Autonomy isn’t dead, it’s being killed

Dear Editor,

  For ten long years politicians in the former Netherlands Antilles (NA) and those from the Netherlands debated, then negotiated, the future of our islands, heralded by a Slotverklaring (final declaration) in 2006 and culminating in the breakup of the country in October 2010 when St. Maarten and Curaçao became countries in the kingdom and Saba, St. Eustatius and Bonaire became “special” municipalities of the Netherlands.

  In those final agreements, tasks and responsibilities (competences) were divided between the Netherlands as so-called successor to the NA, also tasks and responsibilities were assigned to the new countries Curaçao and St. Maarten in their new roles, and tasks and responsibilities were also assigned to the new “special municipalities.” As part of the former NA these latter islands also had their local, insular, autonomy. In the NA before the breakup these islands even argued for more responsibilities they felt the central government was not carrying out to their benefit.

  Today, anno 2021, we see the Netherlands trying to undo those agreements that were made. The local tasks and responsibilities that were given to the islands apparently now are being rolled back, diminished or even taken away completely. The little autonomy the local government has to make decisions about the local content of our development taking our heritage, culture and customs into consideration is gradually being taken away. And where are these tasks and responsibilities now being placed? Far away with institutions and even private entities in the European Netherlands.

  The result will be that local government will have very little means and authority to do anything meaningful for its citizens.

  By taking control of our lands registry and cadaster service, local government can no longer give a citizen a piece of public land for either residential or business development; they want to hollow out the local housing authority and transfer all its properties in ownership, with no financial benefit to the local entities (the ultimate sweetheart gentleman’s agreement), to a Dutch housing corporation in exchange for renovations subsidized by our own local taxes through the Dutch Ministry of Interior; they want to take ownership (as landlord) of various government buildings that the local government has occupied and maintained for 100 years, charge the local government rent, and failing that with the intention to sell these properties on the market to the highest bidder; historic properties that in the division of assets should have been given to the island in the first place.

  As alternative they are promising to build a brand new administration building to be occupied by civil servants of both the national government and the locals; the local government would have to pay rent for 30 years and then get the opportunity to purchase the building (at least that’s the promise now; we know how their goalpost moves almost year by year). Meaning, they are the landlord, local government is the tenant and can be kicked out on the street for any or no reason.

  Next are our local utility companies that we as local government have established and cultivated over the past decades. Suddenly, they are attractive candy for national entities and slowly but surely are being sweetened and entangled with subsidies and other deals; they will wake up one morning and find themselves inextricably compromised and ripe for surrender.

  Sounds very ominous and it is. The little autonomy we have as a local government is slowly being witted away. The Dutch government crafted their excuses well to take over the local government in Statia in 2018 and push both executive and legislative authorities aside and place these competences in the hands of functionaries appointed by the national government; they are still here three years later. These foreign elements have made agreements and signed covenants binding our island and people while there was no elected island council in place locally.

  It is clear the intention of the Dutch government is to silence and incapacitate local political leadership while undoing the division of tasks agreed. Whether it’s by strong-arming, intimidation, a knee on the neck or an administrative noose, they are intent on silencing any voices and pre-empting any action that could threaten their intentions for our island. Never mind that our people have voted consistently in several referendums and elections over the past 25 years for a more autonomous posture for our island. For the powers that be the voice of the people seemingly doesn’t matter.

  Our newly elected island council is our last defense against this subversion and subjection and must declare equally ominously: No Pasaran!

Glenn Schmidt

St. Eustatius