WILLEMSTAD - Before the parliamentary elections in March, the new government parties in Curaçao promised to renegotiate financial aid with the Netherlands, so that The Hague would have less say on the island. The question arises whether Prime Minister Pisas has committed voter fraud, now that he has agreed to the Caribbean Organ of Reform and Development or the so-called COHO.
Many people on Curaçao depend on the hundreds of millions in interest-free loans from The Hague. This will keep companies afloat and 26,000 residents can count on benefits or food cards. Willemstad politically also prevents about 2,000 civil servants from having to be laid off, says the new Prime Minister Gilmar Pisas.
Prime Minister breaks election promise
The Hague demands major reforms in exchange for hundreds of millions in interest-free loans, and quickly. There will also be six years of The Hague supervision on Curaçao for all "Dutch taxpayers' money" and supervision for the implementation of all reforms. Many critics on the island have difficulty with that, because The Hague would then gain too much power.
Former Prime Minister Eugene Rhuggenaath is to blame for the agreement, according to the new coalition of MFK and PNP. Both parties won the March 19 elections because they convinced voters that they can renegotiate a better deal and guarantee more autonomy.
But after barely two months in power, the cabinet is finally breaking with their election promise. They officially supported the bill for the COHO during the Kingdom Council of Ministers last Friday, without restrictions or further comments.
How is that possible? Pisas spoke on Friday about "enormous pressure" from The Hague on his new government. The Dutch government threatens to stop all aid immediately if the island questions the Dutch conditions. This has happened to Sint Maarten twice already. “If that happens here, many will be without money,” Prime Minister Gilmar Pisas warns after the Kingdom Council of Ministers.
“All help would then stop automatically. We will also have to repay the bulk of loans immediately," the prime minister continues. “That puts such pressure on us, so that we can no longer even act soberly to achieve something better.”
At the beginning of June, just before he was sworn in as prime minister, Pisas sent a letter to The Hague in which he clearly indicates that his new cabinet supports the COHO. It was mainly intended as a reassurance to outgoing Undersecretary Raymond Knops of Kingdom Relations.
Prime Minister himself denies committing 'voter fraud'. “The Hague does not want to give us space, because they say: the previous cabinet was already far with the agreements. We were not allowed to renegotiate, but connect. There has been enormous time pressure," emphasizes Pisas after the Kingdom Council of Ministers. He puts the blame on the Netherlands.
The Prime Minister appears to be reminded of his own letter and promise by The Hague. In the same letter of June, he had made an important addition that his new ministerial team is based on 'continuity of governance'. In other words, the wheel is not being reinvented.
Silence from the Dutch Parliament
Few Dutch MPs spoke openly last weekend. Only D66 MP Jorien Wuite has given a short response. According to her, "the pressure is more than worrying." Wuite has been critical of the way in which the Dutch government has set conditions for some time.
For the time being, outgoing Undersecretary Knops does not want to hear anything about 'more autonomy'. According to him, the corona crisis has once again shown that the islands of Aruba, Curaçao and Sint Maarten cannot bear their responsibility. He thinks they have become too dependent on the Netherlands.
As far as Prime Minister Mark Rutte is concerned, the islands must therefore first undergo significant reforms. The goal: to build up own reserves and get a stronger government and economy. “We are not negotiating about our proposal,” Rutte said earlier.
“This aid is an offer from the Netherlands. We don't have to do it, of course we do because they have big problems. But then it is not surprising that you say: a number of reforms must now take place.”