WEDNESDAY, 20 MARCH 2013
ST. EUSTATIUS–The ruling coalition in St. Eustatius’ Island Council of Democratic Party (DP) and independent Island Council Member Millicent Lijfrock organised a town hall meeting Sunday, on the island’s constitutional status.
Various groups on the island are campaigning to convince the Island Council to organise a referendum to let Statia’s people cast their vote on what they want for the island’s constitutional future.
A petition for a referendum, set up by Brighter Path Foundation, St. Eustatius Awareness and Development Network SEAD, and Statia Roots Foundation has already been signed by more than 600 people.
The ruling coalition decided to consult with the people on this topic, but as it turned out, only some 25 people attended the meeting.
Former commissioner Glenville Schmidt was in the audience, but he did not make an active contribution to the discussion.
On the panel were Island Council members Lijfrock and Reuben Merkman (DP), activists Wilhelm Spanner and Jacklyn Berkel, agriculturalist Mevrille Hazel and Justice Pandt as a representative of the younger generation.
Commissioner Carlyle Tearr later joined the audience and participated in the answering of questions. He stressed that every situation has its negative and its positive sides.
Merkman encouraged everyone to sign the petition, and added that he had signed it himself already. He hailed it as a form of “direct democracy.” However, he commented that “we have to trust the people to make the right choice.” To that order, adequate information and education are required, according to him.
Spanner said a committee would be needed to oversee the organisation of this referendum. “We were rushed into a situation before without any preparation and now we would be rushed into another situation again, and like before without proper preparation,” Berkel commented
Suggestions from the audience included a practical, straightforward identification of issues that need improvement, so that a clear list can be compiled with discussion points in meetings with the Dutch government about the island’s constitutional status.
This should include an annual assessment of public complaints so that every year in the run-up to the evaluation of the island’s status it would be obvious what the points to address would be. This evaluation should be made public every year so that the people at large can comment on it and use it to make up their minds about what the best constitutional status would be to vote for.
Hazel emphasized that it would make Statia’s position stronger in the discussions about its future if Statians could demonstrate that they can look after themselves economically, in terms of education, jobs for future generations and in terms of food self-sufficiency.
Hazel, Spanner and Berkel all stressed that Statia can get more economic benefits from oil terminal owner NuStar. Hazel also said that promoting Statia as a safe place for tanker crews to come ashore could provide an economic boost.
Commissioner Koos Sneek’s comments that he “had no problem with the current status” of the island were criticized during the meeting, because he is supposed to stand for the people he is supposed to represent, rather than voicing his own personal opinion. It was also said that voters in Statia have not voiced a strong opinion in favour of the current status.
“One commissioner cannot determine the future of Statia,” Lijfrock militantly stated. “The government is the people and the people are the government,” she said in encouraging Statians to take a stand and call their representatives to order.
“What Commissioner of Constitutional Affairs Sneek says is his own business,” said Merkman. The DP Councilman stressed that the Island Council decides on whether a constitutional referendum should take place and he invited the public to put pressure on Council if they want a referendum.
At the same time, he noted that in his opinion a renegotiation of the financial agreement with NuStar was not feasible. The income derived from NuStar is commonly used as a justification for Statia’s economic backing for independence.
The panel’s junior member Justice Pandt said he was not informed on constitutional options, but said it would be good if the youth would also be informed about the process by pamphlets and on the website.
In answering a question from the audience, Member of the Statia Constitutional Committee Carol Jack explained it is the committee’s role to advise the Executive Council. The committee has two external advisors: State Law Professor Douwe Jan Elzinga and former Governor of the Netherlands Antilles Jaime Saleh. She explained that the committee, which includes Commissioner Sneek’s wife Nora Sneek, took its time since all members had to formulate their opinion on the matter. She emphasised that the committee will share their findings with the community soon.