the future, with less emphasis on the events of September 6, 2017, and more energy spent on envisioning the island back and better than ever.

There’s no question of the near impossibility of the recovery effort, and yet still it seems as if politics is rearing it’s head. In a time when people need to come together, when the entire island of Sint Maarten stands together, united in the face of adversity, it seems that political posturing is already setting the stage for a slower recovery than would otherwise be possible.

It’s been reported (Daily Herald), and even Dutch Minister of Interior Affairs, Ronald Plasterk, mentioned earlier this week, that the local government of Sint Maarten continues to play politics in a time when unity is needed.

Prime Minister William Marlin stated in his Constitution Day speech, “We will not permit anyone to exploit our tragedy to bring in Trojan horses while holding our people to a much higher standard than anyone else in the world.” A statement like that feels an awful lot like a politician that is more concerned with taking credit than actually working to resolve issues.

Of course, Marlin’s comments come in response to the Dutch — without whose assistance, Sint Maarten would be far worse off — demanding accountability and refusing to hand out money without proper controls in place.

The key issue at hand appears to be the request made by the Kingdom of the Netherlands to Prime Minister Marlin last week to agree to the implementation of the Integrity Chamber with some limited changes, including allowing the Netherlands to appoint two members of the Chamber. Not exactly a radical idea considering the need of Sint Maarten and the amount of aid the Dutch are presumably willing to give to the island.

Asking for accountability and a method to monitor and continue to play an active role in the recovery of Sint Maarten should absolutely be expected, not to mention a foregone conclusion. Any attempt by Marlin to block the Dutch request could result in the Kingdom invoking Article 51 in the Charter of the Kingdom, which allows the Dutch Government to act if Sint Maarten does not adequately perform its duties as required by the Charter.

Article 51 states:

If any organ in the Netherlands Antilles or in Aruba does not or does not adequately perform its duties as required by this present Charter, an international instrument, a Kingdom Act or an order in council for the Kingdom, the measures to be taken may be determined by Kingdom Act, setting forth the legal grounds and the reasons on which it is based.

This matter shall be regulated for the Netherlands, if necessary, in the Constitution.

If the Dutch are forced to invoke and enact the Kingdom Act, it could trigger a review by the Council of State, which at best will take a few months. This, in turn, would likely bring the Dutch funding to a near stand-still, delaying the entire recovery process and further damaging an already fragile economy.

This is significant because, regardless of what Marlin believes, the Constitution of Sint Maarten is subordinate to the Charter of the Kingdom (Wikipedia). Any effort by Marlin and the Sint Martin Parliament to rebuff the Dutch request is a losing proposal that, at best, will only delay the islands efforts to rebuild.

In a time where unity and progress is needed more than ever, politics seems to be playing too significant of a role. Based on Marlin’s comments today, it’s not a matter of if, but how much politics will impede the recovery in Sint Maarten.

Please help rebuild SXM and give today. Click here to visit the SXM Strong donate page. Thank you!

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Jon Strong

I am a U.S. citizen living in Phoenix, Arizona, with my wife and two sons. My family considers Saint Martin a second home and we’ve been there countless times. We love the culture, the people, the community, and the beauty of this island. The people have always made us feel at home and welcome.

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