“This country belongs to us, not the Netherlands,” said Clyde van Putten (standing) during the Island Council meeting.
ST. EUSTATIUS–Thursday’s Island Council meeting at Gertrude Judson Bicentennial Public Library did not run smoothly. Three motions were presented by majority coalition partner Progressive Labour Party (PLP). However, Acting Island Governor and Council Chairman Julian Woodley was eventually forced to suspend the debate on the last two motions due to a fair amount of emotional uproar.
The first motion concerned a letter sent to the Island Council by Minister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Ronald Plasterk on July 31. His letter regarded the withholding of his approval of the 2017 budget by an extension of two weeks. This letter prompted a request to Commissioner of Constitutional Affairs Derrick Simmons to draft a treaty that would outline the practical implementation of the decolonization of St. Eustatius in accordance with the United Nations Charter and subsequent resolutions.
In presenting the motion, PLP-leader Clyde van Putten complained that “Whereas the Minister had every right to delay, he nevertheless had ample opportunity to study the balanced budget presented. I was shocked by the Minister since this country belongs to us, not to the Netherlands.”
Van Putten also alluded to the role of former Commissioner of Finance Astrid McKenzie-Tatem. “We were fully aware that our figures were not realistic and as a result of a meeting in The Hague, the Ministry agreed to support an improvement in our financial administration. Our Finance Commissioner was not complying with the 2016 accounts and then the Kingdom Representative eventually took a red pen to the Plan of Approach,” Van Putten said.
“We gave the lady every opportunity and she was asked to resign. Our unit finance manager also came up short and our auditors gave the opinion that our finances were in a mess. As a result, we could not make any more budget cuts,” he said.
This explanation was not good enough for Island Council Member for the Democratic Party Nicolaas “Koos” Sneek. “The Minister’s letter is all in agreement with the [laws ruling public entities Bonaire, Statia and Saba – Ed.] WolBES that allows the Minister to postpone his decision one time with a maximum of two weeks.”
Sneek said: “There is no requirement for the Minister to give a particular reason for this. I can only think that when the Island Council adopted the budget, there was no signed agreement with NuStar. The latter was one of the most important reasons the Minister did not approve the budget in December last year.”
He continued: “I wonder why the coalition is not happy with the Minister when he is using his legal right to delay his approval, while this same coalition Government has asked just recently for an extension to present the annual accounts for 2016. The local Government does not even have the right to make such a request.”
Finance Commissioner Charles Woodley took another position. “The Dutch Government has not been transparent with how it collects taxes” he pointed out. “They have also not been transparent in sharing the information on various expensive reports such as the Spies Report that are merely put in the bottom drawer. Such is the way they violate our rights as human beings. US $700,000 was cut from our budget and delays by the Kingdom Representative and Central Government have impacted our people’s interest. Their advice to the Governor was not to hold Island Council meetings and thus leave a vacuum. Yet, we were elected as the local Government authority. How does that square with our WolBES constitution? By withholding our budget, they want to label us as corrupt which is not true. They have no notion of the principle of equality and the Minister clearly does not work in the interest of the people of Statia.”
PLP Island Councilmember Rechelline Leerdam was similarly resentful of the way in which the Dutch Government is treating Statia. “When our children go hungry and people are crying, the Minister should help. It does not make any sense. Can the Minister explain how many jobs are lost on the island through his actions? What kind of future is there for our school leavers on Statia?” she asked.
“I am glad the Minister is leaving. The Spies Report cost millions and all the fine recommendations from all sides came to nothing,” she added.
In presenting the coalition’s motion, Van Putten made strong reference to the UN Charter. “The Minister recognizes that the Charter of the Kingdom of the Netherlands and the changes it has been subject to, have been established in compliance with the UN Charter. This delay in approving our budget is unacceptable and the legal framework is clear. Any form of interference over the democratically elected Government of Statia constitutes a violation of the UN Charter and will not be accepted by the Government and people of Statia.”
Sneek explained that he would not vote for a lengthy motion that was suddenly presented to the floor of the Council without prior review. Furthermore, the motion came with a letter to the Minister that was unknown to him.
“The Island Council has still not seen the annual accounts for 2015. We do not see any quarterly reports. And now we are still awaiting the approval of the budget 2017,” Sneek said.
He left the chamber when the motion was put to the vote by the Governor. “It is impossible for me to vote on a motion for which the contents are unknown to me,” Sneek stated.
The motion was carried by three coalition votes in favour by Leerdam, Van Putten and independent councilman Reuben Merkman.
An undated letter was received Sunday from the Minister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations in which he approved the 2017 budget.
Council business then turned to a motion concerning constitutional affairs, which referred to “wrongful acts” committed towards the people of Indonesia when they sought their independence from the Netherlands. It also called for engaging legal services “to ensure that the Government of the Netherlands lives up to its dominant obligations towards St. Eustatius as outlined in the UN Charter and relevant resolutions.”
The resulting debate led to raised emotions and much use of the Chairman’s gavel. Given the level of turmoil, the Chairman felt obligated to close the session. Further debate was postponed until Wednesday, during which time the Island Council will also discuss the position of Island Secretary Koert Kerkhoff.