photo: John Samson

ORANJESTAD – Statia’s inhabitants will head to the polls in one year to choose their island council. The Dutch government will continue to govern the island, even after the elections.

State secretary Raymond Knops (Kingdom Relations) announced this during a meeting with inhabitants Monday evening. The elections on the 21st of October 2020 should be seen as a ‘next step on the road to restore’ the local democracy.

The Dutch government has been governing the special municipality directly since February 2018, because the local council broke the law. All the island council members and local officials were sent home.

‘Lawlessness’, financial mismanagement, discrimination, intimidation, and arbitrariness defined the local government, concluded a special commission.

Democracy returns to Statia in steps

It seems that Statians will be heading to the polls on the 21st of October 2020 to choose new island council members.

The council members will not be allowed to vote on (new) legislation or decide how the tax dollars of the special municipality are spent. They are allowed to: call meetings, question the government commissioner, and enter motions.

The island council will most like get more privileges during 2021. Including the right to nominate deputies and fire them.

A Lieutenant Governor might be appointed after that, who would work under the supervision of the government commissioner.

A lot of criticism – from both inhabitants and Parliamentarians – is directed towards the construction of Cherry Road, a still unhardened road that is barely 1,2 kilometers long. “It is regretful that this did not go as planned”, Knops tells the inhabitants. “I am truly sorry for this delay.”

The government commissioner set aside criticism on Monday that he wasn’t communicating with inhabitants. “An appointment could be made for every Wednesday evening to discuss autonomy of whichever other topic you wished to discuss”, said Mike Franco. “And it happened. We even talked with political parties.”

 ‘Taking longer than expected’
A striking observation is that the governmental capacity under the Dutch intervention is also being experienced as a failure, which makes it harder to make any progress.

The Dutch government commissioner and public servants say that the workload is ‘high’. “You have to prioritize”, says Knops.

“It took longer than even I expected. But I am committed to keep the promises we made to you.”

According to the State Secretary a lot of improvements can be seen on the island. The large rock walls on the island have been reinforced to prevent further erosion. The waste disposal on the island has been improved and 300 car wrecks have been removed from the island.

Next to that, a large portion of the 9,5 million dollars that were allocated towards the repair of homes after hurricane Irma, has been spent. More funds will be flowing from the Hague this year for the construction of rent controlled housing units and lower rents.

What does Parliament think?
That the local democracy will be return to Statia in a ‘step by step’ manner is also the wish of Parliament. Having an island council is the ‘first step’ according to Knops.

In order to call an election, legislation has to be approved by the Dutch Parliament. According to the State Secretary this will happen ‘as soon as possible’.

It is up to Parliament to decide whether or not the elections will take place next year. The debate still has to be scheduled. Parliamentarians will most likely ask that the elections be held sooner.