Reuben Merkman: ‘Dysfunctional Government and the moving of goalposts hamper return to democracy on St. Eustatius’

Please allow me some space in your well read new publication to highlight a scenario that is taking place on Statia at this time.  In February 2018, the Dutch National government in The Hague intervened on the island of St. Eustatius, because of alleged financial corruption, political and personal aggrandizement, and administrative incompetence.  Since we have seen 5 different government commissioners appointed by national government in The Hague with total lordship over the island.  The scope of this article doesn’t allow me enough space to delve into the administrative roller-coaster of the past 5 years on Statia.

Since 2018 there have also been various kingdom decrees as to how the island should return to democracy.  Currently the island is in the Recovery Act phase of these decrees.  When questions are asked pertaining to how these acts are supposed to work, the responses are very vague and not very enlightening.  The answers cause more consternation and frustration.

On Wednesday, September 18, there was a meeting with the Government commissioners and the Ministry of Internal Affairs called by the PLP faction requesting clarity as to the appointment of local commissioners/deputies and the required Royal Decree.  Within the Recovery Act many administrative and political actions are required and these are divided into 4 phases.  A royal decree is required to move from one phase to another. 

During this meeting, one of the island council members became so incensed at this dastardly situation created by the Ministry of Interior affairs, the Government commissioners and their proposed solution; that he referred to their governing methods as a “poppenkast” and left the meeting. 

The previous royal decree was for the organizing of island council elections in October 2020.  This Royal degree indicates the conditions for being able to appoint deputies:  At the end of the second phase, the Island Council acquires the power to appoint and dismiss deputies. Before the start of the next phase, at the appointment of commissioners , it is conditional that all island ordinances have been adopted and have come into force. 

Based on the agreements made with State Secretary Van Huffelen and through her with the Ministry of Interior Affairs and Kingdom Relations, the agreement is that the commissioners can be appointed on October 4.  For that to happen, a so-called Royal Decree must be established and submitted by the ministry, which officially includes the authorization for the appointment of commissioners. The official deadline attached to the creation of this Royal Decree is September 27, thus the aforementioned ordinances must be adopted by this date.  If the ordinances are not adopted, the Royal Decree will not be signed and thus the date of October 4 will not be met.

At this time, there remain 4 ordinances to be adopted in the Island Council. These are the following; Passenger Transportation Ordinance, Liquor and Hospitality Ordinance, Building Ordinance, and Road Traffic Ordinance.  All ordinances are made by the Executive Council and submitted to the Island Council.  This process within the Island Council can take 3 weeks to a month to approve to approve any island ordinance.  Since the month of June, the Island Council has been requesting these 4 ordinances from the Executive Council.  Already the Island Council have ratified more than 105 ordinances and have committed themselves to ratifying these 4 ordinances as well. The first three ordinances were discussed during a meeting of the Central Committee on September 1 last.   Several questions were raised, which require further investigation on the part of the Executive Council. With this the normal preparation of these ordinances has been completed on the part of the Island Council and can be put on the agenda for the next Island Council meeting.

The Road Traffic Ordinance was submitted to the Island Council for the first time on September 23rd.  A normal handling of this ordinance requires that it first be dealt with in a meeting of the Central Committee and then placed on the agenda for the Island Council meeting. Based on the established meeting schedule and the rules for calling meetings of the Island Council, this means that the next Central Committee would be on September 29 and the following Island Council would be on October 13.  Nine days after the schedule appointment of commissioners.

The above detailed explanation shows that the Island Council is being forced to either neglect its own democratic process or be forced to postpone the appointment of the deputies.  Resulting in a delay in the much desired further restoration of democracy at a later date. The above explanation also shows that the Island Council had no influence whatsoever on the creation of this situation. After all, in order to be able to decide on the Road Traffic Ordinance, the Island Council is dependent on what has been prepared by the Ministry of the Interior through the Government Commissioners for that purpose.  Since this ordinance has only now been presented to the Island Council and the deadline for the signing of the royal decree is set for September 27, this situation has arisen.

The Island Council feels put on the spot and is not comfortable with this arm twisting and the moving of the goalpost. A mature administrative interaction requires that responsibility must be taken for what has happened.  If the Island Council does or does not do something, which lies within its powers, then it is also responsible for the consequences and must solve these itself. This also applies to the Dutch government and the government commissioners.  What threatens to happen now is that the progress of our much-needed restoration of our democracy is being obstructed by the Dutch government and their appointees, when they themselves created this fiasco.

The Island Council have made the choice to cooperate with the Dutch appointed government commissioners to restore democracy on Statia.  But constantly the rules are adjusted without prior notice (moving of the goal posts) and there is a serious lack of transparency on all levels.  The proposed solution by the Ministry of Interior Affairs violates our democratic decision making process in the Island Council.  The WOLBES (art. 28) prescribe that all members should vote their conscience and without burden.  It should not be the responsibility of the Island Council to correct the failures of the Ministry of Interior Affairs and the Government Commissioners.  These type of actions also cause whatever trust there was between parties to erode very quickly.  The Council is also cognizant that the ministry and the government commissioners will do all in their powers to extend the intervention as long as possible.  It has been 5 years since this human right was taken away from the people of Statia.  Way too long!!!  At the end of the day the most important issue for us Statians is to get our democracy (human right) back as quickly as possible.

Reuben Merkman
Member of the Island Council of St. Eustatius

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