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• zaterdag 25 september 2021 05:38

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DH | Draft law to restore democracy in Statia to be submitted early 2020

Minister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Raymond Knops (centre) with Government Commissioner of St. Eustatius Mike Franco (right) and Deputy Commissioner Mervyn Stegers. (File photo)

THE HAGUE/ST. EUSTATIUS–A draft law for the restoration of democracy in St. Eustatius is in preparation. Minister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations BZK Raymond Knops expects that this law will be submitted for approval early next year, he stated in a letter to the chairperson of the Dutch Parliament’s Second Chamber.

Residents of Statia will be able to elect a new Island Council on October 21, 2020, but a return to full democracy is not yet possible, according to the Dutch government. Therefore, Knops has put together a four-stage plan under which Statians will obtain self-governance step by step.

Initially, many official powers will remain in the hands of the government commissioners. In the second phase the Island Council will obtain the power to appoint and dismiss commissioners and in the third phase they will also receive the authority to draft a budget. The Island Council will then also take up responsibility for the civil service and obtain other legal powers. An Island Governor will also be appointed in this stage.

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For the time being, the government commissioners will remain in function as supervisors. Only in the fourth and final phase will the administrative intervention be fully terminated and the government commissioners dismissed.

The Dutch government took over in Statia in February 2018 due to what it described as illegality, maladministration, discrimination and intimidation.

Two years later, a lot has been set in motion since the intervention, Minister Knops stated in a letter to the Dutch Parliament.

“The fact that not every implemented policy yields visible results as quickly as hoped for cannot divert from the fact that many parties have been brought together to work together on various fronts on sustainable improvements in St. Eustatius. A lot is in the pipeline. Under these circumstances, a transitional regime offers the most possibilities for making initiatives more sustainable, while at the same time work can be carried out on phased restoration of normal relationships.”

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In his letter of December 5 about the Progress Report St. Eustatius, Knops wrote that he has asked Government Commissioner Mike Franco and the Social Advisory Council (“Maatschappelijke Raad van Advies”) to provide him with additional information about the feelings among the population of Statia about the announced route towards restoration of democracy on the island.

“From the signals I received during the Town Hall meeting of September 23, I understand that the ways in which the citizens of St. Eustatius are provided with information about the progress of projects, the transparency in decision-making and the possibilities that are available to them to make their voices heard continuously ask for attention,” the minister told the Second Chamber.

He said this has led to a number of initiatives, such as public information about the right to vote and the right to be elected, and training of new political candidates. In addition, an integrated communication plan is being finalized.

Knops said the Advisory Council had discussed the return to democracy with the government commissioner during a meeting on October 29 in which a majority in the Advisory Council supported the proposal for a gradual return to full democracy.

“The idea of ​​going from one phase to the other on the basis of criteria and not on the basis of a deadline led to questions such as how and when a criterion is met and who could objectively assess this,” Knops said.

The same majority indicated that the date of October 21, 2020, for an Island Council election may be a bit too ambitious.

A majority in the council considered training for (aspiring) politicians as soon as possible a necessity in the process to achieve good governance.

To prevent a repeat of the situation that led to the intervention of February 2018, the council prefers more powers for the island governor. “His authority was too limited in the past and the processing of decisions through the Kingdom Representative led to much delay,” Knops stated.

Voicing the opinion of the majority, one of the councilmembers stated that there are certain groups who feel deprived of their voting rights, whereas a minority believes that any delay is too long, and that people crave the return of their democratic rights.

In the short term, general information about the election will be distributed among the public. The focus will be on raising enthusiasm and providing information about the possibilities if one wants to run for election.

In the run-up to the elections, various meetings will be organised to inform potential politicians about the possibilities, conditions and deadlines. “In this way, everyone is offered the opportunity to delve into what it means to be an island councilmember or a commissioner,” Knops said.

After Nomination Day, the BZK ministry will organise training programmes for potential politicians in collaboration with the public entity St. Eustatius. In this training, attention will be paid to the knowledge and skills that island council members need to properly fulfil their role as representatives of the people. After the elections, the elected island council members will also be offered tailor-made training.

Bron: Daily Herald

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