ST. EUSTATIUS–How can you improve the current situation on St. Eustatius? How can you fix this? According to newly-appointed Government Commissioner Marcolino “Mike” Franco, this is the first reaction he received from supporters and opponents of the intervention by the Dutch Government on St. Eustatius.
Franco (58) has officially started on Statia since Wednesday. His job is to get the Island Government back on its feet. The appointment came as a surprise to many. The former Chairman of the Parliament of Curaçao was approached early January by the Dutch Ministry of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations BZK with the question whether he was willing to cooperate in a project.
Franco initially thought about a project for the reconstruction of one of the Windward Islands after last year’s hurricane damage, and assumed he could do the job from Curaçao.
“At that moment I had nothing to do. I could basically make myself available and I was happy to offer a helping hand,” Franco said in an interview with Amigoe newspaper. But soon Franco was informed that it was something that required him to be permanently elsewhere.
When Dutch State Secretary of Kingdom Relations Raymond Knops was in Curaçao on January 10, Franco was invited for an “eye-to-eye” conversation. It was during this conversation that Franco was told what his assignment was.
He agreed with the proposal and was given a preview of the evaluation report on the current situation on Statia and of the draft law that was subsequently approved by the Dutch Parliament’s Second and First Chambers.
The reason for the Dutch intervention in Statia is the report of the two “Wise Men”, former Governor of Aruba and member of the Dutch Council of State Jan Franssen.
Franco admits that the report is “destructive.” The report speaks of serious managerial neglect. “The island’s administration does not comply with the laws that apply to the island, with all its consequences. Money has been made available for the island, but because people do not comply with the law, and because procedures are not observed, nothing happens. This can also be seen on the island in, among other things, the infrastructure that leaves much to be desired.”
The report also points to the failure of the Dutch Government, said Franco. “This was also seen during the handling of the Kingdom Act in the Dutch Second and First Chambers. It was not only one-sided criticism, but the Dutch politicians also put their hand in their own bosom.” Franco was present at the Dutch Parliament and travelled back to Statia with Knops on Wednesday.
His appointment has received a lot of criticism from the opposition in Curaçao. They referred to his background as a physiotherapist, the failure of political party Pais, and claims that allows himself to be abused for the colonial purposes of the Netherlands.”
The Dutch intervention in Statia has been described as “barbaric” by the extra-parliamentary party Movementu Kousa Promé (MKP), while all opposition parties MFK, KdNT, MP and PS have requested an emergency meeting of Parliament about the events on Statia.
Franco says he understands the reactions. “It’s about criticism, which I also had to deal with during my period as Chairman of Parliament. I saw this coming,” he said. He is of the opinion, however, that it was a “great honour” he has been approached by the Kingdom Government to act as Government Commissioner.
“They could also have chosen two European Dutch and then the criticism would have been much greater. They have now chosen someone from the Caribbean part of the Kingdom and his deputy an experienced former mayor [Mervyn Stegers – Ed.]. I see it as an honour that I can hold this position and make a contribution.”
The former Chairman of Parliament rejects the criticism about his qualifications. “They were looking for a former politician with experience in management. I was Chairman of Parliament during the period Curaçao had received an instruction from the Dutch Government. In a short time, many laws had to be passed to make Curaçao financially sound again. We did all that in a period of a few months. These were turbulent times. But many forget that in 2006, I was Commissioner of General Affairs and Constitutional Relations. At the time I cooperated very well with the then Minister in charge of Kingdom Relations, current leader of centre-democrat D66 and Member of Parliament Alexander Pechtold. After months and years in which nothing happened in the political field, we managed to get a document on the table that was the starting point for the Final Declaration [the agreement for the dissolution of the Netherlands Antilles and the creation of two new countries in the Kingdom, and the three public entities Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba – Ed.].”
The Government Commissioner has officially started his new job on Statia since Wednesday. On the day he was officially installed he attended a town-hall meeting, in which the residents of Statia were officially informed of what is going to happen now.
The current situation on Statia is no surprise to Franco. “Just like on many other islands in the Caribbean, there is disunity. I do not yet know how big the percentages are, but my impression of the people I have spoken with so far is that they can discuss what is going on now, but everyone, both supporters and opponents, have one question: ‘How can you fix this?’ They see what the present situation on the island looks like. The infrastructure leaves much to be desired. Projects do not get off the ground. They ask how long this intervention will take and how long the elections will be postponed.”
In the meantime, Franco has met with Statia’s self-proclaimed leader of government Clyde van Putten during the town-hall meeting. Van Putten, one of the greatest critics of the Netherlands on the island, came to the meeting leading a silent march. “We greeted each other and shook hands. It all went pretty positive,” said Franco.