By Suzanne Koelega
STATIA/THE HAGUE–Being an optimistic person by nature, Kingdom Representative for the Caribbean Netherlands Gilbert Isabella is hopeful that the stricter supervision on the St. Eustatius Government will yield positive results. For the administration, for the island’s general development and, very important, for the people.
But St. Eustatius is not there yet, by far. “There have been positive developments. Things are gradually improving. But a lot still needs to be done. I am not satisfied as yet,” said Isabella in an interview with The Daily Herald.
In June 2015, Minister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Ronald Plasterk implemented direct supervision on the Public Entity St. Eustatius, in both the financial and administrative area. This supervision by law is executed via the Kingdom Representative (“Rijksvertegenwoordiger”).
Plasterk was very clear in his letter dated June 10, 2015 to Statia’s Executive Council: “It concerns administrative malfunctioning and the insufficient adhering to existing laws and regulations, including bad financial management with the associated financial risks.” Plasterk asked Isabella to set up a Steering Group, which would include the members of the Executive Council, and to draft and subsequently implement a plan of approach.
This plan of approach was drafted in a broad format, leaving ample room for the local Government to give content to its own responsibilities. This was done intentionally, said Isabella, whose appointment went into effect on September 1, 2014. “Having worked at a municipal level myself, I understand very well that responsibilities need to be transferred back to the local Government as soon as they are able to handle their own affairs. However, at this moment the Government is not in control.”
Initially, the then Statia Government refused to give its full cooperation to the plan of approach and the process to arrive at a more solid administration and better financial management. It wasn’t until the end of last year that this cooperation was materialised and the Executive Council changed its position.
The stringent financial supervision, the so-called obligations stop, was ceased per January 15, 2016 and replaced by preventive supervision. The Multi-Annual Programme for St. Eustatius was signed on February 1, 2016. This programme was important for St. Eustatius and offers many benefits for the island and its people, not only because it seeks to enhance an improved general development, but also because it entails smaller, local projects, explained Isabella.
The plan of approach contains thirty action points and priorities. A top ten was formulated of the things that needed urgent implementation. Solid administrative support, especially in the area of finances, was deemed imperative and secured through the Ministry of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations BZK, with an active input of the Committee for Financial Supervision CFT. A temporary unit manager was placed at the Finance Department. PricewaterhouseCoopers and KPMG are providing their expertise.
Investing in Statia’s financial management was a pure necessity. “The finances were not in order. Solid finances are a basic condition for good governance. This means having your figures in order, spend wisely, don’t spend more than you have and try setting some funds aside for the future,” said Isabella.
The preventive financial supervision on all expenditures, though strictly enforced, is being implemented in such a way that it is still manageable for the local Government. Twice per week a list goes to the BZK Ministry which gets checked immediately to prevent a hold-up in the system. “This supervision serves to protect the people’s money and is not intended to make things difficult on purpose,” said Isabella.
As part of the plan of approach, a number of urgent vacancies have been filled at the Public Entity, such as the position of the Island Secretary, the financial unit manager and at the Census Office. “It is important to support the local Government wherever we can. I am always the first to say that this support is needed,” said Isabella.
Meanwhile a number of projects of the Multi-Annual Programme have been set in motion. The Ministry of Infrastructure and Environment I&M has made US $6 million available for the local road network. It is now up to the Statia Government to draft a plan for this large project. An essential investment, for locals and tourists alike, will be the road from the harbour to the upper town.
Also, funds have been made available for social projects by the Mega D Foundation and the Daughters of the King. Support for the Golden Rock housing project will resume with renewed commitments of the Dutch housing corporation Woonlinie and Statia’s new Commissioner Derrick Simmons Jr.
The Dutch Government is not the “angry bogeyman,” said Isabella. “As the Kingdom Representative I am more than willing to provide support wherever I can. We should not oppose each other, but stand alongside each other so we can work on visible improvements, together.”
Isabella mentioned the Solar Park, which was inaugurated by Minister of Economic Affairs Henk Kamp last week, as a positive project where cooperation resulted in good things. When the second Solar Park has been installed, St. Eustatius will generate 46 per cent of its electricity in a sustainable manner, and it will be a frontrunner. Agriculture is another area where there was much to be gained, he said.
Asked about the ongoing dilemma in the Island Council where the opposition, the Democratic Party (DP), is having great trouble to get certain issues on the agenda, Isabella said that it was not his task to get involved in local politics and the democratic process.
“It is a given that things are not always progressing in a smooth and decent manner. At the same time, I try to communicate, reach agreements on how to deal with the democratic process. Politicians should never forget that they are there to conduct the business of the people.”
Finger on pulse
Isabella consults with Statia’s Executive Council every other week about the implementation of the plan of approach. “It is important to keep a finger on the pulse. To discuss the progress, the bottlenecks, the priorities and the different projects. The local Government has a major role to play as it is primarily responsible. It needs to take that responsibility.” Two process managers are assisting to implement the plan of approach and to help out with certain areas of the Multi-Annual Programme.
As for the bad state of repairs of the Government Guest House, a situation on which The Daily Herald reported last month, Isabella said that he was well aware of this matter. “I noticed the stairs on one of my working visits earlier this year. A downright dangerous situation,” he said.
According to Isabella, the Government Guest House was a national monument for which the Dutch Government had a responsibility. “We have to assume that responsibility.” In the meantime, the Ministry of BZK has made some US $1 million available for the much needed renovation of the Government Guest House and Fort Oranje. “The Government Guest House is a beautiful, historic building which can be a tourist attraction as part of the historical core.”
The process of achieving a lasting improvement of the Statia administration has been slow, said Isabella, who hopes to have concluded this major, yet delicate exercise by January 1, 2018. “We are moving towards better finances. But we are not there yet. It is not proceeding at the speed as I would like to see it happen. Together we are taking small steps forward, looking ahead together, in the interest of the Statia people.”
Source: Daily Herald
Statia still has a long way to go, says Isabella