photo: Laura Bijnsdorp

ORANJESTAD – “If you have not been getting along with someone, would you be sad to see them go?” asks R. Merkman, Island Council Member of St. Eustatius. The island council, coalition and opposition may have their own disputes, is in agreement that they are happy to see Ronald Plasterk, Minister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations go.

By Laura Bijnsdorp

In a decisive referendum in 2005 held on Statia, 77% of the electorate voted to remain within the Netherlands Antilles, compared to 21% who voted for closer ties with the Netherlands.

However, once the other islands decided to let go of each other, Statia grudgingly became a special municipality of the Netherlands, together with Saba and Bonaire.

Today, almost seven years after the Netherlands Antilles were abolished on 10-10-10 and the ‘new status’ of the island officially was implemented, the tensions between Den Hague and Statia’s Government are running high.

Progress after 10-10-10?

“We have greatly improved the healthcare and education on the island,” said Plasterk during the press briefing after his farewell meeting with the island council.

“We do not have the level of services yet that we were promised and recommended by various reports subsidized by the Dutch Government. There is no improvement especially where social services such as wages and pension are concerned. I brought up all the points in the meeting today, but as usual minister Plasterk simply ignored them.” expressed Sneek, after the island council met with Plasterk.

Autonomous Statia

The island council majority, including the executive council, would like to see St. Eustatius move towards a more autonomous path. “The PLP, thinks it is unconstitutional to have a entity, in our case a ‘governor’ appointed by The Netherlands, who can overrule, the highest governing entity – the island council, which are appointed by our people.” Says commissioner Charles Woodley

Commissioner Mr. Derrick Simmons also cites UN Law, which gives St. Eustatius the right to a “full measure of self-government”.

The Democratic Party on the other hand, does not think Statia is ready for more autonomy. In a report that the DP published it states that the island costs about 60 million annually, and only 20 million is collected in taxes. “We must communicate better and work within the rules and regulations of our agreement with The Netherlands. Fact is that we cannot financially support Statia as yet, as an autonomous country.” Koos Sneek explains.

When asked about removing the ‘higher power’ that presides over Statia, Plasterk answered: “I fully acknowledge that the people of Statia might be of opinion that eventually the position of Statia, should change. I am not sure if that is a good idea. But right now we work within the constitution and position that we have, and we ought to do that in a constructive matter.

Hopeful for a change with a new minister

Sneek: “I hope that with the new government we get a minister with more affinity for the islands.”

Simmons: “We need a minister who comes to Statia with an open mind, and that has the ability to look at issues and solutions from different perspectives.”