Political storm brews over Island Secretary Kerkhoff

ST. EUSTATIUS–A political storm is brewing on St. Eustatius over the position of Island Secretary Koert Kerkhoff, who was escorted from his place of work by police officers last week Tuesday on the orders of Acting Island Governor Julian Woodley. The resulting controversy is causing serious friction ahead of next week’s visit to the island of caretaker Minister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Ronald Plasterk.

Kerkhoff was hired by the Executive Council as Island Secretary for a contract term of twelve months which expired August1. For Kerkhoff, the appearance of police officers at his office in the Island Government’s Administration Building came as a complete surprise. He said he immediately continued his work from the Commissioner’s office on Kerkweg. “My function as Island Secretary is to serve the wishes of the Executive Council and that means on a continuous basis,” he said.

Acting Island Governor Woodley said the Island Secretary’s one-year contract, which started August 1, 2016, had expired on August 1, 2017. He said procedures have to be followed according to the law, and added that these procedures were not followed concerning the Island Secretary.

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Kerkhoff maintains that his contract was renewed by the Executive Council, but according to Woodley, a new application procedure would have to be started and Kerkhoff would have to apply for the job as Island Secretary of St. Eustatius anew. Woodley said the Executive Council has to put out an advertisement for the position of Island Secretary. He said current Acting Island Secretary Malvern Dijkshoorn-Lopes is authorised to function in this position.

According to Woodley, the Commissioners and the Island Secretary were aware of the latter’s term coming to a close as they had received a letter in February from the Dutch Government Representative stating such. The Governor said that in December 2016, anyone could apply for the job of Island Secretary, but no one applied.

“The former Island Secretary is no longer allowed in any Government office,” Woodley said. He made it clear that he does not have the last word in situations like these. “Kingdom Representative Gilbert Isabella makes the decisions, and he is the only one that can request the Marechaussee to take action in any Government office on St. Eustatius,” he stated.

As Isabella is currently on vacation, his secretary, and former Island Secretary of Statia, Jan Helmond responded. Helmond said that based on the laws ruling the Public Entities Bonaire, Saba and Statia WolBES “the Kingdom Representative has the approval authority for the appointment, promotion, suspension and dismissal of civil servants of the Public Entities. This also applies to the appointment, promotion, suspension and dismissal of the Registrar and the Island Secretary. This means that the Kingdom Representative examines whether the decision complies procedurally with the applicable laws and regulations.”

A Plan of Action for Statia was established by Minister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Ronald Plasterk on September 1, 2015. In the framework of the implementation of the Plan of Approach, there were, among others, agreements made with the Executive Council regarding the (interim) filling-in of a number of key positions and the regular fulfilment after the interim-period. This includes the position of the Island Secretary, Helmond explained.

The Kingdom Representative can only withhold approval if there is a conflict with the law or a conflict with the public interest. “The Kingdom Representative never examines questions about individual cases,” Helmond said.

Commissioners and Island Councilman Clyde van Putten took to the local radio station last week to complain bitterly about the way the Island Secretary had been handled.

“It is the job of Government to govern,” commented Commissioner of Constitutional Affairs Derrick Simmons. “The civil service is there to execute our wishes and we stand in total support behind all the civil servants in our employment. To have police officers bungle their way physically into the executive business of Government amounts to dictatorship and will not be tolerated. We were elected to govern and govern we shall.”

Commissioner Charles Woodley was equally critical. “The situation has now created a constitutional crisis a week before the impending visit of Minister Plasterk. He comes to Statia on a farewell visit. But as the elected Government, we are more interested in people’s welfare, not farewell. We live in a liberal democracy and the Governor forgets that it is the people of Statia who pay for the Acting Governor’s salary even though it is the Dutch Government who chose him. Statia is in need of immediate constitutional change and we can expect the coalition members of the Island Council to raise this matter at their meeting this Thursday.”

Source: The Daily Herald https://www.thedailyherald.sx/islands/68319-political-storm-brews-over-island-secretary-kerkhoff

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