Former Finance Commissioner Charles Woodley and former Island Council Member Rechelline Leerdam.
ST. EUSTATIUS–Five months after the dismissal of the Executive and Island Council of St. Eustatius by the Dutch government, leaders of Progressive Labour Party (PLP) Charles Woodley and Rechelline Leerdam stand by their initial objections. They believe that Dutch government control has made things worse, not better.
The two “wise men” that were appointed by The Hague to report on the island’s economic and political woes were sold “street stories of gloom and doom,” former Commissioner of Finance Woodley insists. “Their one-sided report described a culture of cronyism, corruption and conspiracy through lack of transparency. Whereas positive aspects in the island’s development went largely ignored or unheard, their minds were clearly set in stone before their feet were physically set on this part of the Dutch Kingdom about which they knew very little and about which they cared even less.”
The only aim of “these liberty-takers” was to paint a comfortable picture for intervention once again. “This administrative coup d’etat is an old trick and it worked,” said Woodley.
The two PLP leaders have serious misgivings with the style and substance by which government Commissioner Mike Franco and his administration are tackling the island’s problems.
Leerdam is particularly concerned about the social minimum and a lack of support to address healthcare in general and mental health in particular.
“Social welfare allowances, including the elderly pension AOV and the minimum wage, are too low for many of our people on Statia to sustain themselves. Poverty has been on the rise since the islands became public entities of the Netherlands in 2010. The Hague is dragging its feet over a problem that is geographically remote and therefore seemingly less urgent. Their snoozing is confusing, especially when you compare the living standards of Dutch mainlanders with Dutch Caribbean islanders.”
On the subject of healthcare, former Island Council member Leerdam is equally critical. “Medical treatment is delayed, patients are left waiting for days in Colombia for return flights and investment in much needed medical equipment for diagnosis and treatment is absent,” Leerdam complains.
“Treatment for mental healthcare is often administered in St. Maarten despite calls from our public health department for more local community care.”
Former Commissioner of Finance Woodley argues that the Advisory Board set up by Franco to voice public issues is not working. “Setting up a representative body to act as a sound-box is a fine idea, but without elected and fair representation, open reporting and clear decisions and results, the Board is a dead letter. This sound-box has only become a sandbox in which to bury the heads of the current administration. This sham is cosmetic in practice and lacks transparency in principle.”
Woodley emphatically states that “every decision” taken by the Executive Council was previously posted to the Public Library for public scrutiny.
“Every meeting of the Island Council was reported in The Daily Herald and broadcast on local radio. Signatures were inked in public and decisions bound by law,” he said.
“It is the job of the civil service to run the island, not govern it. The secret culture of the current administration is apparent. Decisions are not published, building permits have become confidential and administration policy is no longer a matter of record. This lack of direction has demotivated local civil servants especially when they see the influx of Dutch civil servants. Posts are rarely advertised, and top roles are handpicked by friends of friends.”
Woodley mentions the removal of a Personnel manager as “typical” of the new hire-and-fire culture. “A highly qualified local with a master’s degree in Human Resources was removed based on an evaluation that never took place. This, whilst one of our senior Dutch civil servants on the island is well paid, yet unable to operate a computer. Are we being served?” Woodley asks rhetorically.
He suggests that greater transparency in finance is also required. “Local government has long been controlled by central government on the basis of quarterly financial reports. However, the State Commissioner refuses to publish their quarterly accounts. Also concealed from the public are the many taxes collected by The Hague. We have a genuine right to know this information. What’s good for the goose, is good for the gander.”
Woodley and Leerdam say that many criticisms voiced by the wise men have been amplified by the current administration. “There is a daily lack of political respect for the people of Statia,” says Leerdam. “Despite the wild allegations of the wise men, the State Commissioner has failed to find any evidence of corruption on St. Eustatius. Fiction, not facts have coloured public perception. Meanwhile, facts are that families on Statia face mounting bills for food, energy, bin collection and telecommunication services.”
They say Statia is a “great” island with all the talents and skills needed to develop it. “But unlike other Caribbean islands, the island has never been professionally promoted or marketed for its tourist or cultural assets. Many of our development plans have been copied and pasted by the State Commissioner. However, whilst the PLP is out of power and office, our political scrutiny of his administration will continue,” Leerdam concluded.
Source: The Daily Herald https://www.thedailyherald.sx/islands/78630-plp-leaders-keep-objecting-to-dutch-government-control