ST. EUSTATIUS–The Acting Island Governor is obligated to sign the decisions by the Executive Council of St. Eustatius that have been adopted by a majority of votes, the Court of First Instance decided Wednesday in the injunction filed by Commissioners Charles Woodley and Derrick Simmons against Acting Island Governor Julian Woodley.
These decisions concern the suspension of the Harbour Master, the signing of the Waste Management Agreement, the co-signing of a letter to the Minister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations BZK, and the approval of an official mission by one of the Commissioners to The Hague.
The Court rejected a similar claim concerning the contract with NuStar Terminals N.V. pertaining to an agreement regarding harbour and pilotage related fees and services by the Public Entity, as the Commissioners had stated during the hearing that there are “new developments” which may lead to a new agreement.
According to the Court, which rendered its verdict at Mike E. van Putten Youth Centre and during a live broadcast on Radio Statia, that there is no basis in the law on the Public Entities Bonaire, Statia and Saba WolBES for the Acting Governor to refuse to sign decisions that were taken by the Executive Council with a majority of votes. The Acting Governor is, together with the Commissioners, responsible for a thorough preparation of decisions.
If the Acting Governor is of the opinion that the decisions are not in conformity with the law he, or the Dutch Government Representative, has the possibility to request nullification of the decision by the Kingdom Government. There is no basis in the law for the Acting Governor to refuse to put his signature on approved decisions, the Court ruled.
The Court did not attach penalties to its order to the Acting Governor to sign the challenged decisions. It is of the opinion that it should be a matter of course for the Acting Governor to adhere to Court decisions. The Acting Governor, however, has to pay court fees to the Commissioners to the amount of US $5,000.
In a brief statement issued via Dutch Government Service Caribbean Netherlands RCN, Governor Woodley said he respects the ruling and will sign majority decisions. He added, however, that he will submit decisions for annulment, when in his opinion there is a conflict with the law or with the general interest.
“Whatever the verdict, I am still obliged by law to obtain proper advice and that includes the advice of the Kingdom Representative,” Woodley told The Daily Herald.
Attorney-at-law Charles Rutte of HBN Law, who represented the Acting Governor in the injunction, said he had not yet been able to discuss the judgment with his client. Therefore, he could not give any comment at this stage.
When asked for comment about the case, Commissioner Simmons said: “I would like to thank our legal defence team for a job well done. Another one for the history books.” Commissioner Woodley repeated his statement that this situation should never have reached the Court.
Attorney Jason Rogers of Hoeve and Rogers Attorneys and Consultants said they were “very pleased” with the decision of the Court in First Instance. “As outlined in our petition on behalf of the commissioners, as well as during the hearing, there are no valid legal reasons for the Acting Governor not to sign decisions that have been taken by the majority of the Executive Council. His contention that said decisions are not in accordance with the law is not only incorrect, but not relevant as far as the procedural aspect is concerned,” Rogers said.
“Should the Acting Governor be of the opinion that decisions are not in accordance with the law, he has the option – based on article 223 WolBES – to forward it to the Minister of BZK, via the Kingdom’s Representative, for annulment. Such should be done within two days. He would then also have to advise the Executive Council of such. However, the Acting Governor chose not to do so, but instead [decided – Ed.] not to sign off on decisions or to carry them out.”
By not signing or carrying out decisions taken by the majority of the Executive Council, the Acting Governor is handling unlawfully, and by extension stagnating the governance of the island, Rogers added. “Said actions are also contrary to his tasks and obligations under the WolBES, as we argued during the hearing”.
“In its judgment of today, the Court – in an extensive motivation of ruling – agreed with our arguments. Moreover, the Court indicated that based on the WolBES, the Acting Governor is charged with the promotion of unity of policies within the Executive Council…After taking all legal arguments, as well as all facts and circumstances into consideration, the Court ruled that the Acting Governor has in fact acted unlawfully and as such ordered him to sign the decisions that were taken by the majority of the Executive Council, as well as letters coming from said executive body,” Rogers said.
Rogers said his office’s clients may be very pleased with this decision, however, their focus still remains in working in the interest of the people of Statia. “As such, my clients – notwithstanding this legal procedure – remain open-minded in working together with the Acting Governor in the Executive Council for the interest of the island.”