Published On: Fri, Jun 1st, 2018

‘Neglect and backlog’ in Statia, State Secretary Knops tells MPs

Statia-De-QuillORANJESTAD - “The situation is serious, the neglect and backlog even more extensive than previously thought and visible and noticeable in virtually all areas,” State Secretary of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations BZK Raymond Knops stated Thursday in a letter to the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament.

The letter concerns the governmental, social and economic developments in St. Eustatius after the administrative intervention by the Dutch Government on February 7.

According to state secretary Knops the problems on the island, which has been put under surveillance by the Dutch Government after Parliament adopted the Temporary Law Task Neglect St. Eustatius in February, are “closely connected.”

Where politics is concerned, Knops said Government Commissioner Mike Franco has engaged in talks with the recently formed political platform in which several political parties are united. The Commissioner also remains open to discussions with members of the former coalition and to critics of the intervention.

The government administration is not in order and has many shortcomings, such as in the financial household, the levying of local taxes and the civil registry. These lead to problems with the granting of permits and subsidies, as well as with payments of rent, long-lease, retributions, harbour fees and local taxes, the State Secretary wrote.

“The voting register and statistics by Central Bureau for Statistics (CBS) are therefore also far from complete and/or correct,” Knops said. “The improvement of the financial household, bookkeeping and processes, as well as the adaptation of ordinances and procedures is daily work in this phase.”
A plan for personnel and training is drafted to improve the adequate functioning of the government apparatus. A reduction of the size of the civil force is part of the plan. Currently the cost of personnel is good for 70 per cent of the public entity’s budget.

The housing of the civil service is another issue. Currently the island government and civil servants are working at 19 different locations. The number of locations will be reduced soon once the renovated Government Guesthouse will become available again. “In the long run one government office would considerably improve the bad housing situation and result in cutting cost,” said Knops.
He said that progress is being made in the area of finance. Recently the public entity submitted the first quarterly report.

Monies are being retrieved and the Government Commissioner has started with cashing in on the backlog in accommodation tax.

The state secretary said he is concerned about the lack of sufficient funds for management and maintenance, “while maintenance is urgently advisable in many areas.”

Social security
Where the social domain is concerned, Statians first and foremost want to increase their “security of existence.” State Secretary Knops said he will inform Parliament before the summer recess about the cabinet’s reaction on the results of the investigation into a benchmark for social security.
The Government Commissioner has found social housing on Statia below par. “The reconstruction of more than 100 private and social homes which were damaged in the hurricanes is offering some solace where maintenance is concerned but is by far not enough to reverse the neglect,” Knops stated. He added that the reconstruction of damaged homes will be finalized in August.

Talks were held with a Dutch housing corporation to see whether it may assist in improving the social housing market on the island.

Together with a number of social organisations and government department the Government Commissioner is trying to improve services for specific groups, such as juveniles, elderly and persons with a handicap. Knops said that the expectations in Statia in relation with hospital facilities on the island are “not realistic.”

The quality of Statia’s infrastructure also leaves much to be desired. There are “big problems” with a lack of maintenance of the island’s roads, harbour and airport, and with the fragile and severely eroding shores. Monumental buildings and historical ruins are also not kept and the supply of drinking water is inadequate.

The State Secretary said BZK is closely involved with tackling erosion. The Ministry of Infrastructure and Environment I&W will be carrying out a full-scale investigation this month.

In the meantime, Commissioner Franco has provided outlines of a plan which not only halts erosion of the coastal areas in Lower Town and at the harbour and the airport, but also improves port activities, protects historical objects and makes these accessible to tourists.

The first tender for road renovation is in preparation and the first 300 car wrecks are being removed from the island. Some 1,000 car wrecks need to be removed.

The Ministries of I&W and BZK have suggested carrying out waste management in a joint cooperation between St. Maarten/St. Martin, Saba and Statia.

Knops said that after the hurricanes of 2017 the island is still economically vulnerable. Therefore, the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate compensated the tourism sector for loss of income.

“These benefits and investments of the reconstruction funds in the reconstruction of homes, (historical) buildings, agricultural businesses and nature ensure that companies survive and provide the economy with an impulse,” Knops said.

Due to the relatively early drought this year farmers are confronted with a shortage of water much sooner than usual, which hampers production. As utility company STUCO is struggling with production, repairs and maintenance and a lack of knowledge where the production of drinking water is concerned, the Government Commissioner and I&W have launched an investigation into these problems.
Knops said that together with the Ministries of Public Health, Welfare and Sport and of Security and Justice he is making efforts to tackle domestic violence. “It is a long-term matter to reduce this problem, where not only the culture of silence is an issue, but also inadequate housing and poverty,” according to the State Secretary.

He concludes his letter in stating that the challenges in Statia are “comprehensive” and that it will take a long time to realize “tangible effects” for residents. A second periodic report will be sent to the Second Chamber in November.

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