THE HAGUE–A vast majority of the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament expressed support for the law proposal for a direct intervention in the St. Eustatius Government, sending home the Island and Executive Councils as a result of what has been termed as “gross negligence.”
The Second Chamber’s Permanent Committee for Kingdom Relations met with State Secretary of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Raymond Knops on Monday to discuss the latter’s emergency legislation which had been formally submitted that same day. Almost all parties present at that meeting said they would support the law proposal when it comes to a vote on Tuesday.
The Members of Parliament (MPs) shared the concerns of the Dutch Government and the findings of the Committee of Wise Men that the current Statia Government was effectively operating outside the law, ignoring regulations, neglecting the rules for good governance and solid finances, and that a culture existed of intimidation, discrimination, threats, insults and randomness.
“The situation is of such a critical nature that it warrants this procedure,” said André Bosman of the liberal democratic VVD party.
Ronald van Raak of the Socialist Party (SP) spoke of a “nuclear option” and a “sad day” on which the “local democracy was put aside.” He remarked that 1951 had been the last time the Dutch Government took over the governing of a municipality, in this case the town Flinsterwolde in the province Friesland.
“D66 laments that it had to come this far,” said Antje Diertens of the democratic party D66.
“All support from the CDA for this law proposal, no matter how sad it is that it had to come to this,” said Joba van den Berg of the Christian Democratic Party CDA.
Henk Krol of the 50 Plus Party said he was “shocked” by the findings of the Committee of Wise Men comprising former Aruba Governor Fredis Refunjol and Member of the Council of State Jan Franssen. Krol said he was happy with the speed with which the State Secretary was handling this matter.
Liesbeth van Tongeren of the green left party GroenLinks said her party would support the law proposal, which she called the “ultimate remedy,” but she also called on the Dutch Government to do some soul-searching and admit that it had allowed the situation in St. Eustatius to continue for too long while the people suffered.
“Let this be a wake-up call for St. Eustatius and if it doesn’t listen they can get out of the Kingdom,” said Machiel de Graaf of the Party for Freedom PVV, who did not waste the opportunity to propagate his party’s view that the Dutch Caribbean islands should become independent.
Stieneke van der Graaf of the ChristianUnion (CU) said intervention was warranted, but called it a “far-reaching measure” that needed to remain proportional and should show quick results for the people. “The people deserve a decent government that works in their best interest,” she said.
Roelof Bishop of the reformed Christian party SGP said the “chaos and mess” on the island merited intervention. He questioned why the Dutch Government had allowed this situation to continue due to a “lack of vigour” where it came to this “destitute part of our country.”
Attje Kuiken of the Labour Party PvdA said her party too would give its consent to the law proposal, but she questioned why the Dutch Government had not drafted an “escalation ladder” and intervened at an earlier stage. “How do we continue together?” she asked.
Tanahan Kuzu of the DENK party called it a “sad day in the age-old relations” between the islands and the Netherlands. “Was there no alternative? The Dutch Government should have been aware of the problems at a much earlier stage,” said Kuzu.
Antje Diertens stressed that the measure of direct intervention should be proportionate and that it should remain in place for a limited time.
“The authority to govern should be given back to the people as soon as possible, because it is their sovereignty,” said Van Raak.
Several MPs asked Knops how he would be informing the Statia people of this law.
“How will you explain this?” asked Henk Krol.
Diertens said it was important to provide clarity quickly, also to increase support among the local population. She also urged Knops to involve the residents and local expertise.
Van den Berg asked about a help desk.
The MPs supported the idea to establish a social advisory council.
Brought forward by Van Raak, the debate also touched on the holding of elections in St. Eustatius. According to Knops, it might not be possible to hold elections until 2021. The 2019 elections in any case will be deferred because it is estimated that the governmental situation on the island will not as yet have been resolved by then.
Van Raak urged Knops to organise elections as soon as possible. “After this horrible law, we should see to it that free and fair elections are held, elections that should not be organised by Mr. Van Putten, but by the State Secretary,” he said. Van Raak emphasised that the people had to decide their own future, also in light of their right of self-determination.
Van Tongeren expressed support for Van Raak’s view that elections should be held as soon as possible.
André Bosman noted that at this time it was not possible to hold free and fair elections under the current politicians in power. He said “bad politicians” should not be able to participate in the elections.
Kuiken said it was important for the people to have perspective as to when elections would be held.
Van Raak brought up the point of safety. “We are intervening in an explosive situation. How do we make sure that people feel safe on the island?” He said that if indeed criminal acts have been committed, as was suggested in the report of the Committee of Wise Men, the Prosecutor’s Office should move to prosecute the politicians in question. “People should be able to see what the politicians did,” he said.
Several MPs used Monday’s debate to bring up the issue of poverty and the lack of a social minimum in the Caribbean Netherlands.
Van Raak called poverty a “shame for the Kingdom.”
Van Tongeren urged Knops to tackle poverty at once. “We have to do something now for the people who live beneath the subsistence minimum. Normally people have hope for a better future. For many in St. Eustatius that is not the case,” she said.
“We need to create better living environment for the people,” said Krol.
The MPs agreed that the Dutch intervention should also result in an improvement of the island’s physical infrastructure. “Intervention is one, but achieving a better living environment for the Statia people is two,” said Bosman, who asked the State Secretary to initiate projects to fix the roads, to clean up the island, in particular the car wrecks.
Van den Berg also stressed the need for physical improvement of the island and urged Knops to assume his coordinating role.
Bosman said the findings of the Committee of Wise Men confirmed that a vision on the Kingdom was a necessity. “We have to initiate the debate on more autonomy for the islands. We keep hitting into this fence,” he said.
Frank Wassenberg of the Party for Animals had other priorities: the natural resources, the biodiversity above- and underwater had suffered due to the Statia Government’s mismanagement. He pressed Knops to ensure that this was tackled.