THE HAGUE–Improvements in the government, physical and social domains are showing an upward trend, becoming visible slowly but surely, while preparations for the first elections in five years in October are progressing.
Dutch State Secretary of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Raymond Knops stated this in the St. Eustatius progress report that he sent to the Dutch Parliament on Friday. The plenary debate on the draft Law on Recovery of Facilities in St. Eustatius will take place in the Dutch Parliament’s Second Chamber this Wednesday.
Knops acknowledged that there was still a lot of work to be done to arrive at good government in a sustainable manner – “a gradual return to the normal relations first and continuing the steady, positive developments in the coming years.”
Execution of the 12 criteria established to arrive at a proper government, and formulated in the second progress report of November 2018, continues. The 12 criteria are also a prerequisite in the phase of the current law proposal that has to result in the restoration of the democratic system with an elected government.
The 12 criteria cover a number of actions aimed at improving public administration and financial management, adapting legislation, reorganising the government apparatus, restoring supervision and enforcement instruments, organising a multi-annual training programme for civil servants and politicians, and establishing an Audit Chamber.
With the appointment of Marnix van Rij as government commissioner and Alida Francis as deputy government commissioner on February 15 this year, a new phase has started in the process aimed at implementing and completing the cardinal improvements required to arrive at good governance.
Knops explained that on their appointment the government commissioners had immediately indicated that they would continuously invest in good relations with the population through dialogue and open, transparent communication.
“Mutual respect and listening well to the arguments of another person are necessary for good dialogue. Good dialogue contributes to the quality of decision-making and results in greater support for decisions that are made,” stated Knops, adding that Van Rij and Francis also strived for continuous contact and dialogue with Saba and Bonaire, and with The Hague.
Knops pointed out that St. Eustatius was vulnerable socio-economically and due to its size and geographical position. “At the same time, there are opportunities for the future if the right decisions are strategically made between economic development and preserving nature, both on land and in the sea.”
The past months, as in the other parts of the Kingdom, have been mostly dominated by measures in the health care facilities and the population to mitigate the risks of COVID-19.
The medical facilities in St. Eustatius, which are already limited under normal circumstances, did not suffice in the exceptional situation of the current pandemic. Additional equipment, supplies and personnel were brought to St. Eustatius, including a so-called Hospitainer with six isolation rooms and ventilators.
The coronavirus pandemic has again demonstrated the island’s vulnerability. The corona crisis threatens to have severe consequences for local economic development. Many entrepreneurs are now relying on the emergency package of support measures that the Netherlands has made available. Dismissed persons and self-employed persons can also make use of this support.
Aside from the corona crisis, the strengthening of Statia’s economic structure remains a complex task due to the insular character, the small size and the unbalanced economy. On top of that, the largest private employer on the island, oil terminal GTI, ceased its contracts with a large number of entrepreneurs. This resulted in job losses for some 100 persons.
The socio-economic consequences as a result of the dismissals at GTI showed the island’s vulnerability and dependence on one large employer. Government Commissioner Van Rij has taken the initiative to develop a socio-economic strategy together with employers’ and employees’ organisations to create more employment diversification. This strategy will be further worked on in the next months.
Getting tourism back on track after the corona crisis and diversifying the economy are of vital importance to economic development, stated Knops. “It is hopeful that the construction of several new tourism accommodations will bring new employment and economic development.”
As for tourism, Knops said the St. Eustatius Tourism Development Foundation (STDF) had taken the lead in developing a marketing plan for after the corona crisis. Marketing is very important to put the island on the map, he said.
Together with stakeholders in Bonaire and Saba, a hotel campaign for the tourism sector is being prepared. “The focus on a sustainable, COVID-19-resistant tourism sector, in combination with the selling points of the island (tranquillity, history, archaeology, nature and diving) is essential.”
The Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate EZK and the Netherlands Enterprise Agency RVO are assisting in drafting a plan that fits in the new 1.5-metre economy. The current period is being used by the tourism sector for hospitality training. The ferry pilot project with lower ticket prices is expected to give a boost when tourism restarts.
Knops mentioned the expansion of the harbour and airport as projects that are crucial for further sustainable economic growth. The corona crisis affected the execution of a number of projects due to the travel restrictions. In the coming weeks, essential workers will be admitted to the island again, albeit under conditions. This will limit the delay in execution of some projects.
The public entity St. Eustatius will be further preparing for Island Council elections in October this year. A series of improvements will be completed so the public entity has booked sufficient progress to enter a new phase of gradually restoring a normal situation with a solid government structure.
“The period leading up to the elections requires a continuous focus on dialogue with the people and transparency towards residents. This dialogue is already taking place in an intensive manner,” stated Knops.
At the same time, the public entity and the Dutch government will have to continue building good governance and working on the projects to improve the situation on the island. Knops said he was confident that he would be able to report progress on all fronts in his next report to the Dutch Parliament in September, and that St. Eustatius would be ready for elections “as a first step towards the recovery of normal relations.”
A training trajectory for potential politicians is being set up, in cooperation with the Association of Dutch Municipalities VNG and the National Institute for Multiple-Party Democracy NIMD. Possibilities are being looked at within the corona crisis measures.
The first training days will be organised after Nomination Day with the objective of preparing (potential) politicians for their role as Member of the Island Council. Training days will also be offered to the elected politicians after the elections. Residents will be encouraged to become candidates in the elections.
Source: The Daily Herald https://www.thedailyherald.sx/islands/statia-improvements-show-positive-trend-says-knops