After the failed attempt to have the agreement with NuStar on the harbour fees signed on Tuesday, I was waiting to hear who was to blame. This coalition government has a track record of blaming everybody else but themselves for their constant mistakes and shortcoming. Reading the media on Friday morning, I was not surprised to learn about the customary culprits being the Dutch government, the Kingdom Representative and the governor. I was kind of surprised that this time the opposition was left off the hook. For our people to have a balanced opinion I herewith give my take on the events.
Late last year a first draft of an LOI was presented to the Central Committee. Commissioner Woodley, whose responsibility it is, at that time could not find the time to explain it himself to the council members. His colleague, Commissioner Simmons clearly was not familiar with the matter at hand and many questions remained unanswered. I, therefore shortly after, have sent in writing all my questions, concerns and recommendations to the Executive Council. I have never received any answers (which is rather customary for this government). The end of last month a slightly revised LOI was signed between NuStar and the Executive Council. As an island council member I am not aware of any legal or financial advice to this document.
Monday, February 6, a day before the signing of the official agreement, the island council received an invitation for the signing ceremony. As I wasn’t aware of the contents of the document, I requested a copy before the signing. Up to today I have not received it.
Why should I be interested in the contents of the agreement?
First of all, I believe it is rather disrespectful to invite the island council to a signing ceremony of a document that we do not know the contents of. Apparently, the executive council, with a track record of blunders, believes that the Island Council should blindly show up in support of something they do not know the details of.
Secondly, it is the intention of the executive council to alter or deviate from an island ordinance, which is the responsibility of the island council and therefore needs the approval of the island council. There is no such approval. They appeared not to be aware of this requirement.
Then there is the illegal amendment by the island council of the marine environment ordinance (the DP voted against), which forms an important basis for the levying of the new harbour fees. After receiving protest letters by among others, STENAPA, DCNA and WWF, government already received in August 2015 a warning from the Ministry of Economic Affairs explaining that with this amendment they were violating the international treaty on nature reserves and that the amendment needed to be reversed. By simply ignoring this, our government thought that it would go away, but it did not. By feigning surprise and calling it intervening in their local responsibilities, after receiving a reminder by the State Secretary, they are now attempting to hide their own ignorance and lack of knowledge of proper procedures, laws and regulations. In a quick attempt to convince the State Secretary of his right, Commissioner Woodley didn’t mind throwing in a lie about the non-existing agreement of STENAPA with the amendment.
I have learned that prior to the day of the planned signing of the agreement, Commissioner Woodley did not deem it necessary to share the contents of the draft agreement with the Governor, who not only is the only one authorized to sign on behalf of the Public Entity, but who is also an equal member of the Executive Council. Also, no legal or financial advice was available. Furthermore, the document wasn’t even discussed in the Executive Council and therefore, there was also no official executive council decision to approve the document and to have it signed (or maybe sent to the island council for approval?).
Of course, due to the many mishaps and shortcomings, they were forced to have a ceremony for which the entire population was already invited, without any signing to take place. It clearly must have been an embarrassing moment, the people of Statia present, top brass from NuStar present, but no signing.
I would like to stress on the fact that also the DP party deems an agreement with NuStar way overdue. It should be known, however, that it is this coalition government, headed by PLP leader Clyde van Putten that systematically has obstructed a fair and intellectual dialogue with NuStar. In the words of van Putten: they just have to pay and they should realize that we are the government and not they.
Noteworthy to mention is that although still unclear as to the exact amounts, the expected amounts in fees government is willing to settle for now is more or less what the DP party has already suggested since early 2015. Besides government has wasted a lot of precious time and has caused a lot of aggravation, unnecessary court cases and appeals, in the past two years the delay has seriously handicapped government financially. This has hurt the people of Statia and has stagnated the development of our island, but of course as is customary this government puts the blame on everybody else except themselves.