02 April 2012

Dutch constitutional amendment would legalise economic inequality in Caribbean ‘public entities’ of Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba

"Such legislated economic inequality is a violation of international humanitarian law, and wholly inconsistent with the United Nations Charter" - according to several legal scholars.

Bonaire Reporter

 THE HAGUE—The Dutch Government is drafting a constitutional amendment to legalize lower level benefits to Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba citizens as compared to Dutch citizens who live in the European part  of  The Netherlands.
The proposal, which has been sent to the Dutch Parliament’s Second Chamber for handling, legitimizes the lower level of benefits, services and support on Bonaire, Statia and Saba. It states that “regulations may be set and
other special measures taken for the public entities, considering their special circumstances that distinguish them from the European part of The Netherlands.”

This would block residents of the islands from basing appeals on Article 1 of the Dutch Constitution, which states that everyone in The Netherlands has a right to equal treatment. In its advice to Parliament, the Council of State stated that, in principle, it supported differentiating between citizens in the Caribbean and Europe.

It will take a few years before the amendment to the Constitution can go into force. The proposal first has to pass the Dutch Parliament’s Second and First Chambers. If Parliament approves, the proposal will still require a second reading, which can only take place after a new cabinet has been elected, following 2015 elections. A majority of two-thirds is required for it then to become law.

Islands team up against change to Constitution

Dutch “public entities” Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba will jointly protest against a permanent differentiation clause for the islands, in an amended Dutch Constitution. According to Statia’s Commissioner Koos Sneek, the three islands will be coming with a counterproposal to the law proposal preparing the change to the Constitution.The law proposal of the Dutch Government seeks to anchor the public entity status of the islands. Included would be a permanent differentiation clause stating the islands’ specific circumstances. Just as Saba’s Commissioner Chris Johnson did last week, Sneek openly criticised the Dutch proposal over the weekend. He too said it was wrong to single out a specific group in The Netherlands, in this case three overseas islands. “If this is allowed now, who will be the next group?” he asked. Johnson had questioned The Hague’s loyalty. “We are either part of The Netherlands or not,” he had said last week at the end of a meeting with Dutch Minister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Liesbeth Spies.

The Dutch proposal is not only unjustified, it is also unnecessary, said Sneek. “Article 1 of the Constitution speaks of equality in an equal situation. But if our circumstances are already different, then we are not equal to begin with and there is no need to specifically state that in a separate article.”

The islands also believe that the process to change the Constitution has been initiated without their input and their consent. Sneek said he had had to read about the pending change in the newspaper. “The Netherlands says the islands have been informed since 2009, but I have asked around and nobody has seen those documents,” he said. “It directly concerns us, so the least they could have done is to inform us,” he added, noting that the islands had not been involved in the advice of the Council of State on this matter either. 

“This is not just any law; this is the Constitution, on which everything is based.” The Commissioner said he was especially irked because the process had been initiated by the Dutch Parliament’s Second Chamber, in which Bonaire, Statia and Saba have no say. “We couldn’t vote for this Second Chamber and we have no say, while it directly concerns us.” Sneek would like to see a regular consultation with Parliament’s Permanent Committee for Kingdom Relations, to discuss current affairs.

Sneek said the law proposal went against past agreements that no action would be undertaken until after the evaluation of the public entity status in 2015, at which time the islands could make a final decision on their constitutional status. However, a 2009 motion of the liberal democratic VVD party, which was adopted, instructed the Dutch Government to start the process of securing a constitutional status for the islands in the Constitution.

The Labour Party PvdA and Christian Union (CU) in the Second Chamber support the islands’ view that the Constitution may not be changed prior to the evaluation. According to the CU, there is no direct need to secure the public entity status. The PvdA argued that the islands might very well choose a different status, because the people were disappointed.

Bonaire, Statia and Saba have agreed that they will jointly draft a formal response to the Dutch proposal, with the assistance of experts.