By Koos Sneek
The meeting the combined Island Council of Sint Eustatius had yesterday with State-Secretary Knops I have experienced as rather disappointing. Our proposal to a return to full democracy was wiped off the table with little constructive arguments. Mr. Knops did not make any effort to appreciate our position, which in my opinion was not farfetched and well substantiated.
For this occasion, as an Island Council, we had come together, and we have spoken with one voice. And this in itself I see as a great achievement, seeing the great division there was between the parties in the past. In my opinion we had drafted a balanced document outlining our views on the way out of the intervention. The council confirmed its commitment to make the intervention a success and to build in sufficient guarantees for this.
I was in favor of the intervention and I still am. But I also believe that the process is taking far too long as we are now already in the fourth year without a fully democratic local government on Statia. I realize that there were a number of delays. But none of these delays were caused by a non-cooperative local government or by a non-cooperating island council.
The first delay was with the road construction. After two years in the intervention, still not one single road was built. This was caused by making the project too big, which prevented to do the construction locally, while at the end of the day it was still our own people who build the road.
The second delay was caused by selecting the wrong people as government commissioner and acting government commissioner. They had to be replaced after two years and a new couple had to find out that hardly anything had been done the previous two years and start from scratch again.
Then, when the process was picking up steam, the new government commissioner van Rij resigned, leaving Alida on her own. And of course, this is causing a new delay. What disappoints me though is that, at no point Mr. Knops took any responsibility for these delays.
When I brought up the motion in parliament from last year requesting Knops to have the government commissioner to set a timeline for the return to full democracy, he blamed the Island Council for not setting it. This while he promised parliament to have the government commissioner to do this in consultation with the island council. This consultation did never take place, even though the various factions have requested this on a number of occasions.
In our proposal, the Island Council basically wanted to separate the completion of the 12 criteria from taking the next steps to fully democratic governance and to leave only the function of government commissioner intact for a prolonged period of time. According to Mr. Knops this could not happen without changing the law. This is a pertinent untruth. Nowhere in the law “Herstel Voorzieningen St. Eustatius” any of the 12 criteria are mentioned as a requirement to go from one phase to the next.
The law says that at any point in time these steps can be taken when the situation has changed to the extent that can be expected that the civil service, the executive council or the governor can function properly. And the council believes that the situation has changed to move on. The 12 criteria are invented afterwards as a measuring stick by BZK.
And although I am in agreement that most of these criteria need to be dealt with, seeing the positive developments in government, I am of the opinion that these also can be completed with a fully democratic government for the time being only supervised by a government commissioner.
And as I said, most not all of these criteria I agree with. The functioning of the cadaster was all those years the responsibility of St. Maarten and always beyond our control. The establishment of the audit chamber was always held up by Saba not by Statia. The audit chamber established now is even in conflict with the WolBES because the law speaks of a combined audit chamber not an audit chamber for Statia alone.
It is very unfortunate that at no point during our encounter, Mr. Knops give the impression that he wanted to give any value to the arguments we were bringing to the table.
We were threatened yesterday that if we cannot deal with the goat problem ourselves, he will deal with it. Since February 2018 with the intervention, Mr. Knops and his government commissioner took control and took responsibility also over the goat problem. Three and a half years later, the problem is still there. And now he blames an island council with limited legislative powers and absolutely no executive powers that this problem is still there?
There are a few other things that got me a little irritated. In the morning hours yesterday the State-Secretary officially opened the new roundabout. It is common practice that for such occasions also the Island Council will be invited. However, this was not the case. We were not even informed.
Then we were invited to meet with Mr. Knops between 12.30 and 1.30 PM. This is lunchtime. Mr. Knops however finished lunch with another group of people while we were waiting to meet with him. And of course, he has the right to have lunch with whoever he wants, but what kind of signal do you give here to the members of the Island Council? And I hate it, when I have to refer to the words of my colleague van Putten, aren’t we the highest legislative body on the island? How does he value us?
I would like to stress again on the fact that I did support the intervention and still do, but I find this whole exercise is now taking far too long. Too many mistakes are being made and too many delays are causing it to go on and on. And this cannot be blamed on an island council with hardly any powers but on the responsible state-secretary and his appointed government commissioner. Mr. Knops got a little annoyed when I echoed his words: The intervention needs to be as short as possible, and as long as necessary. The point of as long as necessary in my humble opinion has been surpassed.
Our next stop is the parliament, where the debate will take place about the situation on Statia on June 2nd. As collective body as island council, but also as an individual council member I will try to convince the members of parliament that this intervention takes far too long, and an acceptable time path need to be established to get it behind us.
Koos Sneek is lid van de Eilandsraad van Sint Eustatius.