James and Arrindell survive constitutional-violation motions

POSTED: 02/14/12 3:50 PM

GREAT BAY – Parliament voted down three opposition motions related to MP Jules James’ controversial voting in a meeting on November 17 of last year. The five-strong National Alliance faction and independent Frans Richardson voted in favor; the coalition-members and independent Patrick Illidge voted against.

The debate about James and also about the role of Parliament President Gracita Arrindell in the November 17-meeting focused on the question whether both James and Arrindell had violated article 53 of the constitution. That article says, in brief, that MPs abstain from voting on issues that affect them personally.

James voted on November 17 against a motion that condemned his actions as the general manager of the former Pelican Resort. Yesterday James attended the morning session of parliament but when the opposition motions were brought to the vote in the afternoon he was absent from the meeting. Amazingly, Parliament President Gracita Arrindell voted later against a motion that condemned her actions in the November 17-meeting as unconstitutional. Arrindell allowed James to vote on the motions that affected him personally.

A third motion that asked the Council of Advice to provide parliament with advice on how to deal with Members of Parliament who hold another fulltime job also failed to gain majority support.

The opposition hammered on the text of article 53 of the constitution (for the full text: see other story on this site). President Arrindell allowed James to vote on the hotly contested motion and in doing so, she also violated the constitution, the opposition argued.

“We cannot brush this aside as if a mistake was made,” opposition-leader William Marlin said.

He referred to Governor Holiday’s letter to parliament of December 5, and said that it had never been handled in parliament. In the letter, the governor expresses his concern about the events that took place in parliament on November 17.

The letter states that one of the members that voted at the time “was a proxy or a representative of the operators and owners of the timeshare resort involved in the dispute.”

Immediately after this remark, the letter continues with quotes from article 53. In spite of the diplomatic language the letter seems to contain a clear opinion – namely that Jules James violated the constitution.

But the coalition-members went to any length to find other explanations, by hanging on to a remark in the letter that the case is “cause for legal observance and review.” Especially DP-MP Roy Marlin read this sentence as meaning that article 53 requires legal observance and review, while in reality the remark refers to what happened in the November 17-meeting.

William Marlin remarked that at one time president Gracita Arrindell had said that she did not know James was the general manager of the Simpson Bay Resort when he voted on the motion. He also pointed out that James made statements in the media long before the controversy erupted that he would abstain from voting when it came to the resort.

“Instead he consciously voted to prevent the motion from passing. By allowing him to vote, the chair also violated the constitution. It is impossible for her not to have known that James is the general manager of the resort.”

Marlin said that the whole saga tarnishes the image of parliamentarians and of the parliament. Addressing MPs with second full time jobs, Marlin said, “The tax payers are paying parliamentarians a fulltime salary and at the same time MPs are employed fulltime elsewhere, while other members have other functions as well.”

Marlin said that the salaries for MPs had been determined on the premise that this would compensate candidates for a fulltime job, and to encourage candidates from the private sector to participate.

“If you look at the spirit of the law the intention is clear: being an MP is a fulltime job.”

MP George Pantophlet pointed out that it is “not possible to legislate morality,” but that he hoped that “the MP will do the honorable thing.”

MP Louie Laveist used his copy of the constitution as a theatrical prop by holding it upside down.

“If we do not uphold the constitution we are turning it upside down until we vote to correct the mistake that has been made,” he said.

“If we allow this to go down uncontested, in the end the liberty of people could be at stake.”

MP Roy Marlin focused on the interpretation of the constitution.

“We need a clear interpretation of article 53,” he said.

Marlin’s interpretation of the article is that an MP should abstain from voting if he stands to benefit from the outcome.

Marlin admitted thought that James should have been “more politically sensitive” when it came to the dismissal of the employees at the resort he manages.

“I am not saying James was right, but he should have been politically astute enough to realize that voting on these motions involved a conflict of interest.”

Hyacinth Richardson called James behavior “the biggest conflict of interest ever in parliament.”

Leroy de Weever said that the topic on the agenda was not totally clear to him.

“No one can go along with laying off employees. That is not in the interest of St. Maarten. I condemn the MP for this, but it is for his account.”

De Weever said that he supports the constitution.

“I believe in it.”

But he added that in his opinion the governor’s letter did not say outright that there was a constitutional violation. To put a stop to double jobs for MPs he suggested to amend article 51 paragraph 2 of the constitution by adding the term private appointments after the term public functions.

Romain Laville said that he would support a proposal to hold MPs to the same standards as ministers, who are not allowed to have side jobs.

“Do we really care? Then let’s put pen to paper,” he said.

After the National Alliance tabled its motions, the coalition asked for an adjournment to study the documents. When the meeting resumed, the voting went as expected: every motion was defeated 8 to 6.

Roy Marlin said that going along with the motions would amount to “skating on very thin constitutional ice,” and that it is up to the governor, not to the president of parliament to uphold the constitution.

Laville voted against, though he remarked that many of the arguments brought forth in the motions are valid.

“Certain actions by our colleague were poor decisions,” he said.

William Marlin concluded that it was “another sad day in parliament in St. Maarten.”

“It is unfortunate that the governor is dragged into this as if he is unable to interpret the constitution. You don’t need a lawyer to understand article 53,” he said.

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