Opinion: Dr. Willem Cecilia shares his views on the Administrative Agreement in Bonaire

The Administrative Agreement signed this week has evoked many and sometimes violent reactions in which words were used as ‘intervention’, ‘under guardianship’ and ‘gentle instruction’. The comparison is steadily drawn with St. Eustatius where one does not hesitate to say that the intervention on Bonaire looks different than on St. Eustatius and the government commissioner on Bonaire is compared with the Program Manager on Bonaire who is yet to be appointed. Apparently, it is believed that this is an intervention. It is also surprising that the Administrative Agreement was agreed 4 months before the elections (20 March 2019) and the statement ‘to rule over the grave’ has been voiced several times.

However, there seems to be no one who wonders what an administrative agreement means in this context. An administrative agreement is an agreement in which intentions, agreements and procedures regarding the mutual cooperation between the central government and local governments are laid down and in which it is agreed how the different levels of government can make a (financial) contribution to the policy deemed desirable. For instance, in 2007, the Government and the Association of Netherlands Municipalities (VNG) reached agreement on an administrative agreement concerning various points that affect the mayor. In 2008, the Government and provinces entered into an administrative agreement for the period 2008-2011 and made agreements on administrative and financial relations, investments and the realization of government objectives and deregulation of tasks and the transfer of financial resources. In 2011, the Government agreed on an administrative agreement with the VNG, the Interprovincial Consultation and the Union of Water Boards. In 2015 another administrative agreement was reached with the aforementioned parties, but this time concerning the introduction of the environmental law.

Regarding the administrative agreements aforementioned, conflicts can also be observed. For example, in 2011 it became clear that the conflict between central government and the municipalities about the administrative agreement could be resolved by an additional guarantee of 200 million euros. Municipal administrators should also be given free choice in labor market reforms and social work provision. The feeling that local autonomy is being affected is therefore not strange at the conclusion of administrative agreements and according to the reports, the government has invited the VNG to come up with proposals to get out of the impasse. Municipalities commit themselves by means of an administrative agreement to the achievement of specific targets and the elimination of the arrears.

The responsibility for this lies in the first place with the municipality and secondly, with regard to Bonaire, at BZK. Central government and municipalities expressly state in an agreement that they are faced with the challenge in good cooperation. Should it eventually turn out that municipalities still have a lagging task, despite the aforementioned possibilities, then there is an ultimate remedy in the form of inter-administrative supervision. The administrative agreement between the public body Bonaire and the government is exactly the same. If it turns out that delays are not eliminated within a certain period due to deliberate opposition, then the ultimum remedium can be used in the form of an instruction and direct supervision.

It must also be emphatically stated that an intervention a la St. Eustatius is totally not an issue. Even the way of governing the last four years on Bonaire gives no reason to intervene. According to the escalation ladder, people are still in phase 1 where the idea is alive that a good joint solution is reached.

After years of discussions, it seems that the Government and the public entity Bonaire more cautiously and together have embraced the ambition to create one government, a government that wants to put the citizen at the heart of all its policies and actions. A government that no longer wishes to patronize and offers space to people, companies and organizations. Society benefits from a government system in which responsibilities and tasks are properly invested and where goals and results are formulated as clearly as possible. Therefore, notwithstanding the fact that the entire process will never earn a beauty prize and also the fact that it was realized very late in the parliamentary term, it is highly praiseworthy that the Executive Council and eight of the nine council members, by means of their signatures under the administrative agreement, nevertheless have realized that the community of Bonaire is served with a public administration and a government that citizens can trust.

In anticipation of these new developments, I therefore recommended in my thesis to focus attention on good public governance and to cultivate a culture of the individual responsibility of the boards to give a conscientious interpretation to the duties and responsibilities of MPs and public administrators. It seems that this has made a cautious start.

Dr. Willem A. Cecilia is secretary of the Island Council of Bonaire, but writes this contribution in a personal capacity.

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