Door Koos Sneek
Since the intervention of the national government in February this year, whereby the local administration has been put aside, the discussion on Statia is ongoing about whether elections will be held March next year. The “temporary law neglect of duties St. Eustatius,” which was adopted by parliament, states that elections in March 2019 will not go ahead if there is no Kingdom Decree (Koninklijk Besluit) before December 1st of this year stating that these elections will take place.
In this event the postulation date can be postponed to as late as February 1, 2021. Furthermore, the temporary law states that the law, and the appointment of the by-this-law-appointed Kingdom Commissioner, expires at the moment the newly elected Island Council takes office.
In their advice on the temporary law, the Council of State advised the national government to include a transitional period whereby the in-February-appointed Kingdom Commissioner functions for a period of time next to an elected Island Council. According to the Council a transitional period will allow for a step-by-step introduction of a new government. Besides, in their opinion this will better guarantee a gradual development into institutional stability, which is also desirable seeing the financial situation of the island. This advice has not been taken over in the text of the law but only mention is made of a possible transitional phase in the explanatory memorandum with the law.
In their meeting with the members of the standing committee of Kingdom Relations of the Second Chamber in July also the Cooperative Platform St. Eustatius has expressed their opinion that in order to guarantee optimal success of the intervention it is important to have a transitional phase for a period of time. An abrupt ending of the supervision by the Kingdom Commissioner and a simultaneous full takeover by the next elected government may jeopardize the restauration of proper government and whatever actions set into motion during the intervention. Having this transitional phase also makes a postponement of the elections scheduled for next year unnecessary, according to the Platform.
The Cooperative Platform bases their opinion also on the research “Interveniëren in gemeenten met aanhoudende bestuurlijke problemen” carried out in January 2018 on the request of the Ministry of Interior Affairs by mr. J.L.W. Broeksteeg, university lecturer Constitutional Law at the Radboud University Nijmegen. Mr. Broeksteeg mentions that since the last time a Kingdom Commissioner was appointed in Finsterwolde in 1951, the tasks of the municipality (or public entity) have substantially increased, making it hard to believe that one Kingdom Commissioner can handle all these tasks. As an alternative he suggests a functioning (Island) Council, whereby the Kingdom Commissioner informs the Council about his activities. This means that he is not responsible to the Island Council, but to the one who has appointed him, the minister.
This scenario appears an adequate solution to be used as a transitional phase for Statia. The advantages of such a transitional phase are that the elected council can gradually grow into functioning as an autonomous institution again, while at the same time all guarantees remain in place to continue and complete all processes set into motion during the intervention.
Another argument to hold elections in March next year is the fact that according to Article 4 of our constitution the right to elect general representative government bodies, like, for instance, the Island Council, is an equal constitutional right of each Dutch citizen. (Temporarily) revoking or postponing this right for a specific population group appears an infringement of this right. Article 4 mentions that the right to vote can be taken away in by-law-identified restrictions and exemptions. Revoking the right to vote usually takes place in cases where the court applies this as additional punishment after committing a crime. Postponement of elections only happens in the European part of The Netherlands in cases of a redivision or merging of municipalities. It is difficult to accept that the voting rights of an entire population group, like is the case with Statia, will be (temporarily) revoked or postponed because of the non-functioning of their elected government. Also, no example could be found that this ever happened in the past, including in the earlier mentioned case of Finsterwolde.
Allowing the people of Statia to vote next year also gives them the opportunity to exercise their responsibility, through their constitutional right to elect their representatives, and to have influence in correcting a situation caused by a failing government.