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Joint work group to set scope 2015 evaluation

~ Statia's objections to narrowed down terms heard ~

THE HAGUE--The general evaluation in 2015 will not be narrowed down to the status of either public entity or municipality status for Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba. The island delegations and the Dutch Government on Thursday agreed to install a high level work group which will look at the terms for the evaluation.

After several days of negotiations, Dutch Minister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Ronald Plasterk and the representatives of Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba agreed to install a work group with the three Commissioners of Constitutional Affairs, the Island Secretaries and the Secretary general of the Ministry of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations BZK which will determine the scope and terms of the 2015 evaluation.

The work group will formulate the final order of the evaluation which will be formalised during the next Caribbean Netherlands Week in June 2014. It was agreed that the evaluation will be of an "objective and factual" nature and that the evaluation report will not contain recommendations. Based on the results of the evaluation, the islands and the Dutch Government will come with joint proposals for adaptations in the general policy for the islands and where necessary per individual island.

The decision to install a work group facilitates the wish of the islands to have an input in the evaluation on the basis of equality. "For us it was important to ensure that the evaluation is in agreement with all islands and that both sides of the ocean are equally involved," said Saba Commissioner Chris Johnson at a press conference.

The scrapping of the two lines from the draft agreement that the island delegations received at the start of the Caribbean Netherlands Week that actually excluded the possibilities for different constitutional statuses other than public entity or municipality as part of the evaluation was a victory for the Statia delegation.

Statia's Commissioner Reginald Zaandam had fiercely objected to the desire of the Netherlands to only focus on giving content to the public entity or municipality status in the evaluation. He said the proposal was "totally unacceptable" and stressed that the evaluation had to be based on equality of the parties involved in the evaluation.

St. Eustatius wants to keep all options open to enable its people to decide on the island's constitutional status in a referendum. The people never voted for integration in the Netherlands and in fact chose to remain part of the Netherlands Antilles in a 2005 referendum. "The Hague has to understand that it is not for them to decide but it is our people that make that decision," Zaandam told The Daily Herald.

Zaandam confirmed that St. Eustatius will have a constitutional referendum in 2014. A referendum committee with experts will be established under the auspices of the joint Constitutional Committee of Statia's Island and Executive Councils. A town hall meeting will be held in November to inform the people about the referendum and the constitutional developments.

St. Eustatius received support from the Saba delegation in its wish to have the lines deleted from the draft agreement which restricted the evaluation to the public entity or municipality status, even though the government of that island doesn't fancy a change of the public entity status or organising a referendum on Saba. "This cannot be dictated by The Ministry of BZK or The Hague," said Commissioner Johnson.

Johnson made clear that he was not in favour of linking the evaluation to a referendum. "These are two separate things. The evaluation needs to be about what works, what doesn't and what needs adjustments. The evaluation has to be effective and result in tangible improvements for our people and less overregulation," he said in an invited comment. He said he saw enough possibilities, flexibility in the public entity status to adapt it in a way that best suited Saba.

The Government of Saba is not planning a referendum, but it does support the wish of

St. Eustatius to have one. "Everyone is free to have a referendum. In that sense,

St. Eustatius has our support," said Johnson.

Asked at the press conference why the Dutch Government was dead set against opening the possibilities for other constitutional models in the evaluation, Minister Plasterk said that this was the opinion of the Netherlands. However, he added, this is something that would further be discussed with the islands. "We will not walk away from it. But having a discussion on constitutional relations every five years when we have an evaluation doesn't seem conducive for the islands or its people," he said. He stressed that the evaluation was about the people.

Commissioner Zaandam said that he would remain alert on the issue. "Because they will try to do things their way." He lamented the remark that Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte had made that independence was the only other option for the islands. "That decision is not his, but ours to make."

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