ST. EUSTATIUS–The marathon Island Council meeting was adjourned until Tuesday, April 11. The meeting started at 2:40pm and was adjourned at 8:50pm.
The meeting featured a discussion concerning the tariffs for travel documents, and constitutional reform and the way forward.
A motion to increase the fee for identification by US $3 was adopted by a 3-2 vote, with Council members Reuben Merkman (independent) and Democratic Party (DP) members Adelka Spanner and Koos Sneek voting in favour, and Progressive Labour Party (PLP) representatives Clyde van Putten and Rechelline Leerdam voting against.
There was some disagreement concerning whether the “White Paper” was to be included in the discussions on constitutional reform. Van Putten called a vote to have the paper included. Four Island Council Members voted in favour of the proposal, with Spanner voting against.
Van Putten said the White Paper is “just” a first draft and not a final document. He said the Island Government is “looking for a full autonomous status within the realm of the Kingdom.”
He said that residents of the island never voted for the current status of a public entity of the Netherlands. “The current Government is simply trying to adhere to the wishes of the voters when it comes to improving the conditions on the island,” Van Putten said.
In the referendum of 2005 the people of Statia voted to remain a part of the Netherlands Antilles. He said the referendum in 2014, which was declared invalid as it did not meet the threshold, included “many dead or ineligible voters who were still registered to vote. Those persons obscured the vote tally.”
Van Putten said that both Curaçao and St. Maarten also sought an autonomous status within the Kingdom, “but both their deals are not the same.”
Sneek cautioned the Executive Council not to go this route. “Currently, the Dutch Government pays $60 million to fund health care on the island. The Dutch also fund education to the tune of another nine million. If the status changes the island would be in charge of education.
“Right now, the island is dependent on NuStar, a US company which could decide one day to leave, and where would the island be at that point?”
Sneek implored Statia’s citizens to be aware and get informed on the changes Government is undertaking where it concerns the island’s constitutional status.
Merkman stated that fear should not be a factor that cripples the island in making important decisions.
Leerdam said the White Paper is not set in stone. “It is just an opportunity for Government to be able to provide information to residents. It is just the start of a conversation. When residents come to me and state that they do not have a job, all I am able to do is ask, as currently labour is not under local Government control. That is why we need to start taking a handle on our own affairs.”
Commissioner Charles Woodley stated that while Versant was looking through the financial books it was discovered that $5 million were “intentionally hidden” by someone. He said that they are currently looking into the matter.
The meeting was adjourned to present a motion and Island Council decision. These documents could not be prepared and presented any sooner than Tuesday as both Island Secretaries were off island.