THE HAGUE – The Island Council elections in St. Eustatius on March 18, 2019, will definitely not go ahead.
This is stated in a lengthy progress report about Statia that Dutch State Secretary of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Raymond Knops sent to the Dutch Parliament on Wednesday evening.
Knops acknowledged the wish of the political parties in Statia to hold elections as soon as possible, but he didn’t deem it wise to have the elections go ahead at this time. The Dutch government intervened in Statia’s government in February 2017, effectively putting aside the Executive Council and the Island Council for reasons of “gross neglect of tasks.”
“Especially now that it has become clear that the neglect appears to be worse than expected, it is not realistic that the temporary administration can achieve the desirable sustainable improvements within a year,” stated Knops.
According to the state secretary, one should also not forget that the Statia people are especially asking for improvements in the social and physical domain, but that to achieve these sustainable improvements, the government administration needs to be structurally in order. The strengthening of the public administration and the finances are conditional and at the same time the biggest challenge, he noted.
“My ambition is to restore the democracy in St. Eustatius as soon as this is realistically possible with a government that is able to serve the best interest of the people. The intervention will last as long as is necessary and as short as is possible,” stated Knops.
Significant progress needs to be booked by September 1, 2019, in multiple areas before the Dutch government takes a decision on the holding of elections. The criteria include a “clean” civil registry, a solid management of the tax administration and domain affairs, the adaptation of incorrect and dated regulations, a reorganised civil service apparatus with clear procedures and work instructions.
Also, there needs to be a description of the policy framework defining the execution of tasks of the local government with the supervision and re-enforcement instruments being in order, and a multi-annual education programme for civil servants and politicians has been implemented.
Furthermore, the financial processes need to be digitalised and centralised, the financial planning and control cycle need to run conform with the Financial Supervision Law, the action of the Plan of Approach have to be ready, and the Audit Chamber function has been implemented.
“The decision to hold elections can be taken once on September 1. It is clear that sufficient progress has been made on the criteria and a situation has evolved that one can expect that the government can fulfil its tasks in a sustainable manner,” stated Knops.
The state secretary at this time will not carry out the suggestion of the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament to have elections for the Island Council in March, but to refrain from installing an Executive Council and to have the Island Council serve as democratically elected sounding board. People in Statia may vote on March 18 for the First Chamber via an Electoral Council.
Knops said that the Dutch government and National Government Commissioner Mike Franco are very dedicated to the assignment to turn the neglect on Statia into a situation whereby future local governments can fulfil their tasks as they should.
The state secretary said he had faith that with the current course of action, he would be able to inform the Second Chamber in September 2019 that there was sufficient perspective to restore the democratic election and appointment procedures.
Knops remarked that Commissioner Franco in nine months had succeeded in mapping the neglect on the island. In cooperation with the Dutch ministries, the drafting of plans in the physical domain had made a lot of progress and that the first results were visible. The reconstruction works have also been progressing well.
“The strengthening of the administrative, social and economic structure still demands a lot of our attention and joint efforts. The execution of the plans in these areas require a long-term input and a long breath,” he stated.
Aside from the issue of the elections, Knops in the 17-page document described the developments in several areas, such as the civil administration, financial management, the strengthening of the administrative structure, the social domain (housing, poverty eradication and domestic violence), and in the physical domain the reconstruction after Hurricane Irma, roads and car wrecks, harbour, airport, erosion, waste management, the economic structure and public order and safety.