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Island Council discusses constitutional process

13 May 2017

ST. EUSTATIUS–The Island Council’s meeting on the constitutional process and the visit of Commissioner Derrick Simmons to the Netherlands continued on Tuesday, after an abrupt closure by Chairman and Acting Island Governor Julian Woodley during the meeting.

Island Council members for the opposition Democratic Party (DP) Adelka Spanner and Koos Sneek were not present. Commissioner Charles Woodley was also absent as he was off island.

Overall, the Island Council members for the Progressive Labour Party (PLP)/Merkman coalition wanted to make it clear that the Island Government has never asked for independence for St. Eustatius, more autonomy is what is being sought.

Both Commissioner Simmons and the Island Council members present said that DP’s White Paper, written in answer to Government’s own White Paper, stated the problems but did not offer any solutions.

“No one, nowhere can bring proof that Statia ever voted for embedding the island in the Dutch Constitution,” said independent Island Councilman Reuben Merkman. He said he is prepared to do whatever it takes to make Statia stronger.

“Whether it means talking to ‘Sister Jenny’ [Dutch civil servant and support staff member to Acting Governor Woodley Jenny Thunnissen – Ed.], [Dutch Government Representative – Ed.] Gilbert Isabella, or [Minister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations – Ed.] Ronald Plasterk, I am prepared to do that. You have five or six territories and you are pointing at one as the shining beacon and even on that island you are hearing negative rumblings, what does that tell you?”

Merkman said he wondered if there was to be a referendum on Saba today would the same amount of people vote to support the same status they are in right now.

PLP Council member Rechelline Leerdam referenced to United Nations (UN) Resolution 945 and said the amendment gives the islands a “loophole” to fight for a change in status. She said that all Dutch Caribbean islands are being subjected to “bias governing,” but not all of these are speaking out about it.

“When we speak up, we are the bad ones, we are the rebels. When we ask for justice, equality and even for fairness, it’s a problem. They [the Dutch Government – Ed.] can dish, but we must take it. This will not be the only time that we come here to discuss this agenda point, as I know it will be long and hard process.” Leerdam assured the public that they would keep the people of Statia informed and engaged.

PLP-leader Clyde van Putten quoted Minister Plasterk who said that the Dutch Government would only recognize the White Paper after the entire Island Council accepted the document.

“Each time this Government tries to help itself, the Dutch government tries to undermine it,” he said. He said the coalition members have “free reign to vote” on any agenda, whichever way they would like. “He [Plasterk – Ed.] does not impose his will on us.”

Van Putten said that in the 2004 referendum the island voted to remain in the Netherlands Antilles, even if they were the only island voting for that option. He said the public-entity status was imposed on the island.

“We are just trying to honour the wishes of Statians,” Van Putten said about the coalition’s quest to seek more autonomy for Statia in “free association” with the Netherlands.

Commissioner Simmons said he was honoured to be part of this process. He said he welcomed the input of the difference political fractions as the White Paper is just a beginning.

“Some things can be put in, and others can be taken out. This a Government by the people and for the people.” He was hopeful that the entire Council could agree on the White Paper. “But, based on the past, I doubt we would get a unanimous vote.”

In absence of the opposition, the motion on the constitutional process was passed with three votes in favour and none against, as did the vote to approve Commissioner Simmons’ trip to the Netherlands.

The motion requested the Dutch Government and Parliament to cooperate with the delegation’s visit and to make use of the opportunity to start a dialogue.

The motion also urged the Dutch Government to expedite the installation of the Committee of Wise Men, charged with the preparing of a round-table conference between the Governments of the Netherlands and Statia and other relevant stakeholders, no later than May 15.

The Council members dedicated some words on the heated exchange of arguments between Councilman Van Putten and the Acting Governor which caused Monday’s meeting to close abruptly.

Merkman said what took place that day was a “low point” for the Island Council. He said it was his hope that in the future they will always remain professional when dealing with each other and that such an incident would not occur in the future.

Leerdam told the Governor that if he feels that a document he has been requested to sign is not according to the law he should send it up for annulment instead of just letting the document sit on his desk. “The inside bickering is not healthy for the island as a whole,” she said.

Van Putten said the incident was “unfortunate”, and said he would be visiting the Governor before the week was through to clear up any misunderstandings.

Source: The Daily Herald, St. Maarten

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