Monday , May 29 2023

Departing Chair: “I feel at home in the Caribbean”

Departing Chairperson of the Second Chamber of Dutch Parliament Gerdi Verbeet shares true love for the Dutch Caribbean and its people. “You really get attached to the islands, especially when you visit them more often. I feel at home there and I am very glad that they are part of the Kingdom.”

Verbeet (61) has been on the islands several times, as Chairperson and personally, on vacation. She spent Christmas on Saba almost two years ago and enjoyed every minute of her time on the Windward Islands. “I am already saving for my next trip there.” The last time she was in Saba, at the airport upon her return to The Netherlands via St. Maarten, Verbeet saw a young female student who was obviously very sad to leave her island to further her studies in The Netherlands. “She was alone and she cried. When we left St. Maarten for The Netherlands the tears got bigger. I went to sit next to her and consoled her. I am a mother too and I felt so sorry for her. She was so brave for making that big trip all by herself. I gave her my business card and told her that if she felt lonely, she could contact me. Unfortunately she never did.” Verbeet said she admired the courage of these young students who leave their island to go all the way to The Netherlands to study and make something of their future. “They have to make it in a faraway country with a different culture, climate and language. I would love to have them all at my table on weekends.”

Added value
As Chairperson, she came to appreciate the islands very much. Getting to know the other countries in the Kingdom was one of the highlights of her career as Chairperson. “When I now speak of the Charter, I really feel that there is more. The islands truly have an added value in the Kingdom.” It is “too bad” that many people in The Netherlands don’t feel that added value. “People on the islands experience the Kingdom more than the other way around. People there are more focused on The Netherlands and that is not strange, because there are strong family `ties.”
Verbeet, who will be departing Parliament this week after a tenure of over six years, vividly remembers the process to realise new constitutional relations in the Kingdom per October 10, 2010. The Second Chamber played a big role in this process and approved numerous laws to establish countries Curaçao and St. Maarten, and to transfer Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba into Dutch ‘public entities.’ The Chairperson considered that process a “milestone” in the Kingdom. “It was hard work. We rigorously changed the Charter for the first time. It was a big responsibility to change the relations and to create four equal countries. It was a very complicated process for the political parties.” The process to approve the Kingdom Laws to secure the new constitutional relations was not easy, but it went well, said Verbeet. Representatives of the island Parliaments cannot vote in Dutch Parliament, but they did have the opportunity to speak. “We did what we could, it was the next best thing. Of course you can always do things better, more careful, but there comes a time that you have to take decisions. Deferring them makes no sense. We had to take those steps. Laws are never perfect, but you can always adapt them later on. It would have been worse to take no decisions at all.”

Beauty award
Amending the Charter was the beginning of new relations. “The start was difficult. The dismantling process didn’t deserve a beauty award. But we have started something together and we should make the best of it.” Her relations with the Chairpersons of the other countries in the Kingdom are very good, said Verbeet. “We are four equal partners and that is great. As I said in my speech during the 25th anniversary celebration of Country Aruba in October 2011, I have three true colleagues and I appreciate that very much. I admire what they do, because the new relations, the transformation from a monistic system to a dualistic system, is a major challenge for them.” The changed constitutional relations are also a challenge for the Second Chamber. “It is already a major task for the 150 Members of Parliament to stay in touch with all parts of The Netherlands. Now we have an even bigger territory to cover. And even though the islands are far away, it is still our duty to involve them as much as possible.”

Emotional moment
Verbeet said it felt “very special” to be present at the ceremony in Curaçao on the eve of October 10, 2010. “It was a beautiful and emotional moment when the Antillean flag was lowered and the Curaçao flag went up.” Verbeet again visited the islands in October 2011, together with the party leaders in the Second Chamber. The atmosphere in the Second Chamber, where it comes to the islands, has become harsher over the years. But not only on the Dutch side of the ocean, said Verbeet. “Harsh remarks are also made in the Parliaments of the other countries.” She mentioned the intense talks that the Dutch party leaders had with the Curaçao Parliament in October last year. “Some harsh things were said and that is okay, because people only dare to speak their mind when they feel connected, like in a family.”

The relations with Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba are different since October 10, 2010. The contact is more direct. Representatives of the Island Councils visited the Second Chamber early June. “They also attended the yearly congress of the Association of Dutch Municipalities VNG. That was important, because they are a part of The Netherlands,” said Verbeet, who added that she spoke more often to Saba Lt. Governor Jonathan Johnson than any Mayor in The Netherlands.

Islands representative
Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba don’t have their own representative in the Second Chamber. “Municipalities in The Netherlands don’t have that either,” said Verbeet. But there are other ways of keeping involved. This would require a more proactive role of the island. “It would be good to stay in close contact with the Second Chamber. All political parties are willing to do so. Members of Parliament are open to this.” It is important that the Dutch ‘public entities’ and its people, especially the youth, share in the development and prosperity of The Netherlands, she said. “The islands should feel the advantages of being part of The Netherlands, not only the disadvantages.” According to Verbeet, there is still room for improvement. “There are new laws and regulations. We have to get used to each other and to the new situation.” She said education, health care, infrastructure were all issues that needed to be properly organised. “Having an electricity plant in Saba at the harbour, so close to sea is not a good thing. Health care should be better than it was in the past. People should not have to travel too far to get good medical care and that is why the cooperation with St. Maarten is important,” she said. Organising things like proper health care and education is not easy at such a great distance and on such a small scale, said Verbeet. Applying Dutch standards doesn’t always work. “You have to realise that the islands are oriented on North and Latin America. There is nothing wrong with that, because it has its advantages to do business in these parts of the world.” She mentioned the win-win situation of Aruba as a hub function.

The situation on Curaçao is worrisome, said Verbeet. “People have a right to a well-functioning government, Parliament, and to politicians who work in the best interest of the people,” she said, adding that this was a first priority of Curaçao. Asked what the Rules

of the Second Chamber were on convening public debates, Verbeet said: “When 30 Members ask for a debate, it is my duty to organise such.” The new countries have to be wise where it comes to their finances and borrowing, just as The Netherlands has to be in financialeconomic difficult times, said Verbeet. “You can only spend money once. Every housewife will tell you so.” Verbeet said things were not easy for many in The Netherlands either and as such it was logical that people want the overseas countries to cut cost as well. “Especially people of modest means expect government and politicians to be economical. The Second Chamber is also saving where it can. Politics decides over tax money. It is our duty to be as economical as we can.”

Gerdi A. Verbeet is a Member of the Second Chamber for the Labour Party PvdA since July 2002, and was elected Chairperson in December 2006. She was re-elected in June 2010. She is the second female Chairperson to be appointed, after Jeltje van Nieuwenhoven. Her most important task is to chair (plenary) debates. “I find it important to keep debates fair, orderly and attractive. Politicians have to use clear language, literally and figuratively. A clear use of language contributes to democratic decision-taking. Members of Parliament have to treat each other with respect.” Verbeet will chair her last meeting this week at which time a new chairperson will be elected.

Source: “The Daily Herald” 2012-09-17

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