Silence central bank on monetary union

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The 2017 Annual Report of the Central Bank of Curaçao and St Maarten (CBCS) makes a mockery of its mission to provide a thorough monetary and policy review of our monetary union (MUCS). Antilliaans Dagblad reported last week that the 2017 Annual Report contains only five of the usual twelve chapters. Additionally, the newspaper reported that the CBCS was unable to provide an explanation for the shrunk-down report. 

I would’ve advised against a shortened report. This, because the MUCS is dangerously off-course, and mainly because the CBCS needs damage control amid grave accusations against its former President and a questionable role as regulator in the case of a local insurance company. 

I’ll restrict my comments to the MUCS which was imposed by The Netherlands because it didn’t trust St Maarten back in 2008 to have its own central bank. Curaçao was compelled to accept the monetary union.

What’s missing from the aforementioned report are policy considerations regarding the coordination of macroeconomic, fiscal/financial policies and an adequate structure to accomplish this much needed convergence. These coordination mechanisms don’t exist between the two countries while they should be a top priority. During a CBCS-organized meeting in 2016, an Eastern Caribbean Central Bank senior officer stated that a monetary union without macroeconomic policy coordination among members is doomed to fail. History backs him up. In our case, St Maarten and Curaçao each has it own economic policy, tax code, budget management, labor policy and so on. As the years pass by, the two countries that used to belong to the Netherlands Antilles drift apart, each choosing its own path which is fine if they were not in a monetary union. 

How many times have the Ministers of Finance of Curaçao and St Maarten discussed coordination of policies? When was the last time they did? Whatever came out of those meetings? St Maarten has on many occasions favored adopting the US Dollar. The former CBCS President went on a road show a few years ago arguing in favor of the US currency for Curaçao because he didn’t ‘trust the local politicians with our finances’. Many of the Curaçao politicians in Government today wanted to step out of the monetary union a few years ago. Then, they belonged to the opposition. Some were in favor of the US Dollar, some not. Where are we today? Not only the CBCS report is mute on these matters. So is the Government. Not even the Governor General last week in her speech at the opening of the new parliamentary year recognized the importance of a well functioning monetary union. 

There are more relevant questions that remain unanswered. How is this lack of coordination going to influence the CBCS role combatting money laundering and terrorism in two different countries with no policy coordination on these matters? I could go on, but at times I feel as if I’m the only one who thinks that these issues are important. Silence on these issues is not going to solve anything however.

Willemstad, Curaçao

Our democracy is under stress

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On 15 September 2018, we celebrate for the 10th time the United Nations (UN) International Day of Democracy. Democracy is showing greater strain than at any time in decades according to the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres. 

As is the case in many parts of the world, in Curaçao there’re malignant populist tendencies to weaken the country’s institutions. We’ve seen calculated attempts to undermine Parliament, the independent court, the Central Bank, governance systems that promote accountability and the press. 

In the 1940s the Democratic Party of Curaçao (DP) thought that in order to advance, Curaçao needed a Soekarno, the Indonesian demagogic nationalistic leader who promised more justice by sacrificing civil liberties. Today I’m surprised to hear more people say that we need an autocratic ruler without much regard for democratic principles in order to make progress possible. Incidentally there is absolutely no evidence for a trade off between more equality by sacrificing democracy and accountability. 

Yet, even where democracies are firmly established citizens feel powerless. Democracies are not promoting human development and safeguarding freedom and dignity of all people. Dangers to the diversity of our society are increasing. Cultural nationalism, often invoked to suppress dissenting voices and minorities is on the rise.

The answer is however not to eliminate democracy. We should look for ways to widen and deepen democracy and seek answers for the challenges we face. 

We should in the first place realize that democratic systems cannot be imported. The democracy we choose must depend on our history and local circumstances.  We need to increase accountability to all people and participation of all people. People who suffer from inequalities of all kinds must increasingly assert their rights. Civil society has never been more important in our lives. It must become the oxygen of democracy. It also must be accountable. We must have a free press. The media must be free not just from state control but aso from corporate and political pressures. 

Hopefully this day will trigger us to build and cultivate a democracy that empowers everyone.  Finally, changes tend not to work if people feel excluded. Changes can not come from one group or political party. It requires a broad participation of all relevant actors. 

Willemstad, Curaçao

Myanmar moving on with refinery without Guangdong Zhenrong: lessons for Curaçao

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Since visiting Myanmar late 2016, I’ve written extensively about the failure of Guangdong Zhenrong Engergy (GZE) to deliver on promises made to this Asian country to build a refinery as part of China’s imperial One Belt One Road (OBOR) vision. GZE was eventually kicked out of Myanmar because of serious financial breach. Notwithstanding this information, Curaçaon (political) authorities were blinded by GZE’s flashy computer presentations promising not only a refinery here, but also casinos and a Las Vegas-style strip! Albeit too late, Curaçao desisted from continuing with this adventure.

It caught my attention that Myanmar has recently announced plans to build a large state-of-the-art oil refinery in Magwe Region, near an existing oil facility. This means that, if the refinery is built, it will not uproot thousands of local farmers and inhabitants as would have been the case had GZE continued with its plans. Environment and social impact of this project now play an important part after the GZE’s plans ended up being investigated by the United Nations.

The Government of Myanmar is expected to finance the refinery project in cooperation with the private sector and is moving ahead without GZE notwithstanding its relationship with China which is as “close as lips and teeth”. Undoubtedly the Burmese authorities are also aware that a whopping 234 infrastructure projects announced in the OBOR countries since 2013 have so far hit major problems. The huge Ituango dam in Colombia is a case in point.

Myanmar has revamped its energy policy by putting in place an energy data collection system; assigning highly qualified staff to government departments responsible for energy policy; sharpening the regulatory environment; investing in innovation technologies and an attractive fiscal framework for the sector.

Construction is expected to take between 3 and 5 years. There’re currently just two old oil refineries in the country – both of which are state-owned. One is currently non-operational, while the other is unable to produce fuels that comply with quality standards. Myanmar has vowed to be transparant in the  new refinery process and to steer away from political mudslinging, shady and ‘black box-like’ circumstances that led to the hasty MoU with GZE one day before the military Junta stepped down. The investigation and prosecution called for by the international community to investigate and prosecute the Burmese military leaders may shed more light into this matter.

Myanmar is the poorest country in Southeast Asia and shares a border with China. Not exactly comparable with Curaçao. Yet there are some lessons to be learned here. 

Willemstad, Curaçao

Diego Garcia’s population may get justice, regardless disdain from US, UK and EU for human rights

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It reads like a novel. Yet it has proven all too real for the people involved in one of the most incredible abuses committed in the 20th century by two self-proclaimed human rights advocates, the US and the UK.

There was once a population that lived in peace for generations on Diego Garcia, a paradise–like coral island midway between Africa and Asia. Until the entire population was forced to leave and go live 1,600 km away, while their island was turned into a secret military base. When the people protested, their dogs were slaughtered and were threatened with the same fate if they did not leave quickly. This was in 1971, not exactly the dark ages of colonial aggression. The inhabitants have not been able to return to their island, their homes. In 2016 I wrote an article on  how the US and the UK stole a nation and got away with it. https://alexdavidrosaria.blog/2016/12/30/diego-garcia-how-to-steal-a-nation-and-get-away-with-it/

There may be some hope however for these inhabitants. In 2017 a Mauritian-backed resolution to seek an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on the legal status of Diego Garcia was put to a vote in the United Nations General Assembly. With a margin of 94 to 15, delegates supported this resolution. A total of 65 countries preferred to remain silent on this matter by abstaining to vote. One of those who abstained was The Netherlands, always trigger happy to condemn everyone else of human rights violations, failed to send a message that it is against one of the greatest travesties of justice during the last 50 years.  I have Dutch nationality and I’m deeply ashamed by this coward action.

Judges at the ICJ  began hearing arguments on the legality of British sovereignty over the Diego Garcia. The final ruling however could take weeks or months to be delivered. A ruling in favor of the Mauritius-backed resolution could finally mean the return of the Diego Garcia’s population. A positive ruling would formally condemn the US and the UK for the atrocities committed against a defenseless population. It would also teach those that preferred to be complicit to the crimes committed by their European friend, that a real champion of human rights walks the talk and does not walk away. 

Willemstad, Curaçao

Hasi Boneiru i Isla Riba dependiente di Kòrsou i Aruba: proposishon di 1969

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Den kurso di añanan polítikonan semper a (laga nos) kere ku nos problemanan ta falta di e struktura gubernamental. Si no tabata Nieuwe Unie, ta UPG, LGO+, Mankomunidat, Provincie, Antia Restrukturá i Nieuwe Antillen ku mester a resolvé tur kos. Mi ta sigur ku mi lista ta inkompleto. Ami semper a gusta loke e Presidente di Koloniale Raad a bisa promé ku esaki a desaparesé na aprel 1938 pa traha espasio pa Staten: “E kalidat di hende pa manehá e struktura ta mas importante ku inventá un struktura gubernamental ku bo ta kere ta perfekto”. 

E artíkulo aki ta memorá un kambio estatal kurioso ku sierto polítiko di Kòrsou a proponé medio siglo pasá, pero ku ni historiadónan a lanta for di tera.

Despues di e susesonan di 30 mei 1969 ku a pone ku Gobièrnu di Antia a baha, a organisá elekshon nobo riba 5 sèptèmber 1969. A surgi un kombinashon di lista di tres partido (promé biaha den nos historia) konsistiendo di Partido Radical di Pueblo (PRP), Akshon Sosial Progresista (ASP) i Union Sosial Kristian (CSU) ku e siguiente lista: 1. Leoncio Yanez; 2. Eric Vinck; 3. Wilson Mariën; 4. Hermigildo de Palm; 5. Virginia Martina; 6. William Reet; 7. José Veeris; 8. Ostacio Winklaar; 9. Carlos Goeloe; 10. Elias Bronswinkel; 11. John Riley.

PRP-ASP-CSU via di su bosero, Sr. Bronswinkel,  komo punto di lansa kier a eliminá e asientonan den Staten di Boniero i Islanan Ariba. E  tabata haña ku Boneiru i Islanan Ariba no tabatin e peso pa tin asiento i voto den nos parlamento. E a proponé pa e dos nan aki tin solamente un “adviserende stem”. Mas a leu PRP-ASP-CSU a proponé pa mas outonomia i mas responsabilidat pa Aruba i Kòrsou mientras ku e tres teritorionan di Isla Ariba i Boneiru mester a bira mas dependiente di Aruba i Kòrsou. Segun Sr. Bronswinkel, eliminando e asientonan di Staten di Boneiru i Isla Ariba ku tabata stroba gobernashon, lo a pone ku nos pais porfin por a keda bon goberná.

Polítikonan di Isla Ariba i prinsipalmente di Boneiru a kaba ku e proposishon aki. Den esaki polítikonan a hasi bon uso di e echo ku Sr. Bronswinkel tabata pancho di karnaval na 1964 i ku e tabata yama su mes un spiritista ku por a papia ku defuntu a hasi bofón di tantu e proposishon di kambio estatal komo e bosero di e plan.

PRP-ASP-CSU a haña un total di 1,023 voto ku no tabata sufisiente pa saka un asiento den Staten. Ku esaki tambe e plan pa Boneiru, St. Maarten, St Eustatius i Saba bira dependiente di Aruba i Kòrsou, sin representashon den Staten, a pasa pa historia.

Willemstad, Curaçao

Curaçao’s demographic crisis

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While vacationing in Curaçao in 1991, I visited Landhuis Brievengat for drinks and live music. As I settled down on a bench outside, I was approached by an unknown local man who told me that he had come that night to “familiarize himself with the culture of The Netherlands since a lot of Dutch people frequented Landhuis Brievengat which came in handy because in four days he was emigrating there to get welfare and hopefully a job”.

He was one of many who abandoned Curaçao at that time. The expatriation wave to The Netherlands went from 36,000 to 76,000 between 1980 and 1992 according to the Dutch Taskforce on Minorities. It’s been well documented that many of those who left were unskilled. Unfortunately, discussions here centered about the constitutionality of the Dutch regulations to curb these emigrants instead of a substantive conversation about creating more opportunities for our people, especially the disenchanted group.

As we face a new wave of emigration (Central Bureau of Statistics) we’re in dire need of a meaningful conversation about a sustainable population policy, something I proposed back in 2010. What’s different this time is that more people of intermediate and high skills are leaving the island. The research group TAC reported in 2013: “Curaçao suffers from significant brain drain of its qualified personnel, which may actually exceed the Caribbean average.” 

There’re more nefarious consequences. Women outnumber men in Curaçao by 8% while worldwide men outnumber women by 0.8%. This huge gender imbalance makes it difficult for women to find a partner/husband. An increasing number of women who can still conceive, are abandoning Curaçao to look for a partner. If we consider that there’re more female than male students at Curaçao universities and that women increasingly more responsible for our GDP, our demographic problems suddenly appear to be worse than expected.

If we do too little to address the demographic challenge, we risk becoming a greying society with a strained pension and healthcare system, losing vitality with our young people leaving for opportunities elsewhere. I’m not saying however that we should indiscriminately take in immigrants beyond what we are able to accommodate. We must plan well ahead in order to expand and optimize our land use and infrastructure to overcome our current strains and congestion, and accommodate a larger population. Additionally, key decisions regarding our education system and reforms of our antiquated structures that make any economic development impossible, must be taken.

Though exaggerated somewhat but not implausible, we could be pushed to brink of extinction. It would not be the first time that entire societies have disappeared from the face of the earth. Hopefully our decision makers, especially the politicians will start doing more of what’s expected of them, namely shaping our future.

Willemstad, Curaçao

The warning bell, tolling again

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Much has been said about the demonstration last week against restricting public access to Curaçao’s shoreline at a luxury resort that ended with the destruction of two gates as well as an invasion of the premises by protesters who intimidated both personnel and tourists by yelling: “This is our country and foreigners must hit the road”. For the record, I defend the right to protest. I also believe there’s a case to be made for better regulation and clarity regarding public access to our coast. I condemn however the destruction of private property, trespassing and racial xenophobia. The Office of Public Prosecution correctly is looking into the alleged criminal acts committed by some protesters. No one should be above the law. 

There’s a bigger issue here however. One that will not be resolved by just finding a solution for last week’s protest or locking up those who may have committed criminal acts. The demonstration last week clearly showed that a group of protesters was galvanized into action because of deep-seated resentments, repetitive frustrations and long standing disappointments with social conditions that have become unbearable.

Our history is marred by inequality of opportunity because of gender, class, skin color, sexual orientation and religion. It did not disappear with the abolition of slavery, universal suffrage, political autonomy or the civil unrests of 1969. Inequality hasn’t dissipated because we have been unwilling to tackle them by having a genuine and robust discussion at the outset of any attempt to resolve grievances. In 2007 there was a serious attempt to install a Reconciliation Platform due to unrest regarding constitutional changes. I helped design the set-up due to my UN experience in the reconciliation process in Central America. This initiative was pronounced dead at birth however when discord among proposed members regarding the plan of action escalated. No wonder large groups on this island are tired of broken promises.

Our fight is not with the tourist or foreign investor. We need a forum where historical and new grievances can be raised and discussed in a mature and sensitive fashion. Reconciliation is a key objective in building sustainable peace and development. If we continue to only scratch the surface we are guaranteed to have a relapse into conflict and an all out civil unrest. Let’s consider what happened last week as warning bells. Let’s do something about it.

Willemstad, Curaçao