Update July 7, 2013: read the acceptance speech of Mr. Zaandam at the end of this article.
StatiaNews reports the dismissal of Mr. Koos Sneek as commissioner. The decission has been taken in the Island Council meeting of July 6. Mr. Sneek is replaced by Mr. Reginald Zaandam (UPC).
The dismissal was triggered by Council Member Reuben Merkman who decided to withdraw his support of Mr. Sneek. The Island Council was informed about his decision by the following letter:
Fellow IC members,
It is mix feelings that I am informing you of my decision to withdraw my support for the Commissioner for the DP, Mr Nicolaas Sneek. Today, July 1 2013, I officially informed Governor Berkel that I am calling an urgent Island Council for the dismissal of Koos Sneek. The Governor suggested to keep the meeting on Thursday or Friday, I tried to persuade him to keep the meeting on Tuesday. Therefore I am kindly soliciting your input in demanding the Governor that he convene the meeting as soon as possible, preferably Tuesday. Any decision that is taken within the Executive Council cannot be turned back and Tuesday is executive council meeting day.
For some time the commissioner and my person have been at odds pertaining to many hiring decisions and before I left for Holland I inform the commissioner in the presence of the DP board that hiring of Paula Helmond would be a breaking point in my supporting the Commissioner. Upon returning from Holland I learned that Paula is working at the Personnel Affairs taking away employment opportunities from local Statians. I have also learned that the commissioner wants to employ someone where young locals would be able to find employment. I will not stand for our locals being denied employment by non locals. Remember the government is paying Helmond $2000.00 per month for a house in Holland.
DP Island Council member
Mr. Sneek has responded by the following letter:
I have made a number of mistakes in my life. I assume this is not something out of the ordinary, everybody makes mistakes sometimes. Today however I am confronted with the consequences of yet another one. I thought I was getting too old for this.
It started in 2008. I was working as the executive assistant for then Commissioner Julian Woodley. Reuben Merkman came to see me and talk with me about the old fashioned way government was functioning at that time and he explained that he would like to see some new élan in politics and in particular in the Democratic Party. Too much paternalism and micro management was taking place at that time.
I told Reuben that if he was serious about this I would support him in an attempt to renew the Democratic Party. He agreed and together we updated the party statutes and organized elections for a new party board. The only member who remained on the board was Mr. Ralph Berkel, who still serves as vice-president. We also drafted a code of ethics for DPers to adhere to when holding government office.
It is in that time, the party was so strong and determined that we could call the then senator Zaandam to order. Zaandam felt he had the right to campaign on the platform of the Democratic Party to carry out his ideas that were contrary to that of the party. Zaandam was removed from the party under the presidency of and by Reuben Merkman.
We know now that the last elections did not go well for the DP. We remained with only two seats in this island council. The three other parties succeeded in forming a government without the support of the DP. Reuben and I end up in the opposition. We worked as a real tag team, I thought so at least, and in a concerted effort we did our work as opposition putting the heat under the Coalition of Hope.
We all know what happened. After gross financial mismanagement and the imposing thereafter of financial higher supervision, the Coalition of Hope imploded. Shortly after the DP was back in office, together with independent Council Lady Lijfrock. I was asked by Reuben to become commissioner.
That is where it went wrong. My mistake! I should have known better. I should have remembered the day after the elections when Reuben visited me at home declaring himself the new commissioner. He envisioned himself as Commissioner of Sports. Although representing the biggest party in the Council, he was absolutely not interested in Finance. This actually was a very strange position coming from the DP party leader who valued the sports portfolio more than government finances, which should in fact be the most important portfolio. Or was it because the, to be, leader of government felt that he could not handle this responsibility?
It must have cost Reuben great effort to postpone his ambitions, from shortly after the elections, and allow me, instead of himself, to take on the responsibility and become commissioner last year February.
I was well aware of the risk that could be involved. I was witness of the fall of former commissioner Clyde van Putten. But I took that risk and then already I accepted any future consequences. I found it more important that I was given the opportunity to make my qualities available for government and the community of Statia and to help to make the island a better place. I also did it because I knew I had the full support of the party.
In office we met a total mess. The output of the civil service was minimal. To manage the government apparatus appeared almost impossible. As we all know the financial household was a disaster. The Coalition of Hope had proven to be completely incapable of handling government affairs.
Together with a very loyal team at the finance office we were able to improve the financial household drastically and have the imposed higher financial supervision lifted before the end of 2012 even before the initial one year term for which the supervision was imposed had expired.
2012 we closed off with a surplus on the budget, contrary to the debt that was left behind by the coalition of hope. This non-withstanding that at the same time half a million had to be put aside to cover the first part of the deficit of 1.4 million created by them in 2011.
Also the reorganization of the civil service, in the pipeline for many years, we were able to complete and have it implemented on January 1st 2013. With the introduction of three directorates the organization has become much more manageable and one is now already able to see drastic improvement in the functioning of the government apparatus.
At the moment we are finalizing a temporary housing plan, whereby we try as much as possible to house the personnel per directorate again with the aim of further improvement of the organization. The housing of Internal Affairs and the warehouse for Central Purchasing has been completed and will be housed in the former Fun Shop. The “Klanten Loket” is being worked on, creating a one stop shop for the public. The new housing plan will make three homes superfluous. Those houses can be turned over to the Housing Foundation and can help alleviate a part of the housing problem on our island.
The ultimate housing plan is the development of a new administration building. I was ridiculed about this by the opposition and told by Councilman Brown that I was misleading the people. The land swap with the medical school is in its final stages, creating an area of five acres next to the GEBE office. This area is big enough for our administration building and a future new hospital. The architect is preparing the final draft of blueprints and design of our future government administration building.
The plans for constructing social housing in cooperation with Woonlinie has been saved from extinction. Due to a total lack of cooperation and vision of the previous government Woonlinie had decided to withdraw its support.
Central purchasing has been introduced which is resulting for government in an enormous savings of cost.
After a long battle with the contractor one can finally see a dredger in the harbor. After the dredging is completed small cruise ships will be able to get to the pier. This is a pre-condition for the Seabourn vessel, which cruise ship already has committed at least 10 calls for the upcoming winter season. Also other improvements in the area of the harbor will be seen within short.
The resurfacing of the second road is underway between the hospital and Chapel Piece. The resurfacing projects for the harbor road and the Kerkweg are in the final planning stages. Construction jobs are granted to local contractors.
What is more important, through proper budgeting government is able to finance these projects through our regular budget. Roughly 1.5 million is available for road improvement projects for this financial year.
The latter can also largely be contributed to the improvement of the government balance sheet. Creditors and debtors balances have been cleaned up. Assets have been valuated and entered into the balance sheet, which was never done before. All improvements are changing e negative balance of millions of dollars into a positive balance of approximately 30 million dollar.
In cooperation with the ministries of I&M and Economic Affairs an infrastructural master plan is been worked out including roads, harbor, airport, utilities, waste management and numerous other areas. The ultimate goal is to eradicate the huge backlog in infrastructure, built up over the many years that the island was part of the Netherlands Antilles.
A wind measuring mast is installed in the area of Core Core. The data will be used to determine what kind and how many wind turbines will be erected. The entire project is financed by the ministry of economic affairs and is meant to assist to keep the electricity tariffs at an acceptable level.
This bring us to the, to be established, utility company. Foremost an MOU has been signed last year April whereby Statia has secured all local assets, nine million in cash, existing benefits for employees, all free from liabilities. The articles of incorporation are at this House to be ratified and the company should be officially taking over the electricity production and distribution on January 1st 2014.
The same company will also be responsible for water production and distribution.
As we speak work is underway to inspect the lines and quality of water in order to connect most homes and allow households to finally make use of the water distribution network.
The execution of the airport master plan is scheduled to take off in 2014.
The waste management system will be drastically upgraded by the end of the year, whereby all necessary tools and equipment will become available even allowing the sanitizing of the present landfill.
A new salary structure for our civil service has been introduced, which meant a net increase in salary for everyone. The structure is now used as a model for the harmonization of the salaries of all civil servants in the BES islands.
The minister of health implemented cuts in the healthcare insurance. It was Statia who took the lead in the last CN-week and convinced the minister to review this plan. The cuts in the package are now postponed until 2015 and an agreement has been reached that a committee will be established to propose long term solutions in order to maintain the present healthcare insurance package.
Two weeks from now the state secretary of social affairs will visit Statia. Her main topics are the height of the minimum wage and a possible increase of AOV for single households. The latter is a result of the continued attention this government has asked for it.
The renovation of school buildings is underway. An 11.8 million dollar project of which almost 8 million is financed by the ministry of education.
Later this month flights will commence between Statia and St. Kitts, executed by Trans Anguilla Airlines.
A first draft of a development plan has been presented for the development of a large area of Whitewall as a hotel and resort development.
A first draft of a hotel development at Lower Town has been presented.
A longtime dispute with the OGH has been resolved allowing the expansion of the hotel with 14 rooms. The Country Inn will soon start construction of ten new hotel rooms.
Statia has taken on a leadership position in the relations between the BES islands and the Federal government. The trust and so needed confidence that was lost due to prior reckless government by the coalition of hope has been more than restored both at the ministries in The Hague as well as at the CFT.
Of course I can go on and on. But it became clear that these matters are apparently of less importance than other, in my opinion trivial matters. It became clear that the Executive Council had to deal with a majority in the Island Council, over time also including our party leader, that put more emphasis in trivial matters and petty politics the old fashioned way, than long term planning, future development of the island, policy making and budget. (Councilman Merkman, do you remember that we actually came together just to get rid of this and that we introduced, what we called the new DP ???)
No matter how many times they sat in workshops with the VNG, it appeared impossible for them to grasp the meaning of dualism. They could not understand that, for instance personnel matters, were the responsibility of the Executive Council and not of the Island Council. Reuben and the opposition parties felt that they should influence these matters. They embraced old time politics whereby jobs and favors are exchanged for political support and votes. (read mail)
In many meetings both on party level and coalition level I explained that I cannot carry out my task as commissioner in a responsible manner by being selective in hiring civil servants and giving out land and other favors by basing my choices on political color, family ties, friendship, race and what so ever. (yesterday at airport)
I would like to say here clearly that I cannot, and never will use government funds for all the above. My strong conviction is that, in order to have government functioning for our people in an adequate manner, we need the right persons with the right qualifications and with the right attitudes for each job within government, no matter their family ties, no matter if they are my friends, no matter if they are black or white, no matter whether they are born here or not born here.
I want to take this opportunity to explain the procedures how this government is dealing with vacancies.
First of all jobs are advertized, usually first internally, allowing civil servants to apply. There is always a three person committee, usually consisting of the director, the adjunct island secretary and someone from the personnel affairs department. This committee advices unanimously, after a selection of candidates, and proposes one candidate to the executive council. The executive council checks if the right procedures are followed and the candidate has the right qualifications after which the appointment is forwarded for approval to the Kingdom Representative. As long as I am in office at no time political preferences have played any roll in this process. I guess this will all changed back again to the old paternalistic system.
I would like to reiterate a while on the appointment of what is called “a white woman” at the personnel department. The latter is the final reason that has led to the meeting of today. The filling of this vacancy was part of a larger application campaign whereby some 11 or 12 vacancies needed to be filled that remained open after the personnel stop from last year and the reorganizational restructuring. Some 90 application were received and reviewed. However nobody, and I repeat nobody, applied for the vacancies at PZ. It was very important to find a candidate as we were forced to keep an expensive consultant on staff to keep the department going. The acting island secretary therefore approached Mrs. Paula Uil, who was fully qualified and who she knew from working at the QBMC, and encouraged her to apply. Mrs. Uil in first instance objected based on the fact that her husband is, as we all know by now, the island secretary.
Both the adjunct island secretary and the director of P&O explained that this should not be an issue since her direct boss would be the same director and subsequent the acting island secretary.
The lady was identified by councilman Merkman as Mrs. Helmond and the “white lady” in a number of mails and on facebook. This lady in his opinion is filling a job that a local can fill. Mind you; nobody else applied!!!
Ultimately the lady in question has withdrawn her application as she felt very uncomfortable playing a role in the petty and discriminating political game of a councilman, who in my point of view does not deserve this title.
It makes me sick to the stomach.
The fact that for his own shortsighted political use he deemed it necessary to draw someone in the midst of his political game, bothers me a lot more than whatever is going to happen with me.
Furthermore I want to state, that selecting anyone based on the color of his or her skin is what is called racism. We are familiar with this attitude expressed by Councilman Brown. I am very disappointed that also my once party leader is displaying this despicable behavior.
But this is not all. It is not only whites Reuben find should wait their turn. Also people from Spanish background should leave the so-called locals go first. Attesting to that is his mail to all council members of July 1st. Oh, by the way Reuben, that day is called Emancipation Day. The day we all became equal!
I want the general public to know that this same white woman, he is so against of being hired, voted for Reuben Merkman. Oh, and councilman Merkman, do you have any idea how many other of your voters are white (like your fellow school teachers) or Hispanic? Well at least do they know now who is the real Reuben Merkman, who they as the non-locals entrusted their vote to.
I am very upset about the fact that racial matters apparently have become an issue on Statia. I have not experienced this before in the 26 years I am living on the island. It is even more disturbing that these racial issues are allowed to play a role on television on these so-called call-in programs and even in this government and more so that they are promoted in this island council.
It is a disturbing trend that I hope will be eradicated shortly by real leaders who see every man and woman as equal, no matter the color of their skin or where they are born.
All those who have chosen Statia to be their home and who are part of this community or want to become part of this community in my eyes are equal. Government should set the example instead of allowing racism being encouraged by certain politicians.
Then also in one of his mails from this week councilman Merkman again brought up the matter of the housing allowance the island secretary is receiving. I believe this thing needs to be put to rest. Here I have the EXCO decision for the allowance to be extended to the end of 2014. The document has been signed on January 10th 2012. For everyone to know that is 3 weeks before I took office and yes the signatories are from Kerkhoff and Clyde van Putten, commissioners from the coalition of hope.
There is another thing I believe the general public should know and apparently the Councilmen is unaware of. Our Executive Council is what they call “collegiaal bestuur”. This means that no one of the members can make a decision without majority support. In our case, at no point in time ever there have been made a decision that was not taken by all three council members, being the two commissioners and the governor. This commissioner never took a decision on his own. This means that it happens that at sometimes you have to make compromises as not always everyone in BC has the same ideas or interests, especially when working in a coalition. This also means, that when I am accused of taking a wrong decision, this accusation also counts for my colleagues in the council. Although I am of the opinion that my colleague Tearr didn’t do a bad job so far, I am wondering if the motion of non-confidence applies for him as well???
And check what is happening now. Reuben has to turn to the same members of the former coalition of hope to form a government, whose mess we had to clean up. He has to return to the same council members who called him in the last island council meeting, a liar, not to be trusted and no leader at all.
Council members who have ridiculed him for his constant flip flopping and weak performances on the council floor. I wish you good luck Mr. Merkman
Reuben, the community of Statia should hold you responsible for the situation the government is in now. We were in a difficult situation already with 4 parties in the island council. We have five now, which makes it a great challenge to govern in an adequate manner. Your self-centeredness and ego has brought this up on you, your party and the government and not to the least on the people of Statia.
You should not call yourself a leader, because the party has appointed you as such. You call yourself a leader when you have proven that you lead. Not by dictatorial behavior, but rather by example. Not by constantly flip flopping but by showing that you have a backbone and the guts to take decisions, even when these turn out to be unpopular. Not by listening to all rumors on every street corner and consequently changing your mind again, but by firmly sticking to what you believe is right.
The performance of the Democratic Party in government since February 2012 was actually quite successful. The whole list of achievements I mentioned earlier can attest to that. We however self-destructed because of the fact that our party leader was incapable to use this success to his benefit. Reuben, it isn’t my success alone. It is the success of the Democratic Party, including you. I could not have been there without the support of the DP. Your problem was that you believe that the success is mine alone and therefore you could not take that. I needed to go and you started looking for excuses to get that achieved. First it was the airport tax, then it was the civil servants the EXCO was hiring. The excuses, though not so relevant, appear to be good enough to attract others who may have a similar mindset than you. And believe they can stay in government by promising people jobs or a piece of land. Let me tell you, you are underestimating the intelligence and high morals of many fellow Statians
Councilman Merkman, you came by me in 2008, because you thought that together we good make that difference. I thought so too. I made a mistake.
This is the second attempt that will be made to get me out. The first one by Councilmen Brown and Zaandam was also racially motivated. It looks like this time it will be successful. Am I hurt? The answer is yes. But rest assured I will come over it.
There is a motion of no-confidence on the table. The question is actually who is really getting this motion of non-confidence?
– Is it for me, because apparently I hired a white woman and don’t want to listen to the whims of party leader Reuben, who values street talk more than common sense and advice from intelligent persons?
– Or is the vote of no-confidence for our former party leader, who unanimously has been ousted by his own party board?
– Or is the vote of no-confidence for our former party leader, who was the leader of the biggest party in the island council with a well performing commissioner with the most important portfolios, such as finance and economic affairs, and this so-called leader now is going to support remnants of the coalition of hope without even having a commissioner of his own?
– Or is the vote of no-confidence for our former party leader who is now going to support a party with a commissioner who has been unceremoniously ousted by the same party leader from the Democratic Party in 2010?
The people of Statia are ultimately the judge.
Furthermore, I am disappointed. I am very disappointed. The NEW Democratic Party, an initiative of Reuben Merkman and myself was on the way to proof that we have the quality in house to run this government on a professional level and make this island a better place. And I was willing to bust my backside for it. We have reached far but needed to be stopped.
Believe me Reuben: I can’t help, but I am very sorry that you cannot stand in my shoes and you never will. And by the way; for your information, you cannot stand in the shoes of Council Lady Adelka Spanner neither!
I guess this is my last opportunity so I would like to thank all those people on Statia who have supported me.
I thank the DP party and party board. I very much appreciate all the trust the board has put in me until the end. The fact that the party has taken their decision, knowing that by doing so they would lose a seat in this council and a commissioner, undoubtedly shows that the party has matured and that principles and proper government are more important than anything else.
A special thanks goes to council lady Adelka Spanner. Your continued support and your wisdom and not to forget your grandiose memory has helped me many times. You are the true leader.
Of course I want to thank my staff Francisca and Dine. I would never have been able to carry out this job without your very professional support.
I want to thank all the civil servants. I said it before you are actually the government.
Lastly I want to thank Nora, who stood beside me all the way and who had to keep up with this disgusting husband, who made it a habit to leave home early morning and not to return till after dark.
And Mr. Chairman I would like to thank you to. I have very much enjoyed our professional working relation!
Note that in a decision of July 2 the board of the Democratic Party of Statia had decided to expel Mr Merkman from the party. Mr. Merkman decided to continue as an independent Island Council Member.
Update July 7, 2013: Acceptance speech of Mr. Zaandam
I stand before you, deeply touched and inspired by this appointment. With boundless gratitude for the confidence placed in me by this HH and the people of Statia at large. With an unswerving resolve I honor that trust and I humbly accept the appointment as Commissioner of this new coalition government.
Every new government, especially under these circumstances, comes with a divide among our people. On one hand, many embraces this development. For others it is a sad day. Their hope in the system is slowly fading and their believe in general is at a critical low, because the stable government they envision seems to becoming an illusion.
So, I fully understand that the trust placed in me comes with great responsibility. The hope by many that things will be different. Many has high expectations. Others are convinced that I, as part of this coalition, will have the solution for all the problems facing our island. But may I remind you that I am just human. But I stand here before you and declare commitment, dedication and make you the promise that I will give it my all.
So far you did not hear me use the word CHANGE.Why? Because at this juncture drastic change can have adverse effect on matters. I say this with the following example. Our financial household was a mess and needed to be fixed. Now it is on track. So you see if it is not broken why force to fix it. On behalf of the people of Statia my sincere thanks to ex commissioner Sneek and the staff at Finance.Of course, there are other areas that are on track and therefore we will continue with execution.
Many on the other side will be reserved. They will also be very hesitant to extent a helping hand. There will be mistrust and that too is understandable. To cut through the fog of mistrust is going to require more intensive dialogue. Building bridges must be one of the virtues of this coalition.We will make change where it is necessary.In doing so we will choose wisely, and work together transparently, flexibly and honestly, progress in a few areas now will then lead to progress in many more.
To revitalize our common endeavor is to renew our faith not only in the handouts of Holland, but also in each other. We should demand more of ourselves as well as a people and as your government we will not only listen but rest assured that we will hear you too. This is your government and it will only works if you the people take your responsibility in holding us accountable.
What the UPC brings to this coalition is idealism. It is our greatest strength, but we also know that in this strength lies our weakness or at least an unwillingness to engage fully with the day-to-day experiences and perspectives of the people we serve. The people must be free in following their dream and be steadfast in their aspirations. Government must only support. Therefore, as part of this government of the people, by the people and for the people we are more then aware of the fact that workable solutions need to be grounded in values but also that they must respond to the hopes and fears of reasonable people.
Of course it is understandable that you would like to have an idea what the matters of importance for the next 90 days will be.
A synopsis out of the priority list:
The 2014 budget and maintain a proper financial household The execution of the alternative medical package The ongoing infrastructure project The constitutional process and the preparing of a referendum GEBE and the water distribution plan Preparation negotiation NuStar Build on the relation with Holland Social package and old age pension Privatization within Islands Harbor Engage in talks with our medical school
I am fully aware of the fact that I am taking office at a time during which the hunting season on commissioners is still on, but that will not deter me.
It strengthened me and keeps grounded in the believe that I cannot fail the trust placed in me and more over my duty is to make the people of Statia believe again.And if in the near future, I must be measured and found too light, I too will have to pay the Piper.