ORANJESTAD- Councilman Clyde van Putten (PLP) feels hopeful that the new State Secretary for Interior affairs and Kingdom Relations, Alexandra van Huffelen, will visit the island of St. Eustatius with what he calls ‘an open mind’.
Van Putten on Thursday, in a conversation with the BES-Reporter, said he took notice of an article in which Van Huffelen had expressed that the return to democracy on St. Eustatius was ‘very important’.
“I was happy to hear the State Secretary say that, and of course I could not agree with her more. However, I really do hope that the State Secretary comes to this island with a truly open mind, and willing to not only listen to a handful of carefully selected persons on the island, or her own advisors. I hope that Van Huffelen will also be willing to listen to the average man or woman on the street, and to us as elected representatives of the people”.
Van Putten also said that he was worried that a return to full Democracy on the island was still far off, without some form of intervention by the State Secretary. “I am getting the impression that the two appointed commissioners, in any case, are not working to return to full Democracy as soon as possible. On the contrary, they seem intent on dragging out the process as much as possible”.
“When elections were held two years into the intervention, I felt some hope. I also got the impression former Government Commissioner Marnix van Rij was truly trying to get to a gradual restoration of democracy, for instance with the ability of the Island Council to appoint commissioners. I admit that I for one, was not enthused about his appointment at the time. But, in hindsight it should also be admitted that he seemed willing to do business with us as elected representatives, and that he was preparing various steps to gradually return to a normal situation with commissioners appointed by the Island Council, and with a governor appointed by the Crown’, said van Putten.
According to Van Putten, the time table and the steps in the process to restore Full Democracy so far have not been realistic, or correct. “So far there has been no true involvement of the Island Council. The time table and the action points were single-handedly established by the Government Commissioner and her team, and they expect us to just function as a rubber stamp”, said Van Putten.
The councilman also noted that the intervention process is now into it’s fourth year, with no end in sight. “2023 is right around the corner, and the voters of this island should head back to the poles. But to vote for what, exactly? At the rate this is going, the process will drag out more and more”, noted Van Putten.
Lack of democracy
What worries Van Putten, is the fact that the same arguments used as justification for the intervention are to the order of the day in present times. “By no means is the process democratic at this point. The Government Commissioners act as they please and do not take into account what the Island Council wants, or votes for. When it comes to appointments to important positions such as board members of our Government-owned companies, it is a question of ‘family and friends’. There are no checks and balances at all”.
According to Van Putten the PLP/Merkman coalition was at the time wrongly accused of many things. “But everything we were accused of, is still ongoing on St. Eustatius today, or even worse”. The councilman also pointed out that the biggest issue for the island, since 10/10/10 had been a lack of funds.
“We as island inherited a mess from the former Netherlands Antilles. As smaller islands, we hardly ever benefitted from all the money for development programs, which were spent on the bigger islands. And then, from 2010 onwards, The Hauge did noy want to provide us with sufficient money to invest in the island and get it up to standard. Even now, with 11 years into the new status and four years into the intervention, there is still a tremendous amount of work which needs to be carried out to bring the island completely up to par”.
Van Putten said that he felt hopeful that Van Huffelen would be willing to take a critical look to what the situation was after four years of direct rule by The Netherlands.
The councilman als said that while he would not deny that certain positive things have come about since the island since the intervention -mainly because of funds which were finally made available- it currently did not serve any purpose again. “You cannot keep denying the will of the people, just because you don’t like the people or the parties they elected. The present Island Council members were voted in during free and fair elections, and the will of the people needs to be respected! That is what democracy is all about. And if that is not honoured, it looks more like a dictatorship, than a truly democratic system, as may be expected within the Dutch Kingdom.
Van Putten concluded by saying that he was looking forward to fruitful and meaningful conversations with Van Huffelen. “I for one really hope that as an island, we can now finally turn the page, and be able to move forward in a meaningful way”.