SABA/ST. EUSTATIUS–Dutch Government Representative Gilbert Isabella, who will be leaving his post as per January 1, 2018, was “unpleasantly surprised” when the Secretary General at the Ministry of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations informed him that he should pack his bags halfway his six-year term. “I was unable to trace the real motive behind the then Minister Ronald Plasterk’s decision,” Isabella said during his farewell reception in Bonaire on Wednesday.
Not only Isabella’s departure, but also his appointment has not been without controversy. He denied that his appointment had anything to do with his membership of the PvdA coalition party.
“I submitted my résumé to an external committee appointed by the Dutch Parliament’s Second Chamber. There was only one PvdA member in the committee and other very sensible people. I hope that in the meantime you have found out that I had absolutely no benefit of my political affiliation, despite the composition of the former cabinet,” he explained.
Isabella started his job as Government Representative as Wilbert Stolte’s successor in September 2014. He said it had become clear to him that this relatively new job in the Dutch government system still requires some fine-tuning.
“The Hague will have to make a clear choice: either you abolish this function – of which I’m certainly not a protagonist – or give this important function more body, authority and instruments to make something out if it.”
He said he heard many “wild stories” about his job, power and authorities. “Despite the important responsibilities where it concerns good governance and integrity, the Government Representative has only few real means at his disposal to really interfere when necessary.”
Declining to give an example, he said he was hopeful he would be remembered as an official who is not afraid to act and interfere when necessary, “but in such cases the rules and instruments need to be available.
“You cannot send a referee out on the soccer field without a whistle, yellow and red cards and a number of assistants, and ask him to ensure that the match is being played according to the book,” Isabella said.
In his progress reports Isabella stated that he had to deal with many ministries in The Hague, “each with their own ideas and too little coordination with tangible results on the islands here.” He called it a “big task” and at the same time a “fantastic challenge” for the new cabinet to “really do something” together with the Caribbean Netherlands islands Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba.
He regretted that administratively speaking, things are still not going as they should on the islands. “Local government has a big responsibility towards its own people, it needs to stand for the general interests of the island and its inhabitants, and for its future development.”
An important point of attention for Isabella is the care for vulnerable groups, such as youth and the elderly.
“Local Government and Councilmembers have the heavy responsibility to guarantee good governance, to ensure continuity and transparent decision-making,” he said.
At the end of his speech, Isabella thanked the inhabitants of the islands. He said he had respect for the residents of Saba, who after the hurricanes had rolled up their sleeves to jointly ensure that the island was able to function again.
He said he had encountered some “stiffness” on Statia at first, “which quickly disappears when you’re open to their needs.”
Isabella, who was born in Curaçao, left for the Netherlands together with his mother and brothers in 1963, when he was a toddler. He said that in Bonaire, where the Dutch Government Representative holds office, he had found back that what he had put away very deeply within himself.
Isabella will be succeeded as Dutch Government Representative by former Island Secretary of Statia Jan Helmond.