Only National Alliance votes against ordinance: Parliament establishes Integrity ChamberPOSTED: 08/19/15 4:58 PM
St. Maarten – After everything was said and done yesterday, only the opposition faction of the National Alliance voted against the establishment of the Integrity Chamber. The United People’s party faction, having voiced serious opposition against the Dutch pressure on St. Maarten, withdrew all of the amendments it proposed to the law in June, and went along with a strategic proposal from opposition MP Sarah Wescot-Williams to accept the proposal the government put on the table. The only change UP faction leader Franklin Meyers requested was to have all three board members appointed to the Integrity Chamber by national decree.
The parliament approved the ordinance with ten votes in favor, and four against. The four strong National Alliance faction voted against; the UP-faction, coalition members Leona Marlin-Romeo, Cornelius de Weever and Frans Richardson voted in favor. The only opposition member to vote in favor was Sarah Wescot-Williams.
The meeting was scheduled to begin yesterday morning at 10 a.m., but it was immediately adjourned for an hour when it became clear that the Kingdom opposes the changes the UP tabled in June. When the meeting resumed, it was soon afterwards again adjourned, this time until after lunch at 2 p.m. to give MPs the opportunity to peruse documents relevant to the discussion.
Justice Minister Dennis Richardson described the context of the Council of Ministers’ decision to submit the draft law to parliament. “We are not working in a vacuum here,” he said. “We want the Kingdom government to sign on to our lead instead of the other way around.”
The alternative – Integrity Chamber legislation with little input from St. Maarten “would be a serious breach of our autonomy. It was also unnecessary as we were already busy preparing the legislation based on the integrity reports.”
Richardson noted that St. Maarten does not have the same power as the Netherlands does. “We have to be smarter to protect our autonomy,” the minister said. Referring to UP-faction leader Franklin Meyers’ statement that he’d rather die on his feet than live on his knees, Richardson said that the Greek general who made that historic statement, had done so after all other options had been exhausted. “Our Council of Ministers does not have the authority to surrender our economy without exploring every possible avenue. We have the obligation to defend our autonomy to the very end.”
Richardson said that the Dutch have been manipulating information and that they have acted in conflict with the Kingdom Charter and St. Maarten’s constitution. “The question is – will we roll over and die, or will we stand up and fight. This battle has only just begun. We are confronted with unreasonable and unrealistic demands on financial matters that are crippling the government. There is disrespect for our institutions, from the parliament all the way down to the police force. The Council of Ministers operates from this general position.”
UP-leader Franklin Meyers made his position clear by holding up a copy from Newsday, a paper from the year 2000 that shows a picture of him together with his party leader Theo Heyliger. The headline: Frankie and Theo support independence.”
That is still the case today, but the reality is a different one: “We are a colony. We are supposed to be a country, not a county and they – the Dutch – will do whatever how they see fit. That is the reality we live in.”
Meyers said that his faction is not against integrity. “We are against anyone who wants to ram something down our throats.”
Meyers said that, during the consultation between faction leaders and the Council of Ministers, DP-MP Wescot-Williams had come up with the best proposal: “Approve the ordinance as is and let it go through the system.”
Meyers withdrew the fifteen amendments he had proposed in June. “If the Dutch come in now, they cannot say that we are against integrity,” he said. “They consider St. Maarten as their territory. Flying in here is for them no different than going from Amsterdam to Rotterdam. For now we will withdraw our fifteen amendments. I am big enough to say that I have been reconsidering my position in the interest of the country.”
Meyers added that independence is the only solution for St. Maarten. “That will happen in this generation or the next one. We would not be having this conversation if we were independent.”
Meyers also spat some venom at subversive elements in the community. “We have a lot of malicious people here. They are spiteful and use someone’s name at random, If they are lying, they ought to be prosecuted.”
“The government is now saying – bow your head and vote for this thing,” NA-MP William Marlin observed. “This is making us look like the laughing stock. We barked, we made a lot of noise and now we’re going to say: forget all the changes. We cannot subscribe to this wishy-washy way of doing things.” Marlin said that the National Alliance would not support the Integrity Chamber legislation.
His fellow faction member George Pantophlet echoed this sentiment: “I do not see us getting any justice with an Integrity Chamber. I don’t want this Integrity Chamber.”
DP-MP Wescot-Williams pleaded for St. Maarten “to establish its own Integrity Chamber” because “the Kingdom government is doing what it set out to do. I am for the ratification of this ordinance and I disagree with the sentiment that the Integrity Chamber has been imposed upon us.”
Independent MP Cornelius de Weever wondered whether the country can afford the Integrity Chamber and, more importantly, “whether technically speaking there is a need for this institution. We have to remind the Dutch that we are a nation, not a plantation.”
NA-MP Silveria Jacobs considers the Integrity Chamber a waste of money: “We are throwing good money at a pie in the sky.”
Christophe Emmanuel was the only one to characterize the actions of Justice Minister Dennis Richardson (to sign a protocol with Kingdom Relations Minister Ronald Plasterk) “a case of high treason” and added that the minister ought to resign. He also suggested that the Integrity Chamber ought to “investigate the Public Prosecutor’s Office” and fumed in general against the ordinance. “This Integrity Chamber is giving the Dutch a foothold in St. Maarten and the minister of justice opened the door for them.”
Minister Richardson later calmly responded that he is certainly not a traitor to his country, given his resume that includes a position as Lt. Governor where he led the country through a period of higher supervision in the nineties of last century and his other contributions to the country.
Richardson said that the Integrity Chamber would not do any investigation into the prosecutor’s office. “The prosecutor’s office is protected by law as an independent entity for the investigation of criminal offenses,” he said.
Reacting to another remark from Emmanuel (why Bouman barged into St. Maarten but not into Russia to tell Putin off about his attitude in the MH`7 airplane crash investigation), Richardson said: “Because they are big, strong and bad. We are small and the Dutch think they can walk in here and do what they want.”
The minister said that he will travel to the Netherlands on Saturday in the company of Finance Minister Martin Hassink. “We want to know, after the visit of Bouman, whether the protocol I signed still stands. If that is not the case, we have a whole new ballgame.”
Richardson will also meet Minister of Safety and Justice Ard van der Steur to discuss the latter’s decision to annul an instruction from Richardson to Attorney-General Guus Schram about the handling of information from the criminal intelligence unit.