Bland Parliament debate about tumultuous Statia

THE HAGUE–Thursday’s debate in the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament with St. Eustatius as the sole agenda point turned out to be merely a sum of the voicing of concerns, posing of questions and the responsible Minister providing basic answers. No commotion and barely any emotions about the turbulent situation on the island.

The only Member of Parliament (MP) who came close to harsh words during the debate which lasted only an hour instead of the planned two hours was Ronald van Raak of the Socialist Party (SP) when he accused the Statia Government of violating the principles of good governance.

“People in St. Eustatius are angry at their own government with bad representatives. Criticism by the local government against the Netherlands is marked by words like colonialism, discrimination, oppression, arrogant. But the problem is the government itself which barely shows any integrity. Ask the people,” said Van Raak.

MP André Bosman of the liberal democratic VVD party asked about Statia’s wish for an autonomous status within the Dutch Kingdom, the decolonisation process and the relation with the Netherlands.

Bosman, as he has done on many occasions when Kingdom relations are discussed in Parliament, made reference to the need for good governance and solid finances, and expressed concerns about the status of these two aspects in Statia. “An island that wants to become an autonomous country within our Kingdom – now, that is their good right, but not as long as Statia is one big mess.”

MPs Antje Diertens of the Democratic Party D66 and Joba van den Berg-Jansen of the Christian Democratic Party CDA displayed a more gentle tone and called for a fresh start. Van den Berg: “In the IT business the first advice one receives in case of problems is: reset. Is a new start not possible?”

Van den Berg-Jansen asked caretaker Minister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Ronald Plasterk whether he could make “a gesture of good will” during his upcoming visit, slated for the end of August by addressing some of the social and economic problems facing the island. “A relation starts with giving. Can you do something with the people in mind?”

Diertens asked the Minister whether it was a possibility to “cross the dilemma” and to solve the stand-off. “Why not solve the issue with a good talk?” She said the current situation where “opposing parties are standing their ground” has “adverse consequences” for the island’s development and its people. She said the Dutch and Statia Government should focus on solving issues such as poverty and the high cost of living, instead of on the conflict.

Van Raak said the “phase of talking had passed long ago,” and that it was now time to focus on what kind of constitutional status the Statia people wanted. “How will we ensure that the interests of the people are secured and that they can make an honest choice about their future in a referendum?”

All MPs agreed that the situation had been ongoing for too long. “That is not good for the relation between the Netherlands and St. Eustatius, and especially not for the island residents,” said Bosman.

Minister Plasterk said that indeed things were not going sufficiently well for the people in Statia and that there were serious problems that needed addressing such as poverty, children’s rights and the infrastructure. “It is a pity that we see so much energy is wasted in this conflict situation.”

The Minister referred to the island as a “small paradise” with its beautiful nature and its fascinating history and heritage. “But fact is that the government is not in order. A government that takes irresponsible decisions and makes unauthorised expenditures.”

Plasterk agreed with the Second Chamber’s Committee for Kingdom Relations that “this situation naturally could not last forever.” He asked the Committee members to await the results of the Committee of Wise Men who will undertake the mission to assist in solving the troubled relations between The Hague and Oranjestad.

Van Raak remarked that the strategy of appointing a Committee of Wise Men might not be enough. “You make endless agreements, but this Statia Government is just not willing. When do we say enough is enough?” The Minister said he didn’t want to talk an escalation ladder and repeated his call to wait for the findings of the Committee of Wise Men which are expected in September.

Bosman noted that not only the Statia Government was to blame in this lasting conflict, but that the Minister also had made mistakes in the process by not consistently applying the rules and regulations, and a communication that was not always clear.

“I get the impression that the government officials of the Netherlands and St. Eustatius are very busy sending all sorts of letters whereby it is not clear what the intended actions should achieve. Can the Minister ensure that the intentions are clearly expressed in the communication to and from Statia, including the desired outcome?” asked Bosman.

The subject’s autonomy and the right to self-determination came up several times during Thursday’s meeting. Diertens said the right to self-determination was “a great good, but no sinecure.” She said the process of seeking autonomy started with complying with a number of conditions and a carefully prepared, transparent process.

Diertens said it had to be clear beforehand whether Statia was prepared to also carry the burden of being a country, and not only enjoy the positive aspects. “St. Eustatius will have to be prepared to fully stand on its own feet.”

Plasterk repeated his statement of earlier this week that an autonomous status didn’t seem realistic, but that it also seemed “unwise.” He pointed out that the Dutch Government on average invested 10,000 euros net per island resident per year and that this Dutch budget support did not go to the Dutch Caribbean countries.

Van Raak said there were several options for Statua: it could join St. Maarten or St. Kitts and Nevis, or become independent and an “appendage” of NuStar. “Nobody questions the right to self-determination, but it does have to be based on the will of the people,” said Van den Berg.

Minister Plasterk agreed. He said that the process of achieving autonomy started with the “explicit expression” of the people and “not with just the proclaiming” of a new constitutional status. He said people should not focus too much on the right to self-determination and instead should “take up a shovel and make things better” on the island.

Source: The Daily Herald