How to squander our autonomy

Forget about the unlikely recolonization of Curaçao by The Netherlands or any other country for that matter. The real danger to our autonomy is our inability to govern ourselves effectively. Those who keep yapping about becoming an EU ultra-peripheral region, commonwealth or other exotic dreamed-up status keep missing this point. Constitutional structure on to itself is no guarantee for good governance that translates to more well-being for our people. It’s the quality of the people who manage the structure and democratic institutions that are critical.

Yet, we have been governing on a hunch, basing policy on talkshow opinions, guesswork, thoughtless demands by pressure groups and popular-sounding slogans. We only need to remind ourselves of the recent idea to import hundreds of hungry cows and having them fed on very limited land. We have spent millions on space travel that proved to be wishful thinking. We accepted a monetary union between Curaçao and Sint Maarten without any previous economic (impact) study. Remember the fiasco of those illegible vehicle license plates, the removal of much needed aggreko generators, importation of right hand drive vehicles even though we’ve a left hand drive infrastructure, and the Guangdong Zhenrong pipe dreams about the refinery and a Las Vegas-style development of hotels and casino’s? And the list goes on.

Any decision-making process based on shooting from the hip rather than data and research misses its target and will never allow us to realize our collective potential. Yet, we still don’t believe in collecting data let alone analyzing and using them to write policy. An eminent local education specialist recently said in an interview that while he knows international organizations that are willing to evaluate our education system, no relevant data exist about our system, making an evaluation impossible.

One of the problems is that we’re all over the place. Each ministry wants to score and spends precious resources on projects they think will help them on election day. While I do think we should have a diversified economy, we must stay realistic. Especially taking into consideration our size and dwindling population. I believe we have to stick to those things we do well and have a comparative advantage doing.

In his article “Singapore Policy Studies: Emerging Trends”, Professor of Political Science at the National University of Singapore, Jon Quah, attributes Singapore’s success as a direct result from its model to use research and data to arrive at policy making. Many other Asian states have followed and now rely on data gathering and long-term planning as a central piece in their policy making. Their success speaks volumes. Many years ago we had something that resembled a planning institute, the Sociaal Economisch Planbureau. But we eliminated it and never replaced it.

Again I state the obvious. There’s no silver bullet, no miracle that will bring us well-being and jobs. It’s long term planning based on reliable data, research and the courage to steer away from those screaming populists that will result in policy making -however impopular they may be- that will allow us to take advantage of the many opportunities that exist on & offshore.

If we continue to shoot from the hip, govern on a hunch we won’t ever bring about the changes needed that will lift up the economy that has hardly grown during the last decades. Most importantly, if we do not change course, we will keep compromising our autonomy which we got in 1951 after a long and arduous campaign. We must not forget that the rise in populism and accompanying deterioration of democratic pillars in many countries around the world is a direct result of traditional democracies not living up to the promise of welfare for all. Our autonomy we hold so dear depends on the quality of the men and women who govern us. Then again, it’s easier to create an outside enemy than change our ways.

Skopje, Macedonia

Author: alexdavidrosaria

Alex Rosaria is from Curaçao. He has a MBA from University of Iowa. He was Member of Parliament, Minister of Economic Affairs, State Secretary of Finance and United Nations Development Programme Officer in Africa and Central America. He is an independent consultant active in Asia and the Pacific.

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