By Koert Kerkhoff
The past few days a new chapter was written of the history of St. Eustatius, but not a history that anyone would like to tell his grandchildren with pleasure or pride. It is a sad story of failed opportunities, disregard, deception, and inability. Inability and unwillingness on the part of The Hague to be respectful and with trust to deal with the island and its elected representatives and executives; Inability on the side of Statia to muster more patience and close the ranks. In the media, the local administration is demonized and accused of almost anything. This piece does not join in but chooses a different angle in which the backgrounds are more important.
When it became clear that the “big” islands of Curacao and Sint-Maarten no longer saw a future for the Netherlands Antilles, the future of the three other islands had to be considered about. In a referendum, Statia spoke out for a continuation of the Netherlands Antilles in an adapted form. That option was hardly given any thought and under time pressure it was decided that Statia had to become a public entity together with Bonaire and Saba.
The deadline in 2008 was not met and then set at 1010-2010, not because it would be more feasible, but because it was a more satisfying date symbolically. In the last twelve months preceding that date, quite a few politicians from The Hague visited Statia and the mouths and air were full of promises about tackling the delays in the maintenance of the infrastructure, the improvement of the government administration, to bring about a higher level of socio-economic development, to improve education and to ensure access to good health care for all inhabitants.
The Antillean flag was lowered under pomp and circumstance and with the disappearance of the flag most promises also disappeared. National Office for the Caribbean Netherlands and the Tax Administration Caribbean Netherlands got beautiful buildings in Oranjestad but had to contact Bonaire for each decision. The same routine applied to the Immigration Services, Social Services, Education, Culture, and Science, and Economic Affairs. The dollar was introduced and new legislation in all possible areas engulfed the island despite its outspoken legislative restraint. Partly due to an inflation rate of more than 15% in the first year, which was not compensated for by adjusting the minimum wage, the dissatisfaction rose and it was therefore not a surprise that, at the first elections in March 2011, a coalition was elected which would be less charmed by plans, ideas and meddling busy-bodies from The Hague who did little else than denying that any promises were ever made or point at Statia as a cause for the retraction, partly or altogether, of promises.
This coalition fell within a year and was succeeded by a coalition that wanted to let the Netherlands do as much as possible, even though Statia’s interest were not really served by it. This had its impact and the elections of March 2015 brought a coalition to power that was elected on the platform of an own, Statian, course with a greatly reduced input from the central government on the ins and outs of the local administration. The Hague quickly proved not only to (want to) understand the change in course and took everything out of the closet to make life as hard as possible for this coalition, in the hope that this elected coalition would clear the field as soon as possible for a more The Hague-friendly variant. However, after a year the coalition was still there and didn’t feel like throwing the towel.
The Hague did not hesitate and slammed the island with supervision: not because the coalition made a mess of it, but because it sent reports about the deplorable state of or even missing financial records of the preceding years under an administration that was supported and protected by The Hague. The supervision consisted of little other than an extra bureaucratic layer on top of an already fragile financial department that then completely imploded under the pressure. In 2016, this was reported by the administration to The Hague along with strong indications for financial mismanagement in the years before 2015. The Hague responded by changing the supervision in preliminary supervision, pretended the financial maladministration was relating to the present and not the past, and took on board KPMG to cull debris. The Hague forgot to regulate that via the Island Council, which made the intake and payment of KPMG (760,000 Euro) an illegal act.
2016 – 2017
The preliminary supervision and an ever-increasing interference of the kingdom representative in the internal affairs of the Island brought the extremely fragile civil service, already destabilized by a failed reorganization attempt of 2012 and 2013 and a structural lack of manpower in crucial departments, to a stand-still which rendered good governance by the Executive Council nearly impossible. A plan of action was drawn up jointly with The Hague and the kingdom representative, but the realization of the plan was scarcely done by the lack of its own budget for the plan of action and endless talks about who ultimately had the decision-making authority. The opposition in the Island Council did not pass up on any opportunity to report how little results this coalition was making and could count on sizeable support from The Hague.
Despite the positive opinion of the Cft, the budget which was prepared by KPMG was rejected by the minister who simply stated that as long as he did not approve the budget Statia had to ask his permission for literally every payment for which request an extra form had to be filed separately, so also for the payment for adjusting the budget. The absurdity of this situation was totally escaped the minister; the fact that money was spent on toilet paper and drinking water without having been asked for permission, did not escape him and that led to letters from him stating that Statia did unlawful expenditures. In the meantime, the kingdom representative (re-)appointed without any consultation with the Island Council, after the resignation of the island governor beginning 2016, an acting island governor who was an active politician of the opposition. That caused added tension in the Executive and Island Council. Subsequently, the appointment of a island governor was discontinued by the Minister and the kingdom representative because, according to the kingdom representative, no qualified candidates had applied.
After he and the minister promised to restart the nomination procedure, the acting island governor was reappointed, and the minister said that he would only look for a new island governor after the Franssen and Refunjol had submitted their report. It is now clear that when this last pledge was made, the takeover of the local administration had already been established as strategy and the report by Franssen and Refunjol would only serve to motivate such a measure.
Dutch Arrogance and Ignorance
Those looking for facts in the report of Franssen and Refunjol has a rude awakening. The report presents the gossip and slander that circulate on the island as truths without mentioning that the group interviewed consisted almost completely of people who for some reason or another had to settle a score with the local administration or with one of the representatives personally. The gentlemen also point out in the report that the local government has been placed itself outside the law by saying that parts of the BES laws that infringe on the principle of self-governance are not binding in those areas which are the responsibility of the island. It seems the writers just have one purpose: to strengthen the image of the coalition leader as the opposition depicts him, an almost paranoid dictator, and pass it as the gospel truth.
The one-sidedness is condoned by the writers by stating that the coalition did not want to talk to them, the objective researchers. In doing so, it is convenient forgotten that the researchers and their mission are a flagrant violation of the agreements made with the coalition by unilaterally selected and formulated by the minister, with, as has now become clear, no other purpose than to substantiate the takeover. As long as the coalition was put off as dictatorial, lawlessness, and derelict of duty, it was alright. That the Dutch government is also being blamed is no more than a stylistic addition: despite the accusations, the first and second chambers are not dissolved until further notice and the government is not replaced by a Brussels Commissioner designated by the European Union. Consequences are only to be borne by Statia.
The whole mindset and attitude is characteristic of approach by The Netherlands. The own view is not questioned, because what The Hague thinks and surmises, is right and proper and not subject to doubt. All actions are based on that premise and criticism is done away with fallacies as a circular reasoning or recourse to the hierarchical relationship. If this view were only the product of a conscious political tactic to remain the boss, it would be reprehensible, but it could be discussed still. The inconvenient truth is, however, that the mindset derives from a colonial and racist subconsciousness and it is therefore totally unmentionable and leads to a blockade and resistance as soon as one knocks at the door of that subconsciousness. In that subconsciousness, it is impossible to deal on an equal basis with people who do not fit the image of what is Dutch. Only if the other party has sufficiently adjusted, communication is possible.
It is inconceivable that The Hague should adapt and so far, they have not shown to be able to do it either. They get into a defensive cramp as soon as they are facing the representatives of the colonial slavery past, even if that past is not mentioned, and they can only talk about the local government in the same clichés that are reserved for African Countries: victim role, corrupt, nepotism, duty dereliction, cruelty and lack of reverence of the black for the white. Because of the almost daily confrontations with the clichés, the local representatives are painfully aware of colonial slavery past. That pain is not diminished when the other party downplays and ridicules it, but is alleviated by showing compassion, recognition and understanding. The day that happens, however, has yet to come because empathy is not a highly esteemed virtue in The Hague.
An Apparent World
The reality is that Statia (and with Statia the other Dutch islands in the Caribbean) has a non-Dutch history and culture. The approach that the legal status of public entity imposed by the Netherlands makes it Dutch, does not change anything. In the Netherlands, multiculturalism has never gotten beyond hardly tolerating any other culture than the superior dominant own culture; there is no respect and appreciation for other cultures. Because of this inequality, it is not so strange that the world in which Statia is seen as part of the Netherlands is not the world in which a Statian dwells because he will always draw the dirty end of the stick in that world. On his island the Statian culture is dominant and the Dutch culture is tolerated by him. In The Hague’s thinking, Statia has become Dutch after 1010-10 and it is expected that the culture has adapted to that concept immediately. That is not the case, but The Hague and its representatives do not realize that and go on to assume that Statians and Dutchmen are moving in the same cultural continuum of the dominant Dutch culture. Misunderstandings and collisions are therefore invariably blamed on the Statians, because they would not behave according to the prevailing standards, forgetting that Statia is not The Netherlands. Yes, the Dutch flag flies over Statia and the color of the tax envelope is also blue, but a Statian looks at it with other eyes than a Dutchman while that Dutchman thinks they think the same. And it is labelled as high-treason as it turns out that a Statian thinks something else.
Betrayal seems to be the red line linking Statia with the Netherlands. Statia was betrayed when the status of public entity was imposed, when the promises to end the welfare and wellbeing disparities were not kept; when dialogues only appeared to be Dutch monologues; when last year Statian proposals to talk to each other were left unanswered or rejected; when, despite Dutch blockades and opposition, Statia put the financial administration in order and still Statia was accused of maladministration; when the Dutch parliament raped democracy on Statia without a second thought or a sign of remorse.
It is bitter to read today that the Secretary of State now wants to build Statia with input from Statians. This could have been done by for once sit down at the table with the elected representatives and listen unbiased and without interrupting with the remark that “the rules do not allow it”, but instead look at how the rules can be adjusted. It seems, however, quite easy to quickly adjust the laws and regulations, but only to maintain the unreality of The Hague of uniformity and Dutch supremacy within the kingdom.