URSM suggests a SOHO instead of a COHO

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Philipsburg — Considering the hopelessness and mental exhaustion of the people of this country, and realizing the alarming social cries and poverty in Sint Maarten, I do believe that everyone agrees with me that some action should be taken to put this country back on the rails for more prosperity and economic growth.

I am together with the members of the URSM movement convinced that some kind of Reform and Development should take place in the short term.

Due to unfortunately a lack of initiative and vision from the side of our Parliamentarians and Ministers thus far, the Netherlands as a partner in the kingdom came to take an initiative in the form of the COHO (Caraibisch Orgaan Hervorming en Ontwikkeling; Caribbean Entity Reform and Development).

To understand the objective of the COHO, how this entity will be established, and how it will function, the law needs to be analyzed carefully.
While it may seem at first glance to be an initiative of a non-political nature, the wording used in the law gives reason to question the non-political nature.
1. The COHO is supposed to: Strengthen the local national public administration.
2. Improve the circumstances and livelihood of the people of Sint Maarten by improving Health Care, Education, Social Security, and Justice
3. Restore government’s finance and make the Island’s finance more sustainable and resilient.
4. Implement a fair taxation model.Those objectives seem to serve the betterment of the people of Sint Maarten and the country as a whole at first glance, however, one must question at what price, if any this offered help comes.
Based on the articles in the law the impression is that this entity is aimed at having political directive powers over our Government, whether directly through the country packages, or the plans of approach to be approved for entities to receive subsidies.The political undercurrent that can be found throughout the carefully crafted law, is found in how the CHO is established, where its seat is, and how its members are appointed and dismissed.  The powers of the CHO and the powers it brings to the CFT just support this sentiment. The minimal roles assigned to the government of Sint Maarten and our Parliament are another reason for us to believe that the COHO is intended to be more than just that entity to assist with much-needed reform.

But…, this “non-political” COHO concept that is intended to be crystallized in a kingdom act (consensus law) is not in line with the Charter of the Kingdom and in extension with the constitution of Sint Maarten.
The COHO is a Dutch administrative body that falls under Dutch jurisdiction and as a consequence falls under the entity called ZBO (Zelfstandig Bestuurs Orgaan). This means that the COHO falls directly under the Ministry of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations. The COHO focuses primarily on the Public Finance of Sint Maarten, which actually falls under the jurisdiction of Sint Maarten and thus the parliament of Sint Maarten. It must not be and cannot be that based on the Consensus Act the Minister of kingdom relations can be given the authority to issue financial instructions. In the new structure, the COHO will assess and determine policies in a way that parliament and the Council of Ministers of Sint Maarten will lose control over the National Budget. It becomes a governing model after the introduction of the COHO in which the Dutch Minister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations governs Country Sint Maarten. The State Secretary of the kingdom relations becomes now the “Director” of the National administration and thus the boss of the Prime Minister of Sint Maarten.
The same rules of Corporate Governance that have intensively been advocated by the Dutch Government are now also disregarded by the assignment of policies to be implemented and executed by the COHO. In this manner again the authority of Ministers and Parliamentarians of Country Sint Maarten is being undermined.
There are possibilities and opportunities in the way the COHO-law is drafted, that the rules of the game can constantly be changed by the Dutch, using for example unconditionally “Compliance” as a trigger for support. So too the power to determine policy guidelines for subsidy applications of entities in Sint Maarten, removing the “at arm’s length” principle intended to keep politics out of the companies. Through policies control within companies can be obtained by bypassing shareholders and Supervisory Board directors.
Further, it is worth mentioning that the agreement on the Consensus Kingdom Law should be based on a FREE WILL of the individual Countries in the Kingdom.
Parliament of each country in the Kingdom has to guarantee that legislation complies and adheres to applicable treaties, in this case for example with article 73 of the UN Charter that determines the right to self-determination and self-government. The Establishment of the COHO as such is in its present proposed form tramples of the Autonomy of Country Sint Maarten.

In case of an unexpected negative effect of the measures implemented by the COHO, neither Parliament nor the Minister of Sint Maarten can stop this negative development.
As it is arranged now, the CFT is an independent entity that only monitors the government’s financial compliances and financial management. The CFT in the current structure cannot interfere with policies. In the proposed COHO-Law the CFT does get the possibility and freedom to interfere with the national policies.

Reasons that contribute to the long-term failure of this COHO implementation:

  • There has been no convincing analytic research proving the measurable success of the objectives of the COHO (especially related to a timeline).
  • There is a lack of professional treasury to implement this bureaucratic organization (do not forget the pure outcome of realized projects by the World Bank since Hurricane Irma that has been working parallel with the Government under the supervision of the Dutch government).
  • In the way the COHO is intended to be realized, it will not get the goodwill for cooperation on the legislative and executive level in Sint Maarten, with hence a high risk to be dead by arrival.
  • Any national budget amendment and any draft approved by parliament must undergo the scrutiny of the COHO as it relates to Country packages, which will be unacceptable.
  • The country packages will in the short, mid, and long term dictate the Sint Maarten Country Budget.

The COHO demands that nothing in the budget should form an obstacle to or impede the Country package measures.

  • The COHO has the liberty to provide financial resources directly to government bodies (I think that this undermines the functioning of our government).
  • The COHO can grant grants to citizens, legal entities, and public companies without the consent of the government.
  • The COHO can independently establish cooperation protocols with entities in the Kingdom and also with organizations outside the kingdom for example the IMF, WB, EU, etc.
  • The recruitment of members for the COHO falls under The Ministry of BZK in the Netherlands.
  • Nowhere stands that Sint Maarten should have a representation in the management board of the COHO.

The URSM (Unified Resilient Sint Maarten Movement) does have recommendations / suggestions to guarantee a successful reform and development for the people of this Country:

1. The Power of a Reform and Development entity/body MUST belong to the people of Sint Maarten, and thus to the local national administration.

2. To realize this, the COHO should be transformed into a SOHO (Sint Maarten Orgaan Hervorming en Ontwikkeling /Sint Maarten entity Reform and Development). This SOHO must be an independent administrative body.

In this case, Sint Maarten and the Netherlands decide together on appointments, projects, and funding, instead of bringing it under the responsibility of a Dutch State Secretary or Dutch Minister, who is only accountable to the Dutch second chamber, while it concerns issues related to the people of Sint Maarten.

3. The government of Sint Maarten and the parliament of Sint Maarten must have one solid stance towards the COHO (at this particular moment this is not the case) and must make use of the democratic opportunity to express the concerns of Sint Maarten (loose from the other Countries Aruba and Curacao in the Kingdom) in the report of the treatment of this kingdom law.
Important to know is that the Dutch second chamber can bring a halt to the COHO in the way it is structured.

4. By the way, the Board of directors of the SOHO should consist of three board members; two local members and one representative of the Dutch.