New elections for St. Maarten possible December 8POSTED: 10/2/15 12:45 PM
Council of Ministers hits back and dissolves parliament
St. Maarten – The Council of Ministers hit back at parliament yesterday with the announcement that it has submitted a national decree for ratification to Governor Drs. Eugène Holiday to dissolve the parliament and to call new elections. If the governor ratifies the decree, elections will be held on December 8, and the new parliament will be installed on December 30. The decree sets postulation day on November 19.
“We were shocked yesterday that a motion of no confidence was brought against us,” Prime Minister Marcel Gumbs said yesterday morning at a press conference. “I was on my way back from the United Nations in New York and heard about it in Puerto Rico.”
Upon his return to the island, the PM called a meeting of the Council of Ministers. “We discussed the situation and we sought legal and constitutional advice.”
The agenda point for the meeting of parliament on Wednesday was the situation at government owned companies, Gumbs said. “I asked, but none of the ministers were invited to that meeting. There was obviously no intention to have a debate about government-owned companies, because you would expect a minister to be there.”
The PM said that he did not want to get into a debate about the motion and its considerations, though he noted that three members of the new majority were part of the coalition that worked on the governing program, while they now reproach the cabinet for not having a measurable governing program.
Gumbs also reflected on the situation his cabinet found when it took office on December 19 of last year. “We spend the last eight to nine months extinguishing fires we did not start and cleaning up mess we did not create,” he said.
The motion mentions the “untenable situation” at government entities like the St. Maarten Housing Development Foundation. That detail caught Gumbs’ attention.
“The former government with Prime Minister Wescot-Williams and Vromi-Minister Lake decided to leave the appointment of new members to the board of the foundation to the new government. But they had not read the articles of incorporation. They let the time expire within which the government has the right to appoint board members. The government lost control and the remaining board members were within their rights to appoint other board members. This is the result of ignorance of former ministers.”
The Council of Minister sought legal advice on the procedure following from article 59 of the constitution.
This article reads: 1. The parliament can be dissolved by national decree. 2. The decision to dissolve includes also the obligation for a new election for the dissolved parliament and for the new parliament to convene within three months. 3. The dissolution takes effect on the day when the new parliament convenes.
The Council of Ministers took the decision to invoke article 59 and to dissolve the parliament, with all of its consequences as described in the article.
The decision not to give in to the marching orders from parliament is partially based on the country’s recent constitutional history. “Look what the country has gone through,” PM Gumbs said. “Governments don’t even last a year. I am convinced that the time has come to go back to the electorate and to elect a new set of people.”
Bitterly, Gumbs reflected on what he encounters abroad: “We have become the laughing stock of the world. In Tortola, in New York, wherever I go, I get the same question: how can you have a country with three (and now four) governments in so few years?”
“This is not about Marcel or Dennis, Rita, Martin. Claret, Rafael or Ernest,” Gumbs said. “It is not about us, but this is about our country. We joined this government to make a difference. The people of our country deserve better. Let them go to the polls and make up their minds. We believe that the time is right for article 59.”
The cost of changing government is significant and it does not stop with the 90,000 to 150,000 guilders that will have to come out of the regular account to organize the elections. “There are challenges every time a government changes,” Gumbs said. “There is a new cabinet, you have to find out what is in the files. Everybody has to stop and readjust.”
Finance Minister Martin Hassink pointed to the loss of productivity. “The execution of plans stops in the middle.”
Minister Hassink said that the situation will have an adverse effect on the preparations for the 2015 budget amendment – which is already under fire from financial supervisor Cft – but also on the 2016 budget, though the draft is ready to go to the Council of Ministers.
PM Gumbs said that only two cabinet members – Minister Rita Bourne-Gumbs and Minister Claret Connor – are below the age of 60 and therefore eligible for a political pension. However, Bourne-Gumbs will return to the Genevieve de Weever School as school manager and Connor will return to the private sector. Any income they make during the time they are entitled to the political pension will be deducted from these pensions.