Columns, toespraken & ingezonden stukken

Toespraak Prof. Mr. Jaime M. Saleh

Op 22 oktober 2010 heeft Prof. Mr. Jaime Saleh, vice-voorzitter van het Comité Koninrkijksrelaties, ter gelegenheid van het jaarlijkse zakendiner van de Arubaanse Kamer van Koophandel een toespraak gehouden. Hierin besprak hij, in het kader van de constitutionele veranderingen, de rol die Aruba kan spelen in het promoten van een duurzame samenwerking en samenhang tussen de verschillende partners in het Koninkrijk.

Hieronder kunt U de tekst van zijn toespraak lezen:

I started coming to Aruba in 1969 as a prosecutor, working together at that time with very good friends, the late Mr.  Siegfried Tjon Ajong and Mr. Florencio Wernet; later beginning the 70th as a law attorney in the private sector; then since 1974 until 1990 as a judge and President of the Common Court of Justice of the Netherlands Antilles and Aruba.  Not to forget the very good relations we always had with the Governors of Aruba.

I have worked in all parts of the Kingdom. So, I can tell you that my wife and I and my whole family also feel at home in all the parts of the Kingdom.  This might seem an exception nowadays when some in our societies all over the Kingdom are expressing negative feelings back and force against each other.

Needless to say that since the dismantling of the  Netherlands Antilles as of October 10, 2010 the whole Kingdom is at a cross road of new developments. The autonomous status for Curacao and Sint Maarten entails greater self-determination. This provides the islands as new countries with the opportunity to address their financial, social and economic problems in a more island specific context. However, we have also to understand that both in spirit and letter, more autonomy ought to be understood as a political force and definitely not as a withdrawal or entrenchment behind the walls of naïve self-sufficiency or impossible autarky in this world of globalization.

Furthermore, constitutional changes alone should not be seen as a panacea, a kind of remedy for all these problems. History in all parts of the world during centuries has proven that reversal of fortunes for societies and humanity in general cannot come from political measures alone, and certainly not from exclusive economic measures, technological innovation or constitutional changes. Deliverance will come from drastic change in a reassessment of cultural, spiritual and ethical values, eventually expressed in a transformation of both society and economics.

In the context of our Kingdom situation this means – in other words – that changes in constitutional structures by themselves will not have any effect if this is not accompanied by a change of mindset of people in the society at large, but particularly of leaders in the community both in the public and private sector. It is a fact that development starts in people’s mind, in their attitudes, values systems and judgments. To sustain our constitutional provisions and their implementations, and the democratic process in general, what is required is a political society which shares their underlying values and constantly manifests commitment to them in its own political activity.  Without transformation of mindset we will have more of the same, but than in a new constitutional structure without any additional benefit for our society.

So, the new status of our islands will require a lot of new positive energy. The point is not only to have more autonomy and more self-determination, but especially to become more responsible in giving our islands a clear direction and to implement a set of coherent policies that stimulate a sustainable economic growth and present more benefits for our people. In my opinion the focus on our islands should be on stimulating our social and economic transformation, which is both innovative and creative and provides a unique quality of life to the people of our islands. Of course we have the right to make use of our autonomous status and of being ourselves, but not to repeat the past, but to invent the future.

It is in the context of all these constitutional changes that I would like to share with you my views how we can make use of this new constellation of the Kingdom to promoting sustainable cooperation and cohesion between the partners in the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

I will in particular stress on the challenging role Aruba can play in this new situation. I am not saying this to please you, but because I really believe that the Government and private sectors of Aruba have proven to have all the ingredients to take the lead in moving to more cooperation and sense of togetherness  all over the societies of the Kingdom. Evidence of this has been shown recently when by mediation of the Prime-Minister of Aruba, Mr. Mike Eman, within a very short period of time a successful meeting was organized in Caracas with the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Venezuela together with our Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom, Mr. Maxime Verhagen, and a representative of the Netherlands Antilles. The purpose of this meeting was to discuss the relation between Venezuela and the partners in the Kingdom, which relation is from time to time under stress. Mention has to be made also of the excellent job the Netherlands-Aruba Friendship Association for many years is doing in the Netherlands by promoting friendship and cooperation between both countries.  Furthermore the whole private sector of Aruba, including the Chamber of Commerce, the Business Association and the Hotel Association, has been leading forces all over the world, in particular the Caribbean and the Americas from North to South by putting the name of Aruba on the map and creating all kind of cooperation in the different sectors.

On coming December 15 the Charter for the Kingdom of the Netherlands (het Statuut) will exist 56 years. Taking in consideration the new Kingdom constellation this can be a great opportunity for us to thoroughly reflect on the meaning of the Kingdom. When I say “us”, I mean the Kingdom partners, but also and above all the peoples of the countries. Older ones among us can still remember the first question of the old catechism: “Why are we on earth?”. I would like to paraphrase this: “Why are we in the Kingdom?” If this is only a historical fact that we – more or less forced – have been condemned to each other, than in that case the Kingdom has actually no meaning. Then the peoples of our islands could easily decide to split up. But the populations of all our islands have expressly chosen to remain within the Kingdom. We have to respect the will of our people. This implies an overriding obligation to focus our attention on those issues that really matter to the societies in the Kingdom in the longer term.

The so-called “Committee Kingdom Relations” under the leadership of Prof. Mr. Pieter van Vollenhoven and myself speaks of more “investment in togetherness.” In a report the Council of State of the Kingdom (de Raad van State) mentioned two possibilities: “deepening or breaking up the relations” (Verdieping of uit elkaar gaan). As mentioned before, our the peoples have decided that we have to stay together.  But we all know that the relations in recent years are often under pressure and that there is too much attention for incidents, while we can make better use of the time by focusing together on those issues that really matter for the societies all over the Kingdom in the longer term.

So we need new dimensions and impulses. We need social and economic transformation in our Kingdom relation. This implies the urgent necessity to create a new framework in which from time to time we can discuss together and to reflect on the implications of being partners in the Kingdom.  In short, we have to work on a modern form of the Kingdom, which combines unity in diversity and autonomy.

As such a framework I would like to propose to start with a “Kingdom Seminar”. This will give both the private and the public sectors of all the partners in the Kingdom a good opportunity to meet each other one or twice a year and to discuss on social and economic matters that affect the societies on the whole. We have to consider this Seminar separate from the planned so-called “Kingdom Conference” as planned in the final Roundtable Conference of September 9, 2010, which is more aimed at government and constitutional matters. It would be appreciated if Aruba can take the lead in organizing this Kingdom Seminar, somewhere in the first quarter of next year. A small committee of one respectable representative of each of the partners can be set-up to prepare this Seminar. I have to admit that this is not the first time that we make such an effort. In the beginning of the nineties we tried the same but without success. I am really convinced that time has come for further development in that direction.

What are the main issues to be discussed in that Seminar in the context of the new constellation of the Kingdom? I repeat: we have to focus on items which concern our people, our societies at the most: social and economic matters, leading to a total positive transformation of our societies and of course leading to a better understanding of the Kingdom relation on the level of all our social societies. So, in this Seminar preferably no discussion on pure governmental and constitutional items.

What is the meaning of a social and economic transformation of the relations between the Kingdom societies? It means in the first place that we have to create more sense of communality and togetherness with each other in the Kingdom. This will be of strategic importance and provides our islands an opportunity to strengthen our position in dealing with global developments which at the end means for all our people:

  • a great place to live, learn, work and do business;
  • islands where their people enjoy good incomes and leisure;
  • islands that have strong connections and relationships with the rest of the world;
  • socially cohesive islands where diversity and ideas are valued;
  • islands that provide quality health and education services; and
  • islands with a healthy and sustainable environment.

Now I would like to elaborate a little bit more into details on these topics that can bring us in the future to renewed confidence in the Kingdom community.

The first thing we miss in the Kingdom is sufficient common feelings of togetherness and unity of the societies. The quality of the relationship between the countries is constantly under pressure. In general, there is little interest back and forth, and the possible interest is often determined by the incidents, false perceptions and lack of knowledge. For example, the most recent discussion about the so-called Kingdom Law on the traffic of people within the Kingdom will increase the pressure and will – apart from the legal and constitutional aspects – not lead to the solution of the real problems. What we really have to do is: sit together, discuss the problems and look for acceptable solutions on both sides of the ocean.

All these incidents, false perceptions and lack of knowledge are particularly unfortunate because the Kingdom bonds can yield significant benefits. The socio-cultural and socio-economic diversity of the communities of the Kingdom can lead to meaningful cooperation in many fields and offers opportunities for a common approach and experience. This sense of a large Kingdom community and great feelings of togetherness should be better emphasized in the coming years during the Kingdom Seminar, but also in many other settings of communications.

Reinforcing the perception and interpretation of the togetherness and of the awareness within the Kingdom that we all are Dutch citizens, could lead to a radical reversal of the valuation of the major socio-economic disparities between and within countries in the Kingdom, particularly with regard to social services like education, housing and medical care.

With some the question will arise whether these settings of aims are realistic. The countries lie far apart. Many people on both sides of the ocean don’t know so much about each other. According to me the starting point has to be that the countries and islands of the Kingdom are historically interconnected. This solidarity needs now a new legitimization. This can be done by upgrading the idea of a stronger commitment of the countries on the Kingdom level, which should also lead to a stronger affiliation with the larger contexts of countries, like the European Union. This will prevent our countries from ending up in isolation without any kind of guarantees, even with respect to a reasonable level of social facilities. In our time there should be in the Kingdom and between their people real feelings of communality including not only care for the formal constitutional tasks but also and above all the common responsibility for the socio-cultural relationships within and between countries. One important way to do that is by having an exchange of children from the elementary schools all over the Kingdom. Let them come and meet each other on our islands and the other way round.  I would also recommend much regular meetings between the business and union    organizations for exchanging of ideas on matters of mutual concern. They can also make use of each other connections for taking away certain negative perceptions.

Apart from the stronger ties between the Kingdom partners we have to boost the inter-governmental, socio-economic and cultural relations of the Caribbean parts of the Kingdom with the Caribbean and Latin American region. We should maintain and even increase our already existing regional networks. In this context I would like to recommend that we make much more use of our embassies in the whole region. I know that all our ambassadors are available for cooperation with us in opening local doors and promoting our countries.

As partners in the Kingdom we should strive for an acceptable level of social services and facilities for all our populations. Too much socio-economic disparities should be taken away. It is unacceptable that in a Kingdom like ours there are such big differences with regard to the standard of living.  After all, the Kingdom is not only a guarantee of good governance and law enforcement, but also for a proper social order. That does not mean that we have to have for example the same level of income or pensions, but I am convinced that in the fields of social-economic cooperation (education, public health, housing, infrastructures etc.)  living standards on our islands should in any case be adopted with regard to an acceptable minimum level of social services.

Involvement and cooperation of private initiatives (NGOs, civil society) in the Kingdom could lead to non-governmental alliances, to which part of the lower social care could be entrusted.  We should not be afraid of these kinds of alliances. Do not consider this as a kind of influencing our autonomy.  On the contrary, this will lead to a more relaxed relationship between the governments, but in particular between the partners in de social societies and in the end between the people all over the Kingdom. The working scope and objectives of the Dutch NGO,s should be broadened by making it possible for them to cooperate with similar NGO,s in Aruba, Curacao, Bonaire, Sint Maarten, Sint Eustatius and Saba, particularly in the field of social-economic matters, education, public health, and housing.

Finally, I would like to say few words with regards to the relations between the Kingdom of the Netherlands and the European Union. The Kingdom Community is under pressure from the ongoing European integration. Part of the Kingdom, the Netherlands, is a member of the Union and we as Dutch Caribbean islands are not. Our islands have the status of Overseas Countries and Territories (OCT). As a result of European integration, the Netherlands and our islands are increasingly being driven apart in terms of legislation and policies.

For a number of non-European territories an arrangement has been made in the European Union Treaty leading to a direct application of the Treaty on European Union Treaty. Neither for principle nor practical reasons, there are objections why certain arrangements cannot be made applicable for our islands. Nothing has to be changed in the Statute of the Kingdom. The current OCT status has become problematic and we can have our doubts about the value of being OCT-countries. The vast majority of OCT at the time of the creation of the EU became independent, and most of the remaining OCT is economically marginal. On the other hand, our islands can count on substantial financial support in the position of the so-called Ultra Peripheral Territories (“Outermost Regions) of the European Union. But also without becoming an “Ultra Peripheral Territory” right now we can already make use of certain facilities of the EU.  Why are we not making sufficiently use of these facilities?

I know there are certain doubts about this approach, but to prevent our islands getting into an increasingly isolated position, we have to startup again the discussion on this matter which is already going on for many years.  There are many reports with different opinions available. The one of Council of State (Raad van State) is positive, but the other one negative. Also in this case Aruba should take the initiative by putting this again as soon as possible on the table. The timing is appropriate; we have new governments all over the Kingdom.

In short, it is about time to start talking as partners in the Kingdom about matters which really affect the people, the man and women in the street.
Improving of communication is only possible from a common perspective. Such communication can not only occur at political/administrative level. Without the involvement of civil society groups, representatives of young generations, people outside the political/administrative heat of the day, it will not work. It is about time to seize the new opportunities.

I sincerely hope that the Government and the private sectors of Aruba will be willing to take the initiative and lead the process of new dimensions and impulses within the Kingdom.

Again, it was a real pleasure being with all of you here today and I wish you all the best in all your future endeavors.


Thank you very much for your kind attention.

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