Direct intervention in Statia pure necessity, says Knops

The situ­ation of lawlessness, the mismanagement, both ad­ministratively and finan­cially, and the level of in­timidation that the current St. Eustatius Government has displayed is totally un­acceptable and required intervention by the Dutch Government, according to State Secretary of Home Affairs and Kingdom Rela­tions Raymond Knops.

The Dutch Government submitted a law proposal on Monday that will dis­solve Statia’s Island Coun­cil and send home the members of the Executive Council. The Dutch Par­liament is expected to pass this emergency legislation today, Thesday. The Dutch Government will appoint a representative who will take over the authority of the local government for the time being. (See related article)

“The situation was bad, but it has worsened, despite the earlier measures,” said Knops during a debate with the Second Chamber on Monday. He said the situ­ation was “extremely wor­risome,” also because the Statia Government “pre­tentiously” ignored laws and regulations, putting aside the Kingdom Govern­ment Representative (“Ri­jksvertegenwoordiger”). “A situation of lawlessness has evolved. This is completely unacceptable and required acting in the people’s inter­est.”

The Dutch Government’s decision to directly inter­vene followed the advice of the Committee of Wise Men. In its report titled “Near or far, a world of dif­ference,” publicly released on Monday, the Commit­tee wrote: “The situation almost resembles a coup d’etat whereby the Statia Government has conscious­ly chosen for a greater dis­tance from the Netherlands and factually broke the ties with the Netherlands.” Committee members for­mer Aruba Governor Fredis Refunjol and Council of State member Jan Frans­sen spoke with various civil servants, politicians, entre­preneurs, teachers and citi­zens of St. Eustatius in the past seven months. Three Island Council members, two Commissioners and the director of the government-owned companies refused contact.

The conclusion of the Committee: “Lawlessness, nepotism to a far extent, ignoring of other authority structures, the more-or-less monopolising of radio and TV air time for own politi­cal purposes, the desire to control the civil service, intimidation, threats, pres­sure and insults. They are more classic forms of a dic­tatorship and the striving for personal power than of expressions of good gover­nance.”

Knops said on Monday that The Hague had tried in many ways to restore good governance in St. Eustatius. “We pretty much exhausted all tools in the toolbox. In­timidation, discrimination, randomness, lawlessness do not belong in our demo­cratic state of law,” he told the Second Chamber.

He acknowledged the crit­icism of the Committee of Wise Men and the Second Chamber that the Dutch Government had let the sit­uation evolve for too long. “But that is no legitimate reason for allowing this way of governing of the Statia Government where might rules over right and the op­position is completely ig­nored.”

Knops promised to re­store the situation within the shortest possible time, to return to an elected government when this was possible and not to let the intervention drag on un­necessarily “But there is a lot to do.” He agreed with the Second Chamber that sending the Island Council. the elected representatives of the people, home was a far-reaching measure.

Holding the Island Coun­cil elections in 2019 as orig­inally planned would not be feasible, said Knops, who anticipated that two years would be the minimum time needed to restore the situation. Sufficient stability, a correct politi­cal attitude and a decently functioning administration would have to be in place before authority can be re­turned to the local govern­ment, he added.

Speedy improvements will be made to the island’s physical infrastructure for which budget was avail­able, including the 47 mil­lion euros for the recovery efforts after the hurricanes. He agreed with the Second Chamber that communica­tion with the people and creating support was im­portant. He said this was one of the reasons he would be going to St. Eustatius later this week to talk with the people.

Knops said that naturally there would be people who would say that this was a Dutch coup and colonial­ist behaviour. “But it is our task to make things better for the people.” He as­sured the Parliament that measures had been taken to ensure the safety of the local people and those vis­iting from abroad. He did not divulge specifics in the interest of security.

Discussing the right of self-determination would always remain possible, said Knops. “The local government is striving for more autonomy, which I re­spect,” he said, adding that he acknowledged the right of self-determination. He said that (more) autonomy could be discussed, but that this increased autonomy had to take place in an or­derly way. “Getting out of the Kingdom is not up to me, but to the people.”

He promised to work more at his coordinative task, one of the aspects mentioned in the Committee’s report. He announced the establishing of a Caribbean Netherlands Steering Group, headed by Kingdom Relations Acting Director Henk Brons. This should improve coordina­tion of the responsibilities and actions of the individu­al ministries in The Hague. Knops confirmed that the Dutch Government indeed had fallen short since the dismantling of the country Netherlands Antilles. “If this situation had evolved in a Dutch municipality, we would have intervened long-time. We didn’t in St. Eustatius and that is partly due to the stand of the Netherlands. We were too reserved, we partly looked away and sometimes didn’t give enough attention.”

St. Eustatius has a lot of potential, he concluded. There is a lot of history, archaeological valuables, beautiful nature and more possibilities for eco-tour­ism. “But right now it is a bit of a mess with car wrecks everywhere.”

The Daily Herald.

Statia: Government response to the report by the Committee of Wise Persons
Second Chamber supports direct intervention in Statia

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