Published On: Sat, Oct 24th, 2020

Elections changed nothing; Statia still has a long way to go

ORANJESTAD – “We have to prevent at all cost that the situation on the island from before the intervention reappears after a return to a regular administrative administration,” is one of the observations in the law that aims to address the gross neglect of duties by the island government of Statia.

The results of the island council elections must therefore be a true nightmare for the decision makers in The Hague: not only did the Progressive Labor Party (PLP) win; its long-time leader Clyde van Putten also won the highest number of votes. The PLP won 815 votes, the Democratic Party 647 and the United People’s Coalition (UPC) 124. This result gives the PLP three seats in the Island Council that will sit for the next 2.5 years and the DP two seats. The UPC did not win a seat.

Turnout for the election was high with 76.93 percent; 12 percent higher than during the last elections in 2015. Van Putten got 171 of the 1,586 valid votes, his fellow-party member Reuben Merkman 168 and PLP party leader Rechelline Leerdam 111.

Leerdam gets a seat because of her number 1 position on the PLP-list, but given the vote-count it seems that van Putten will return as the real party-leader. Charles Woodley won five more votes than Leerdam but he would have had to win 157 votes (based on preferential votes regulations) to claim the seat that now goes to Leerdam.

Van Putten’s success as the PLP’s number 11 on the list of candidates was not what Leerdam had in mind, as she told Caribisch Netwerk: “The idea is that, while I am the frontrunner that Mr. Van Putten will take over the leadership again. That is not the case. We have had him for twenty years as our leader and there is a new leadership now. They will see that I am not sitting here for the show.”

The electorate apparently has more confidence in Van Putten, the man at the heart of seemingly endless conflicts between Statia and the Netherlands.

The new Island Council will have limited powers, because all decisions are still subject to approval by Kingdom Commissioner Marnix van Rij. For the time being there will be no Executive Council.

The council has the right to question Van Rij’s decisions and it also has the right of interpellation; but the right of inquiry remains out of bounds and the budget and the establishment of the annual accounts remain under Van Rij’s control.

The law that sees to the restoration of good governance in Statia contains twelve criteria that must have been met before the island regains its full measure of democracy with an Island Council, Executive Council and a Lieutenant Governor.

Among those requirements are proper administration of public finances and the census, a reorganized civil service, a cleaned up personnel administration and a good system of ordinances and permits.

Statia has to adjust ordinances that are obsolete while some have been found to be ‘contra-legem’ (against the law). The island will also have to establish an audit chamber, a task that will be achieved with the assistance of the Audit Chamber in Rotterdam.

Statia lost control over its own affairs after a Committee of Wise Men reported in February 2018 to State Secretary Drs. Raymond Knops (Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations) that the island was social-economically and physically in a serious state of decay, that political relations were broken, that the entrepreneurial and investment climate was unfavorable and that there was a climate of arbitrary will. The committee also used terms in its report like lawlessness, financial mismanagement, the ignoring of legal authority, discrimination, intimidation and the pursuit of personal power.

The Dutch government sent the Island Council and the Executive Council home and appointed a Kingdom Commissioner in February 2018 in an effort to normalize matters. The objective of the intervention was “to end the gross neglect of tasks and to improve the conditions for good governance in a sustainable way.”

Reports about the effects of the intervention – in May and November 2018 and in May 2019 – gave the Dutch government reason for optimism: “The Kingdom Commissioner has tackled a large number of projects with due diligence.”

Apparently, that has not fooled the electorate on Statia: the result of the elections is generally interpreted as a thumbs-down to the Dutch intervention and the efforts made by Kingdom Commissioner Van Rij.

Statia still has a long way to go before it is rid of the Dutch supervision. The law that regulates all this expires on September 1, 2024, but there is an option for an extension by one year.

Before Statia gets control over its own affairs it has to meet all the requirements that are established in the law. The next step after these elections is the Island Council’s right to appoint and fire commissioners. All island ordinances and the procedures and work instructions for members of the Executive Council have to be in place by then and the administration for permits, exemptions, subsidies and the Cadastre has to be in order.

The third phase begins when “gross neglect on all tasks has ended” and this is followed by the fourth and final phase when the recovery process will be completed.


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