Haviser's Orange Movement wants constitutional referendum
By Hilbert Haar
PHILIPSBURG – Dr. Jay Haviser is on a mission. With the establishment of the Orange Movement he wants to convince the Parliament in St. Maarten to hold a referendum about the country’s constitutional status. His preferred option is controversial: making St. Maarten together with the BES-islands the thirteenth province of the Netherlands.
Why the Orange Movement? Haviser: “After Hurricane Irma I was shocked by the incompetence and the inability of politicians to handle the situation. I talked to colleagues and friends about this and they were in the same frame of mind: this was wrong.”
When he walked down the street after the hurricane, the 62-year old archeologist did not like what he saw: “Gangs of youngsters, actual looting and no sense of security whatsoever. It was like Lord of the Flies.” (For the uninitiated: Google the movie-title to understand this reference; it’s enlightening).
Haviser experienced a breakdown of norms and values and says that it’s a good thing that the marines stepped in to prevent things from totally getting out of control.
But the whole situation put his thought processes in overdrive. Haviser now expresses serious doubts about the autonomous status the island has acquired within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. “We have to approach the question whether autonomy works or not rationally and pragmatically, not emotionally,” he said. “And to be honest: the only real solution is re-integration into the Netherlands. We have had six government in seven years; that shows that autonomy has failed. Independence is of course an option but I am cautious about that one.”
Haviser labels St. Maarten’s current constitutional status as “non-democratic autonomy.”
How’s that? “We are ruled by a few families and the politicians do not speak for the people. There is a carousel at the top of power. Always the same group. Instead of a democracy we have an oligarchical democracy where a limited number of families rule.”
The core of the Orange Movement consists of eight people. Among them is Tadzio Bervoets, manager of the Nature Foundation. “Tadzio is part of that generation that has to take these decisions.” Haviser observes. “I hope this movement will help millennials to wake up and smell the coffee.” He emphasized that the Orange Movement is not a political organization. “We want people to speak up. Afterwards, we’ll see what happens.”
Nevertheless, Haviser acknowledges that politicians are the problem. Unfortunately, under St. Maarten’s constitution, those same politicians hold the key to any referendum. Unlike in the Netherlands, where a civil initiative has to present 300,000 signatures to force a referendum, the population of St. Maarten depends on the willingness of its elected representatives for a referendum.
To put this in perspective: 300,000 signatures represent roughly 1.75 percent of the Dutch population (currently 17,186,360); If St. Maarten had similar referendum-legislation with a proportionate requirement for signatures, it would take (based on 40,000 inhabitants) only 700 signatures to force a referendum – less than the number of votes needed to win one seat in Parliament.
“The first option is to hear the people’s voice.’ Haviser says. “If politicians have nothing to fear, they will let this happen.”
But the Orange Movement is also prepared for a scenario whereby politicians will not go for a referendum. In that case, Haviser says, the Orange Movement will call on article 51 of the Kingdom Charter. This article gives the Kingdom the option to issue a general measure of kingdom administration if a body of St. Maarten does not, or insufficiently do what it has to do based on the Kingdom Charter, an international regulation, a kingdom law or a general measure of kingdom administration.
The Orange Movement wants, if it comes to that point, use article 51 to convince the Kingdom partners to pressure the Parliament of St. Maarten to hold the referendum.
In the referendum, the movement wants to present three options: the status quo, independence and ‘Status Netherlands’. The third option is Haviser’s favorite. It would create a Dutch province, consisting of St. Maarten and the BES-islands. The status would offer social benefits and administrative and logistical responsibilities based on the Dutch model.
Haviser is passionate about this initiative, yet he is realistic enough to say that, when it comes to a referendum, the majority would probably vote for the status quo – St. Maarten as an autonomous country within the Kingdom.
“I would not have reacted so strongly if Irma had not happened.” he says. “Irma has exposed our vulnerability. We are too small a country to deal with these responsibilities. We are not only talking about local issues here but politicians are only looking inward for themselves and only a small percentage of the population benefits.”
According to Haviser the Dutch model is efficient and more productive than the autonomous status St. Maarten currently has. “Look at the airport; a typical example of incompetence and nepotism. The World Bank said that it could have the airport up and running again in four months and they said that three months ago. Look where we are now; we are not handling this properly.”
Haviser does not fear any backlash from this initiative. “Call me what you like.” he says. “Call me neo-colonial, but give the population the opportunity to decide. After the storm racial tensions on the island have increased. If they want to make this about me – fine. Marcus Garvey has said: an earnest man does not fear consequences.”
The you-not-from-here-argument will not work very well against the Florida-born archeologist. “I have lived the majority of my life under the flag of the Netherlands Antilles and I believe in the unity of the islands; that is better than a division. I am also a Knight in the Order of Orange Nassau. Being knighted is not just a pretty title. It comes with the responsibility to stand up for the right decision, also when that decision is not popular. I love St. Maarten and I want the best for our island.”
While the Orange Movement’s core group consists of just eight people, Haviser says that he is amazed how many business people and community leaders agree with his initiative. “But nobody has to courage to stand up for a controversial position like this.”