photo: Government commissioner Marnix van Rij - Source: RCN

ORANJESTAD – Is Statia ready to govern itself after being governed for two years by the Hague? Island council elections are on the books for October 21st. But according to government commissioner Marnix van Rij (CDA) ‘there’s a long road ahead’.

State secretary Raymond Knops (CDA) removed the local island council in 2018 and replaced it with a government commissioner appointed by the Hague. This was a direct result of a damning report. Van Rij has been the government commissioner since the start of this year and is the second commissioner on the island who has to ‘clean up the mess’.

Annual reports not approved
“There’s a long way to go, but I promise that I’ll be doing my best”, says Van Rij. “When I got here, the financial supervision and control on the island was not up to par. The annual reports for 2016 through 2018 have not yet been completed. I consider those to be one of my essential tasks. We’ve made great progress during the last few months, part of them are being reviewed by the accountant.”

Government results unseen
The relationship between the island inhabitants and the Dutch government is strained. The Statians are suspicious of the intention of the Rutte cabinet towards the Caribbean municipality. This was made evident after the consultancy bureau Linkels & Partners conducted a survey amongst 111 Statians and the results showed that more than half (56 percent) of them don’t trust the Rutte cabinet when it comes to their island.

According to Van Rij, this is due to the fact that a lot of Statians don’t see the results booked by the government since the intervention by the Hague in 2018. “A lot of things have been put in motion, but haven’t been completed yet. It will all start happening during the year. Fort Oranje is nearly finished (a monumental government building that was destroyed by fire in 1990, ed.). We’re working on the garbage fires and the roads. We’re also investing in the port and the airport.”

Water problems

Responsible utility company Stuco – Picture: Stuco

Inhabitants on Statia cannot rely on potable water flowing out of their taps for weeks already. The National Ombudsman finds that ‘unacceptable’ and sent a letter last week to the Dutch government, demanding clarity. Van Rij told Caribbean Network recently in an interview that he finds the situation ‘unacceptable’.

Improved communications needed
Statians have also been irritated by the spotty communication from the Dutch authorities on the island since 2018. “You don’t get a lot of information on the radio or on the government’s website. They are not communicating with the population”, Koos Sneek (DP), a former island council member, told Caribbean Network in 2019.

There was also criticism directed towards the communication channels of the government at the beginning of the corona crisis. The government spreads a lot of information through Facebook and radio, the website has barely been updated. “It’s odd that for such important information you’d choose to depend on social media’s algorithms which doesn’t necessarily show users all the relevant information”, inhabitants complained in March.

Since the outbreak started Van Rij and his deputy Alida Francis can be heard on the radio daily. Those transmissions are also uploaded to Facebook. Van Rij: “I needed to get used to that, I don’t use Facebook myself, but it’s popular amongst the inhabitants”. The government’s website is not up to par, he admits. “When I saw it for the first time, I thought: What is this?”

Impact corona crisis

Barely one month after Van Rij was installed the island went into lockdown. The virus still managed to reach Statia, two people were infected. “It was a sped up naturalization course. I did have a few sleepless nights. It’s a very vulnerable island”, Van Rij reflects. Read more about the impact of this crisis on Statia here.

Medical facilities not up to par
The island has been ‘cautiously scaling back’ the corona measures since May 11th. One of the requirements for this is that no cases present themselves. But Van Rij also wants to ensure that there are proper medical facilities. A ‘hospitainer’ has been built, a small mobile hospital with six IC beds. A physicians and a nurse will also arrive on Statia this week. Van Rij hopes that they’ll stay for a longer period of time.

“We can really use this. We have to ensure that the medical facilities on the island are on the level that the island deserves, even without corona virus. It’s not the case now, and I’ve told the Hague this too.”

But if the government commissioner will inform the Hague when the island council can take over the governing of the island again? Van Rij remains cautious: “The Hague will make that decision, I am but a humble servant of the Crown.”

Why does Statia have a government commissioner?

Installment of Van Rij by Knops as government commissioner – Picture: BZK

The government of the Caribbean municipality was taking over by the Dutch government in 2018. This was due to a damning report about the local government. Mike Franco was installed as government commissioner to take care of business. Marnix van Rij (CDA) succeeded Franco as government commissioner at the beginning of the year.
The government commissioner replaces the local governing body and the island council. On October 21st 2020 inhabitants will go to the polls to choose a new island council. The Hague wishes to restore the normal governmental relations in phases.