History is always written afterwards, hardly ever up front. Nevertheless, the signing of a first agreement between representatives of the organized business community of Curaçao with the parties and politicians that support the Curaçao government in power may be history in the making. At least, the business community sincerely hopes so, because this is an unprecedented setting. The main common goal is to jointly improve the conditions to boost the economy and create new jobs, most specifically for young employees.
Almost a year of discussions in all kinds of settings resulted in a summit of the economy of the Curaçao. Business and political partners met on June 25, 2014 at the auditorium of the Chamber of Commerce to go over a limited list of carefully chosen issues. In selecting these issues, it was important to start off with matters that could be handled rather quickly, and of which the results would be visible for the society within a rather short period of time. The politicians at this quite uncommon session, which was named “an economic summit,” were under the guidance of Pueblo Soberano representative and Member of Parliament, (MP) Melvin Cijntje. Also in attendance were PAIS leader and MP, Alex Rosaria; representative of political party PNP, Marelva Jansen; and independent MP, Glenn Sulvaran. The Chamber of Commerce was represented by members of its board of directors, led by President, Willem Jonckheer. The delegation of the trade and business association (VBC) was also represented and led by its vice president, Joop Kusters.
Bridging the Gap
As of the end of 2013, the business organizations started coordinating efforts to bridge the gap that appeared to exist between the current coalition parties and the business community of Curaçao. Several fragmented initiatives to bring all the crucial partners from the various segments of society together were combined in order to make the most out of all these time and energy consuming efforts. It took quite some months and much longer than all had anticipated to reach a point where a deal on how to move forward was finally coming to fruition. What caused hesitation in some partners was the process of making a thorough inventory of the list of topics on which the social partners of the Curaçao society could debate. The strategy was also to maximize the chances for some early favorable results, which would encourage all parties involved to continue on this track.
Taking this background into consideration, an agenda was prepared to structure the summit to maximize the potential for positive results. A common concern is that the economy of Curaçao appears to be stagnant. Urgent steps in different areas are necessary to grease the various elements to make the economy move faster towards a better future. Since that was commonly agreed upon, several short-term measures were discussed to present to the government for implementation. It was agreed that the main focus to boost the economy should be on the export of goods and services. This will provide a better balance of payment and subsequently, support a working economy. They convened to approach the government with preliminary steps towards more flexible regulations:
- Admission of foreign students to create a better environment
for transnational education.
- Admission of immigrants with a certain expertise and
know-how to promote the idea of setting up an “economy
- Admission of foreigners who want to come and buy a second
home on the island to escape the cold winter months
in their country of origin.
- Admission of foreign investors and their families putting
large sums of money into projects that will produce more
economic activities and jobs.
- Admission of crew members of luxury motor and sailing
yachts stationed at Curaçao.
This should be seen as a first cautious step to improve the investment climate of Curaçao for a group of foreigners who, with their knowledge and capital, will bring a certain level of progress within reach. These steps must ultimately result in adapting a coordinated scheme of existing struc- tures, procedures and policies, eliminating barriers for valuable investments and procedures to obtain the necessary permits, including the permits for foreign currency traffic. It is evident that the business sectors aim at achieving a totally new development program for a more competitive Curaçao.
Another generally supported concern is the relatively high unemployment among youngsters, with or without proper professional preparation. The partners in the debate convened to act as a team to work on specialized programs to tackle this particular problem by creating more opportunities for education and courses over a broad spectrum, for which the private and the public sectors must work closely together. This concern is of top priority; youth unemployment will be the number one point on the agenda for the next economic summit, which will be held by the end of October 2014. In the meantime, attending parties agreed to take some first steps, for example, on September 1, 2014, a so-called “Lei di Bion” was initiated. This is a law that was approved in December 1989 that gives incentives to provide skills training to unemployed youngsters who have been out of work for more than a year. This law was approved by parliament quite some years ago, but has still not been put into effect. It focuses specifically on setting up special programs to stimulate more employment for youngsters in different business areas. Prime Minister Ivar Asjes has announced that this law will soon be made active to create a positive outlook and more job opportunities for the young Curaçao people.
In addition, the business representatives at the summit have agreed to actively promote more socially responsible behavior of local entrepreneurs to the advantage of not only the personnel of these companies, but also of social activities and projects in society. Via the means of a “Better Business Bureau,” they plan to work on regulations within their sectors to promote the various ideas of corporate social responsibility. They also included the proposal to start pushing local companies to re-initiate stagnant projects that have pending for a long time that will have a positive spin-off on the economy and employment figures. In this respect, the Curaçao government will also be asked to cooperate to approve the necessary permits in an expedient manner, which eventually will benefit all involved. The fact is that, based on the experiences of the past, many entrepreneurs hand in requests for permits long before they are concrete, knowing that it will still take months if not years before they even get a reaction from the relevant government agencies, let alone a formal approval. Only when they have a positive reaction and the required paperwork in place do they follow up on materializing their own ideas and plans. The politicians easily agreed to ask their ministers to speed up the processes of issuing permits and other requirements so the local entrepreneurs can execute their plans at a much higher pace.
The Good Spirit
The Chamber of Commerce gladly endorses initiatives of this kind, especially when they produce the results that are anticipated. Before the next summit, the partners need to evaluate each of the 11 points that they agreed upon in their first session, making an inventory of the progress of the preliminary action points agreed upon at this summit. Any points that have not yet been implemented by that meeting will be discussed, including the obstacles that caused the delay and how those can be solved without further delay. The main focus for the follow-up summit will be on how to tackle youth unemployment in Curaçao, which is much higher than the overall unemployment figure. If the good spirit of the first summit continues, the goal of achieving concrete results to benefit all parties will be within reach.