PHILIPSBURG:--- In the Council of Ministers Press Briefing held on Wednesday, June 17, 2020, the Honorable Prime Minister Jacobs recounted the virtual meeting that she and the Minister of Finance had with State Secretary of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations, drs. Raymond Knops. The word that caught my attention during the Prime Minister’s report was the word “respect”, because she used it several times during her talk. Apparently, the meeting did not go as the Prime Minister expected, and as she said it was “ended quite abruptly by State Secretary Knops”.
I think that before judging who is right and who is wrong in this encounter between the Prime Minister and the State Secretary, we need to hear both sides of the story. But listening carefully to the MP’s narration, I, therefore, conclude that our PM felt very much disrespected by State Secretary Knops throughout the entire meeting.
The PM stated that Knops blamed her of being uncooperative which “was definitely a slap in the face of the people of Sint Maarten who have done everything and I mean everything to live up to conditions set on us by previous agreements set by previous governments, we have maintained those agreements”. If the PM believes that Knops’ accusation is a slap in the face of the Sint Maarten people, then I think that the people have the right to hear and see the entire conversation for themselves or at least, Knops should be given the opportunity to defend himself towards the Sint Maarten people.
Now we must remember that this feud between the Party of our Prime Minister, the National Alliance, and the State Secretary Knops and even his predecessor Minister Ronald Plasterk started years ago. During those years the National Alliance has not always afforded Knops the necessary respect. Just last year, when our PM was in Parliament in the opposition benches, her party really did not speak of Knops in elevated and respectful terms. In September 2019, SMCP’s Member of Parliament, Claude Peterson, requested State Secretary Knops to come to Parliament and he quickly accepted although as State Secretary he is not obliged to do so. This was a first-time achievement since 10-10-10 and it was the perfect opportunity to dialogue with the State Secretary and improve relations with the Dutch, which was a priority of SMCP and part and parcel of our Coalition Agreement and our Governing Program, Unfortunately, the National Alliance, of which the Prime Minister is the Leader, was one of the parties that refused to attend the meeting which consequently had to be canceled. Making statements about the State Secretary behind his back, but not willing to confront him face to face, is also very disrespectful. My mother always used to tell me that respect is not demanded, it is earned and that one must give respect to gain respect.
Now I am not trying to defend or exonerate State Secretary Knops but I do know that in order to pronounce him guilty of disrespect the entire exchange between him and the PM needs to be heard and seen or he should give his side of the story to the Sint Maarten people.
As former Acting Prime Minister and as a member of the Romeo-II Council of Ministers I have had to deal directly with State Secretary Knops. He is indeed a tough negotiator and has a no-nonsense personality. However, I found that one can reason with him if one has all the facts, figures, and documents to defend one’s cause. We all know that former Prime Minister, Leona Marlin Romeo, was a strong woman and not easily pushed over by anyone. I have seen and heard her stand her ground in meetings and in telephone conversations with Mr. Knops. At the end of these encounters both she and the State Secretary always maintained their composure as well as their respect for each other. This goes to show that respect is not demanded but it is earned.
In order for the Sint Maarten people to be able to accurately judge the level of disrespect that occurred during the meeting between the PM and the State Secretary, I am calling on the PM to release the video of the entire virtual meeting or to give Mr. Knops the opportunity to respond to her account of the meeting, as this would be the respectful thing to do.
In closing I would like to remind our Prime Minister of the words of R. G. Risch:
“Respect is a two-way street, if you want to get it, you’ve got to give it”.