State Secretary of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Raymond Knops disembarking from a Winair aircraft for his visit to St. Eustatius on Sunday, May 16.
ST. EUSTATIUS–During his visit to St. Eustatius the Island Council has made a proposal to caretaker State Secretary of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations BZK Raymond Knops to speed up the process to restore democracy on Statia. This proposal was also forwarded to the Committee for Kingdom Relations of the Dutch Parliament’s Second Chamber in The Hague as input for the debate on the situation in Statia, scheduled for June 2.
“When I say the reaction of Knops was disappointing then that is an understatement,” said independent Island Councilman Koos Sneek, ahead of a press conference by the collective Island Council scheduled for today, Tuesday, at 10:00am.
On July 16, 2020, the Law Task Neglect St. Eustatius was replaced with the Law Restoration of Facilities St. Eustatius. In connection with this law a motion was adopted by the Second Chamber, whereby the national government and the government commissioner were urged to draft a route-timetable for the return to a fully democratic government in consultation with the Island Council. The Second Chamber was to be informed about this route-timetable before February 1, 2021, but according to the five Island Councilmembers, this never happened.
The process of the Law Restoration of Facilities is still in phase two. The government commissioner and the civil service are still working to complete the 12 criteria, which according to the law are necessary to complete phase two. This includes the appointment of commissioners.
From a presentation by various government departments, the Island Council has learned that it may take until well into 2022 before all criteria are met. “In a worst-case scenario this means that during this governing period, ending March 2023, no commissioners will be appointed,” the Island Council says.
The Island Council says it has encountered two setbacks with the replacement of government commissioners. In April, Government Commissioner Marnix Van Ri resigned from office, leaving Statia in an “unfavourable and undemocratic” situation in which Acting Government Commissioner Alida Francis is tasked with 22 portfolios and “solely” charged with the daily decision making of the executing body. This contributes to further delays, as no replacement has been appointed to date, the Island Council says.
All three factions in the Island Council say they are committed to the process to restore democracy in Statia but are calling on the Dutch government to re-evaluate the process.
“The Council believes in good governance and, therefore, is a strong proponent of the continued building and strengthening of the various areas of the civil service and government’s responsibilities. This, as we know, has been a challenge for decades because of insufficient finances and qualified personnel. The factions in the Island Council, therefore, are desirous to step up the pace and move on to the next phase. All factions are of the opinion that the entire process is taking far too long. The factions are accepting the fact that an intervention has taken place, but in a democratic society it is not acceptable or good practice that a community is withheld a fully democratic government for such a long period of time. It is also unprecedented in the history of The Netherlands,” the Island Council said, adding that all factions are of the opinion that the functioning of the council itself, as well as that of individual members has improved drastically. However, in the present situation they have no influence on the improvement of the quality of the government administration, nor on the speed in which this process is taking place.
The factions subscribe to the need of the completion of the 12 criteria, but do not agree with the consequence that this should uphold the process to restore local democracy. They want to move to a next phase as soon as possible, with a timeline agreed between the Public Entity St. Eustatius and BZK. In this phase, Articles 13, 14 and 15 of the Law Restoration of Facilities should be implemented whereby the Island Council will regain its authority to appoint commissioners, hold authority over the civil service and have the budget right.
The Island Council factions have no objection to the continuation of the role of the government commissioner for a prolonged period of time. It is also desirous to enter into a training programme to improve the skills and performance of councilmembers and the council as a whole.
On the other hand, the Island Council seeks assurance from the national government that when entering the next phase and ultimately after full restoration of the local democratic government, the support that is presently offered in human resources, as well as financially, will remain in place to guarantee the continuation of the improvements, the strengthening of the government apparatus and the elimination of backlogs. A joined study should be carried out by the public entity and BZK regarding Statia’s social, economic and infrastructural deficits and a roadmap developed.