Return to Democracy on Statia should be no Popularity Contest paid for with Taxpayer’s Money

The beginning of this week saw a second tentative step back to Full Democracy on St. Eustatius, with the appointment of two Commissioners in the persons of Derrick Simons and Glenn Schmidt. Tentative, as the Island Council has still not reclaimed their full powers, and certain ‘special powers’ are still bestowed on the Dutch appointed Government Commissioner, Alida Francis and -by extension- Claudia Toet.

Apart from the appointment of the two PLP Commissioners, the public in this past week could also see a truly dazzling amount of ground breakings and other events flash by, such as the start of the construction for the Airport Boulevard, start of the Improvements project at the Harbour, presentation of the Project Management Team, progress report on the Housing Project at Lodi and the presentation of a positive financial result for the year 2021.

One wonders if all of this is sheer coincidence, or rather a concerted effort by both The Hague and the Government Commissioners to underscore how ‘good and competent’ the Dutch Appointed Commissioners are, and to remind everyone of how ‘bad and incompetent’ the previous local Governments and their Commissioners were.

It also seems an effort to convince the residents of the island, what a ‘blessing’ the Dutch Intervention has been. This, unfortunately, has to be considered as no more than cheap window dressing to at least show some results, after 5 years of direct governing by The Netherlands.

Of course, nobody can deny that progress has been made over the last couple of years. Even a blind person would be able to see that. Finally -indeed- there are important infrastructural improvements to start catching up with 30 years of severe neglect. Frist for decades by the Government of The Netherlands Antilles, and between 10/10/10 and 2017 by the Dutch Government.

Of course progress can be made, and projects realized, if unlimited funds are being made available. Key question is, why those funds weren’t made available when the various democratically elected Governments were in power. Not only were the same funds not made available, they seemed to have been withheld on purpose, to frustrate those governments. That was not only the case on St. Eustatius; on Bonaire funds for rehabilitation of the dilapidated road network were initially also withheld, in spite of firm and written agreements back in 2009 and 2010, that the Dutch Government would be responsible for the upgrading of the infrastructure on Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba.

I for one am not pretending that elected governments on Statia never made mistakes. Of course they did. But Holland has also made mistakes in being a terrible cheapskate at times, and -last but not least- by using taxpayers money as a manipulative tool to make local governments dance to their tunes. No dancing to their tunes, meant no money. Holland seemed to take for granted that with this it did not so much punish governments or commissioners, but in reality the residents of the island in question.

In that sense it is to hope that not only local politicians have learned from past mistakes, but also the Dutch Government. Distrust should not be a-priori and prior to any true wrongdoing.

If you want the islands to be governed well and thrive, you should make the money available to have them execute the most basic tasks, including infrastructural works! You do not achieve this by vilifying local governments, local parliament and the local politicians, and by making them look incompetent. You should assist and enable them by being true partners, coupled with the provision of sufficient funds for important investments.

If monies made available are in fact misused, by all means step in and punish those involved. This why you have the Prosecutor’s office and an independent Court system. However, it is good to remember that even five years after the so-called ‘intervention’ not a single person from the past governments -or any politician on the island for that matter- has been charged with any crime.

The second learning point for Holland is: Rushing into something is easier than getting back out of it. In that sense -and so far- State Secretary Alexandra Van Huffelen has been a breath of fresh air, after the ‘cocky’ behaviour of ‘general’ Raymond Knops.

But as the saying goes, ’the proof of the pudding is in the eating’. It is to hope for St. Eustatius and her residents, that both sides will find a way to move forward in a positive way, also after the return of ‘Full Democracy’, a full fledged local Government, an Island Council with all their legal powers according to the WolBES and FinBES, and a new Island Governor to preside over both the Executive- and the Island Council.

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