Yesterday, Esther Henry of Caribisch Netwerk followed the events on Statia. A group of Statians, who have opposed the Dutch intervention in their local government, organized a silent protest from the airport to the special town hall meeting with State Secretary Raymond Knops on Wednesday.
“We want a fair and honest dialogue! We have dreams for our island just like the Dutch have for their country. Let our children carry on those same dreams!”, Jacintha Brice, a member of the Brighter Part Foundation for an autonomous Statia, called out during the protest.
Local resident and Monuments Director Walter Hellebrand: “I spoke with the (Dutch-Government-appointed Committee of) Wise Men and I have a strong feeling that they already had a conclusion of the report before coming to St. Eustatius.” Because of the report of the committee The Hague decided to intervene and take over the local government.
During and after the town hall meeting persons experienced saddened emotions while expressing themselves with their stated questions to State Secretary Knops. Democracy, new elections, the poor selection of the interviewees for the report, broken promises, wasted finances and poor services by the Dutch Government, were topics that were inquired from the audience.
Brenda Van Putten, a pensioner: “This is a terrible situation since we are free people. I am worried because the Dutch can come in within a short time, who is supposed to be a part of us, can make such a drastic decision. I’m hoping that the local government can remain in office or organize an election.”
Cherida Creebsburg, “I am still disappointed since it came this far instead of consultation upfront with everybody. One report that was written by the Wise Men shouldn’t have because this result, I find it much overrated. Consultation with the whole committee will help avoid emotions that don’t need to be there.”
Creebsburg continued, “A bigger positive impact would have been the outcome if there was a consultation beforehand and everyone would have been responsible for the solution. Let’s us work together to find a solution!” The Statians at the town hall meeting expect a lot from the new government, since the ‘old one didn’t do a good job in the eyes of the Dutch.’
Article 132 states that this intervention can take place once there is gross neglect of duty by the administration. “I feel very welcomed here today with also seeing a beautiful island inhabited by committed people. This is worth investing in”, expressed Knops. “Full democracy will be established as soon as possible. Frequent visits by the state secretary will be organized to witness the recoveries and the projects. Challenges that were long experienced by Statians, will now be executed such as infrastructure. There will also be an advisory board containing only locals to give advise to the elected new government. However, the community of Statia will be informed of every decision and are welcomed to give their input wherever possible.”
“The report also states remarks of the neglected ways from the Dutch government to Statia. However, officials in the Netherlands ask that this must be fixed as fast as possible,” explained Mike Franco.Two persons were sworn as Island Governor and Deputy for St. Eustatius which is Mike Franco (from Curaçao) and Tubbergen Mervyn Stegers (Dutch). These two persons, who are not local, were chosen due to ‘being neutral and not being a part of the community’. “It is with pain that I have to do this. I’m not happy. This temporary until there are elections. However, we have to ensure that everyone has equal rights”, concluded Knops.
Statia Govenrment officials are furious and upset.
Charles Woodley, commissioner of Finance, calls the plan to remove the Statian government “a hijack of democracy”. “Why don’t they call an election instead of intervening in Statia’s government? Ask the people if they are satisfied”, he wonders. He shakes his head and adds: “Kingdom Representative Gilbert Isabella calling our culture rotten is simply disrespectful!”This week the State Secretary submitted a bill to the House of Representatives (Tweede Kamer en Eerste Kamer) to be able to intervene administratively on St. Eustatius.
Xavier Blackman, Director of Public Affairs and Sport calls the report that accuses the Statian government of ‘favoritism, threats, lust for power, discrimination, intimidation and arbitrariness’ “completely bogus”. “The committee jotted down certain persons’ opinions, not facts”, claims Blackman. “The gross financial mismanagement, a big issue in the report, is also bogus. Every single dollar is monitored under the supervision of the Dutch government and Cft (College Financieel Toezicht). There is no proof in the report of where exactly this mismanagement came from.”
Woodley adds: “no funds were made available to implement the so much required “good governance.”
“It seems you have one party who is allowed to change rules, laws and legislation at will and we have only to accept. There is no two-way dialogue. We have submitted several questions to various ministries asking them about certain laws that conflict with our democratic and human rights. They choose not to respond to those questions”, states Woodley.
He continues: “taxes are collected here on Statia by the Dutch government, such as ABB, import tax and other, but we have never received a clear spreadsheet or an overview of those collected taxes.”
“Taking the governor to court was almost impossible, however we won. Minister Plasterk was questioned in the Tweede Kamer about this and his response was that it was a ‘little mistake and it is solved’. That ‘little mistake’ caused several drawbacks and challenges implementing good governance.”
“How can you justify taking out a government that is functioning and has been legitimately elected by the people of Statia and say you are taking this decision in the interest of Statia”, Woodley wants to know. “In the Committee of Wise Men, Forty persons on a total of seventy are Dutch nationals, some never lived on Statia. Twenty of the Wise Men, born on Statia, spoke to local companies asking for their opinion on the governance of the island: the companies said they were satisfied. “The real dictators are the Dutch. They remain the colonists they were.”