The economy: less cheers, more action

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The longest meetings I’ve experienced in my professional life are those between the economic unit and staff of the United Nations office in Chad.  Everyone had an opinion, even those who’ve never had a single economics class. Curiously, meetings about how to contain the expansion of the Sahara desert never took long as discussions on this matter were left to the experts. But, I digress. I want to discuss the economic malaise of Curaçao.

I’ve recently heard that we’ve to be optimistic for the economy to grow. Optimism is key, but it’s a result of current or future expectations which, in turn, depend on good pro-grow policies. Optimism is not a policy.

We’ve heard that people have to spend more (plaka tin ku lora in Papiamentu). Again, correct. But nobody will spend more money, and the private sector will remain reluctant to take risk and invest if people do not expect things to change. Real change comes with a good policy mix by the Government, not with ad hoc ideas that sometimes fly a bit too close to the sun.

Others say we need to export more. True. Our balance of payments has been screaming for a solution for years now. Yet we have no trade policy, we don’t comply with the World Trade Organization (WTO) and don’t have a single trade agreement. Yet, we don’t even talk about this.

Finally, popular with politicians: we need to attract fresh foreign investments and do something about the projects that are, sometimes for decades, in the pipeline. A big yes. Yet we seem not to realize that the reason it’s difficult to attract investments is because we lack the policies and infrastructure that make us attractive for investments. Secondly, so many projects are in the pipeline because of our stiffing regulatory environment and inflexible, antiquated policies. Talking about investments won’t cut the mustard. Good policies will.

With all due respect to the people who have been talking about resolving the economy with pep rallies: it’s about policies, stupid. We need to streamline and automate procedures, eliminate unnecessary red tape, make the labour and capital markets more flexible, get our act together with the WTO, design a trade policy, negotiate trade treaties and have a demographic policy to counter our shrinking and aging population. 

It’s not easy, but we need less cheering and more action to make it happen.

Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

Travel, let magic happen

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I grimace at the thought of all-inclusive cruise packages and tours that take you from their point A to their point B in a frenzied compression of time to complete predetermined itineraries. Traveling like that may be comfortable for some, but it will invariably keep you in a bubble that prevents you from having magic happen to you, something to write home about. Why would you travel to stay in a fenced resort, far away from the local community where your contact with the local people is reduced to superficial talks with the cleaning lady and bartender? 

This is my take on allowing yourself to be blown away while traveling. It’s not a one-size-fits-all to do list.

Leave excess baggage home

Travel light. It allows for flexibility which will come handy if you decide to take a side trip especially on public transportation. Most importantly, dump all mental baggage you may have. Stereotypes and preconceived ideas about places, people and their customs will cloud your ability to immerse yourself in the unknown.

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Avoid jam packed schedules

Avoid whirlwind and punishing schedules of “must-see tourist stops” which will surely prevent you from having a real time. Instead of visiting every city, choose to know one or two places well. When people see you a few times in their neighborhood or establishment they will open up to you and have normal conversations of their daily lives. 

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Let your curiosity run wild

Horse milk, wolf blood, crickets, worms may be just a bit too adventurous, but eat at the local market, try the street food. Go watch a local show in the park, visit a karaoke bar, find out where the locals hang out. See the beauty in the strange or unknown. Be proud to say that you were the only tourist around.

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 Plan time to just sit and watch 

Don’t rush time. Instead of burying your face in your mobile phone or tablet sit down, have a cup of tea and just watch people go by. There is a lot of fun in people watching.

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Widen your world

A major airline uses ‘widen your world’ as its slogan. I think it’s genius. Let’s create our own paths in places others have overlooked. Don’t settle for the same old routines but find joy in the unfamiliar. Dream more, dare more, dig in and let magic happens during your travels.

Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

Gemiste kans erkenning Bob Pinedo

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Een gemiste kans. Dit nadat gelezen te hebben dat het nieuwe ziekenhuis omgedoopt zal worden tot Curaçao Medical Center. Geen vermelding van de van lokale bodem en door de  internationale gemeenschap erkende oncoloog en hoogleraar, Bob Pinedo. Het voorstel om het nieuwe ziekenhuis naar Bob Pinedo te noemen lanceerde ik destijds als statenlid in 2015.

Nadat de Staten de begroting van 2016 had goedgekeurd, werd een motie gepresenteerd waarin de minister van Gezondheid, Milieu en Natuur werd geinstrueerd om een fors bedrag te geven aan Fundashon Prevenshon -de door Bob Pinedo opgerichte instelling die preventief onderzoek doet naar borst- en baarmoederhalskanker- om die in leven te houden. Voordat de motie werd ingediend, heb ik gelobbyd om in die motie ook de steunbetuiging van de Staten op te nemen om het nieuwe ziekenhuis naar Bob Pinedo te vernoemen.

Jammer werd het snel duidelijk dat de Leden der Staten er toentertijd daar anders over dachten. Tenminste éen van de coalitie partners alsmede éen oppositie fractie waren tegen dit voorstel. Het voorstel om het ziekenhuis naar Bob Pinedo te vernoemen moest worden losgelaten om zo de financiële steun aan de Stichting niet in gevaar te brengen. Wel heb ik tijdens de stemmotivering  van de motie mijn voorstel onderbouwd om het ziekenhuis naar Bob Pidedo te vernoemen.

Het blijft me verbazen hoe keer op keer we op Curaçao mensen van lokale bodem die met bloed, zweet en tranen hun potentieel hebben bereikt en zelfs zoals in het geval van Bob Pinedo, door de internationale gemeenschap op zijn vakgebied wordt geprezen en erkend, door afgunst en frustratie onder onze eigen mensen, deze mensen afbreken, tegenwerken en niets gunnen. Hoe komen wij in hemelsnaam zo vooruit?

Alex Rosaria

Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

When a name really matters

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Statue in Skopje, Macedonia (Photo Alex Rosaria)

One of the first thing I noticed when I arrived earlier this year in Skopje, the capital of Macedonia, were the stickers protesting a proposal to change the name of the country from the current Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) to Northern Macedonia. The more time I spent in this Balkan country, the clearer it became this was about nationalism and pride.

This naming animosity began 27 years ago when FYROM declared independence from the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, but has roots going back to antiquity. This row is so heated that FYROM is not permitted to join the EU or the NATO (due to Greece’s veto) to accede to Nato and the EU without a name change. 

Greece has objected to its neighbor being called Macedonia because it has a northern province of the same name, the seat of Alexander the Great’s ancient kingdom. Alexander the Great still represents a source of pride for many Greeks today. According to Greece the current name of Macedonia “could imply territorial claims on the Greek province and usurp ancient Greek culture and civilization”.

On September 30 2018, the people of Macedonia went to the polling places to vote in a non-binding referendum to bring clarify this matter. Athens had agreed to end its objections to Macedonia’s EU and Nato membership bids if the change was passed.

Preliminary results show that just over a third of Macedonians voted in the referendum, with 50% needed. But 90% of those who took voted were in favor of the change. Not surprisingly both sides claim victory. The country’s prime minister has urged parliament to “confirm the will of the majority”. The majority that has boycotted this referendum has vowed not to accept such a move. 

Russian meddling in this matter is clear. Russia is not going to accept that this former socialist territory drifts in to the West’s orbit. Moscow, as always, denies the claim.

What was intended to heal the wounds of time, to open a path for peace, is still keeping everyone in suspense. Shakespeare wrote “what’s in a name” In Romeo and Juliet. Obviously he could not have imagined this immense geopolitical name row.

Istanbul, Turkey

I stand with you LGBTQ

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The sixth edition of Curaçao Pride will be celebrated from September 27-30, 2018. It’s a 5-day long event filled with activities catering to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ ) community and the Curaçao people.

I said at the opening of Curaçao Pride back in 2013 that the fact that compared  to many of our neighbors we have been historically tolerant towards the LGBTQ doesn’t mean that we have to condemn the LGBTQ communities to silence. We should continue to speak out against all forms of discrimination in Curaçao.

Of all people, we should know that discrimination, prejudice, bigotry is a deadly poison. Our fight against injustice goes way back to the dark days of colonialism and slavery. Yes, we have come a long way. We know however that large groups continue to face discrimination because of their sex, creed, religion, origin, skin color, physical appearance and sexual orientation. 

As we celebrate Curaçao Pride this year, let’s (again) realize that our journey to equality for all is not complete until our LGBTQ brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law – including legalizing same sex-marriage under civil law. Marriage should not be a heterosexual privilege for if we are created equal, then the love we commit to another human being must be equal as well.

We must realize however that there will not be a magic day when we wake up to a country without discrimination and prejudice. The LGBTQ needs to be more united. We all need to be united, because the LGBTQ struggle may look different than ours, but their pain is the same as our pain when treated unjustly. 

Curaçao pride 2018 will most definitely not completely disarm prejudice, but it’s a starting point. Bonds of solidarity must be forged between all communities on our island. You don’t have to be a LGBTQ member to understand that what’s happening is plain wrong. You don’t have to be a LGBTQ to feel compassion. Despite our diferences we are one people. I stand with you LGBTQ.

Willemstad, Curaçao

 

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