Jason Lista writes: On political stability

POSTED: 11/10/15 4:50 PM

Dear Editor,

Regardless of your politics, I think most people on Sint Maarten can agree that our political system is flawed and inherently unstable. And why wouldn’t it be? It was adopted uncritically from The Netherlands by our leaders prior to 2010 without regard to local realities; a sort of one size fits all approach.

The Dutch system, however, evolved over a long period of time under historical and cultural circumstances unique to The Netherlands and its national character. They have certain unspoken rules and taboos, which once broken can mean the death of a political career. And it works for them. That doesn’t mean it will work for us, as has been painfully demonstrated.

We shouldn’t be afraid, though, to get politically creative and craft a homegrown democratic system that is tailored to our own needs and circumstances, one that is deliberately designed to offer what is needed most: political stability and predictability. It doesn’t have to be a carbon copy of the Dutch model; it need only be democratic, accountable, and functional. Right now Sint Maarten is arguably one of the most absurdly over-governed little societies I can think of, with more high councils of state and quasi-government agencies than even The Netherlands has. All of this costs money. And has it really made the process more accessible or responsive to the average citizen? Seems to me things are both more confusing and less democratic now, and that shouldn’t be the purpose.

The American Founding Fathers provided the world with a brilliant historical example that we can borrow from. Perhaps Sint Maarten should adopt a completely separate executive branch directly elected by the people, much like a president, and not appointed by a wobbly alliance of MPs in parliament that could fall apart any time. An island this small does not need a cumbersome and expensive executive of seven separately powerful ministers, each with a budget and cabinet, but could rather use something like an Office of the Premier, or whatever we decide to call it, as a single political focal point. The premier, directly elected by the people, can then appoint (or dismiss) a single cabinet to govern, much like an American president does, with secretaries of state, finance, etc. In that way, the office of the premier is streamlined and efficient, and can be held directly accountable to the people. We know whom to hold accountable or to praise if need be. Would it be perfect? No. But point me to one on earth that is.

Our parliament would then assume its role as a purely legislative body, focusing on legislation and the budget. If the premier is directly elected, then it won’t matter how many times MPs shift allegiances in parliament, because the premier’s legitimacy comes from the consent of the people, not a small pool of unpredictable MPs, some of whom with barely enough votes to justify their current power. The system we have now is too dysfunctional to be merely modified. It must be overhauled.

We can adopt an impeachment system that gives parliament a final check on the executive in the event of a gross violation of the constitution, but safeguarding its abuse by requiring a supermajority in parliament to impeach the premier, and then ratified by the governor. We can even impose term limits on the office of the premier, like in the US. The possibilities are endless if there is genuine political will for meaningful reform. But is there?

Jason Lista

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