Commissioner of Constitutional Affairs Reginald Zaandam and his colleagues Clark Abraham from Bonaire and Christopher Johnson from Saba assembled in the Old Gin House hotel in St. Eustatius on Monday. Their mission was to sign and present Dutch Minister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Ronald Plasterk with a joint letter. This “Gin House Declaration” was written in reaction to the October 2015 report from the Evaluation Committee.
Chaired by Liesbeth Spies, the Evaluation Committee was asked to see how conditions and opinions had changed for all three public entities since October 10, 2010.
Through this letter, the Executive Councils of Bonaire, Statia and Saba ex pressed their most important shared concerns with regard to this evaluation.
“Most of the issues that have been experienced over the past years on our islands have found a place in this report,” it can be read in the Declaration.
On the subject of poverty, the Commissioners observe that the standard of living has deteriorated in the past five years. “Poverty alleviation has to be a joint priority for national and island governments for the coming years.”
They call for a poverty line and level of provisions that is acceptable within the Netherlands, as well as a plan to make sure that no Bonairean, Statian or Saban has to live below the poverty line.
With respect to economy and employment, the Commissioners pointed out that investment in the basic infrastructure is a “vital precondition for a sustainable economic development, employment and sustainable poverty alleviation and well-being.”
While convinced that public interests are being best represented and administered locally, the Commissioners want “to create stronger and broader representation of the local populace in legislation, policy making and the development of the islands’ constitutional status.”
They call for continued joint investment in the development of local government capacity and are critical of the role of the Dutch Government Representative. “The institution of Kingdom Representative has limited to no added value in its present form,” they stated.
Nevertheless, the Commissioners voiced their political unity at the ceremony in the Old Gin House. According to their letter to Minister Plasterk, “The islands feel that after five years, it is time to use our collective experience and move forward in a joint effort.”
Prior to the signing of the declaration, Zaandam presented Plasterk with a report outlining the Island Council’s response to the evaluation process. The 20-page document entitled “Statia’s Observation, Concerns and the Way Forward” had been widely discussed and unanimously approved by the Island Council’s five members.
“While looking back towards and forward from 10-10-10, it is clear that we are not going to start from scratch every five years, given the context of what we have today, what it means for the people and what we can do,” the Minister insisted. “There is a need for improved coordination, and we can decentralize further. We should not think that one size fits all.”
Referring to the approved St. Eustatius Multi-Year Plan for 2015/2020, he recognized that economic development, measures to alleviate poverty and the rights of the child were interwoven.