The Daily Herald – Sarah: COHO is not a solution for lasting reform
PHILIPSBURG — Sarah Wescot-Williams, United Democrats (UD) MP, said Monday that when discussions of the IPKO Kingdom interparliamentary consultation begin this Wednesday, the elephant in the room will be the Kingdom’s consensus bill to establish the Caribbean Body for Reform and Development COHO for Dutch Caribbean countries Aruba, Curaçao and St. Maarten.
The COHO bill is being debated at the Tripartite meeting of the three Caribbean nations today, Tuesday, as it will be at the IPKO quadripartite meetings.
The parliaments of the four countries are all at different stages of processing this law. However, all eyes are on the first and second chambers of the Netherlands’ parliament, as that is where the votes will eventually fall, Wescot-Williams said in a press release on Monday.
“Essentially, the question is whether parliaments are for or against the current draft, what are they opposed to and what if there is no consensus to be reached? she asked.
Some supporters of the law or parts of the law equate this COHO law with much-needed reforms, she said. Others see in the law the materialization finally of essential evolutions.
It is from this premise that Westot-Williams approaches the COHO bill.
In his view, the origin of building COHO was not to help countries develop, it was “a clear and simple way to advance a plethora of issues via a (new) type of higher oversight” .
“We apparently forgot that the forerunner of COHO was CHE, the Caribbean Reform Entity, an entity that would oversee and report on agreed reforms, which even initially included the country’s infrastructure, which was later reversed,” she stated.
“CHE strongly opposed this, as its attacks on the constitutional order of the Kingdom of the Netherlands were as blatant as day. All of this is taking place in a tense political environment between the Kingdom’s partners and this tense political environment has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic which has had the four countries in its grip,” she said. “It must be said, however, that for emergency relief, especially in the field of health, the Netherlands has sprung into action without hesitation towards its smaller partners in the Kingdom.
“While it is well known that the initial reform entity was rejected due to its profound usurpation of the responsibilities and autonomy of the countries, the spirit of this construction nevertheless remained in the COHO.
“Country packages have been agreed between the Netherlands and the respective countries via the mutual agreement format of article 38, under 1 of the Kingdom Charter. This type of agreement, which has become too common, escapes the parliamentary control and its use must be reviewed.
“The government of Saint-Martin has gone around this whole thing with different parts of the government in power on completely opposite trajectories, which has led to some very embarrassing moments, such as the partial rejection of the UN petition filed in the name of the Parliament of Saint-Martin, the embarrassing moments of the meetings of the Council of Ministers of the Kingdom.
“More recently, in a technical meeting behind closed doors with the Prime Minister present, Parliament was briefed on how Saint-Martin had defended its position, to be followed by a public meeting of the Central Committee where we heard again how the hands of the government were twisted to reach a consensus between the four governments.
She said the country package is far from a national reform program based on goals, objectives and priorities. The country package, she notes, is a “hodgepodge” of areas of reform, some urgently needed, some desirable, some still demanded of St. Maarten, then random actions without any motivation or priority.
“The COHO project is a clever way to force the hand of the governments of the ACS countries. It is a form of higher oversight without the legality of higher oversight and that, in my view, does not contribute to sustainability,” she said. “I foresee major problems with the funding of the reform packages, without a clear financial picture on COHO’s side. Not to mention the continued negative evolution of our debt position.
“While it is true that in the country package some long-agreed reforms (e.g. tax reform and financial reform) are seeing the light of day again, unfortunately the country package is not a complete and synchronized set of measures based on a vision for the country moving forward.
She said comprehensive reforms such as those dictated by the country package must be preceded by a plan, setting out the envisaged development goals and future prospects.
The government’s budget will now be approved on the basis of the country’s reform program, which considerably ties the hands of the government.
“It is a global control of the budget and violates the budgetary law of parliaments. Parliament’s oversight role will be relegated to automatic approval, because by the time the budget reaches Parliament, the implementation program, projects and capital investments will have already been signed. The now added role of CFT [Committee for Financial Supervision – Ed.] is also worrying because there will be overlaps and there are still too many ambiguities.
She said that even though the management of the Trust Fund by the World Bank is highly bureaucratic, the existence of the (temporary) National Recovery Program Office (NRBP) ensures “local color” and shows how even for an organization temporary, if it is to be permanent, the foundation must be established locally. “The same can be said for the COHO construction, so any other configuration should be designed with durability and capacity building in mind.”
Wescot-Williams believes that national programs/implementation programs need to be overhauled.
“Many of the problems we face with the construction of the World Bank Trust Fund will be repeated with the organization of temporary work as well as with the COHO. Problems [will be encountered] such as reaching agreement on how and when to proceed, having the local capacity to act as counterparties, and the lack of a public national plan in which all of this takes shape.
“On top of all this, if the government continues to roll out anything and the people, stakeholders and different sectors are not involved in what the government is doing, it will create an atmosphere of mistrust and polarization. at national scale.”
She stated that the powers delegated to the COHO organization are more of a development and investment banking type of structure with all the necessary checks and balances that such an institution requires; a development structure better suited to small islands, ensuring that checks and balances are in place and that accountability has teeth.
“It’s not for lack of plans per se, like we’ve had many tax reform plans, we’ve (had) education plans, financial reform plans, we have a universal health insurance plan, we “We have an inventory of our young people in collaboration with UNICEF. Were they even announced during the presentation of the country package? ” she wonders in her remarks on the COHO bill.
“I can only hope that we can have an open discussion with other parliaments in the kingdom on this bill which emerged at a time of distrust, impatience and antagonism, at least in the case of Saint-Martin and that the principle of consensus will be respected throughout the process,” she said.