Opinion: “Self above country” 101

POSTED: 10/2/15 12:34 PM

Who said politics is boring? The conspirators in parliament had their first laugh on Wednesday when they lured all MPs to the House of Representatives with an irresistible agenda point – the remarks made by Attorney-General Guus Schram about the ties between the criminal underworld and St. Maarten’s legitimate society. Then followed an agenda point about the situation at the government-owned companies, in particular the airport.

But those who thought that the opposition intended to wash the ears of airport director Regina Labega were in for a nasty surprise. Some remarks were made for appearance’s sake, and then Democratic Party MP Sarah Wescot-Williams dropped the bomb – the motion that put the Council of Ministers out to pasture.

Prime Minister Marcel Gumbs was on his way from the United Nations in New York to the island and he heard about the political crisis during a stop in Puerto Rico. Upon his return he called a meeting of the Council of Ministers. A strategy and plan of attack meeting.

Legal and constitutional advisors brought their points of view to the table and in the end, the council decided to invoke article 59 of the constitution. This article regulates the dissolution of parliament.

The question came up yesterday whether an outgoing Council of Ministers is entitled to take such a decision. The way it works, there is currently only a draft national decree to dissolve the parliament. It has been sent to the governor and when he approves it, it goes back to the Council of Ministers. Then the prime minister is able to sign the decree.

Will it work? The move puts the governor in a seemingly impossible position. It looks like he will be forced, one way or the other, to take a political decision. Honor the letters from the new majority and their governing accord? Or honor the decree from the Council of Ministers?

We are still awaiting an analysis of the situation by constitutional experts, so we will tread careful, here and take a look at article 33 of the constitution.

That article says in paragraph 2, simply put, that a minister who no longer enjoys the confidence of the parliament, makes his position available. Paragraph 3 of this article says that it is possible to set specific rules with regard to paragraph 2 in a national ordinance. Establishing such rules requires a two-third majority in parliament.

Currently these specific rules do not exist so we have to make do with the simple statement that ministers who no longer enjoy the confidence of parliament make their positions available.

When do they have to do that? The constitution does not say. Do they have to do that after the governor has acknowledged the new majority and accepted its governing accord? Or do they have to do this immediately after the vote in parliament sent them home?

It is also unclear when the cabinet becomes ‘demissionair’ (outgoing). We would think that this phase emerges the moment the governor acknowledges the new majority and its wish to form a new government,

The governor had not reached that point yet on Thursday when the Council of Ministers gave its press conference. On Wednesday evening the governor’s cabinet said in a press release that the letters from the new majority were ‘under consideration.’

In other words, there is no definite solution yet. We figure that under those conditions, the Council of Ministers is authorized to take any decision it wants – including a decision to dissolve the parliament.

While we may think this, it is at this moment unclear what the governor will do. It is certain that he finds himself between a rock and a hard place, very close to being forced into taking a political decision.

If we look at the motion from the opposition that sent the cabinet home, we do not find any real issue in there that warrants the move. There is not a huge conflict about a decision the cabinet took – or refused to take – there is just a desire by this new majority to grab the reins of power.

However, even though the reasons are weak – or even fake – a vote is a vote and 8-7 is a majority that is as valid as 10-5.

The bigger question here is obviously: what is the best thing to do for the country? If the governor allows the new majority its wishes, we could very well find ourselves in the same situation eight months down the road.

Recent constitutional history shows that St. Maarten swallows governments at a pace of one per year. If the country maintains this, it will one day surely end up in the Guinness Book of World Records.

The issue of ship jumping –we had three jumpers this week – comes to the fore again. It is a tested practice that our local politicians will keep doing over and over again.

Is this in the best interest of the country? No, it is not. It is in the interest of individual politicians who say that they represent the people but what they really do is represent themselves. It’s self above country 101.

For the sake of good governance, the best solution would be to give in to the national decree the Council of Ministers sent to the governor. Sent everybody home, hold new elections and see what the electorate really wants.

We think that the electorate wants a responsible parliament that takes care of citizens’ and society’s needs in terms of jobs, education, health and security.

New elections would almost certainly mark the end of a few political careers, especially of those who just left the mighty United People’s party. The ship jumpers will no longer be able to fly along comfortably under the wings of party leader Theo Heyliger and on their own they will never win enough votes for a seat – unless they buy them.

In this sense, new elections could also serve as a warning for the future and finally bring some sort of stability to our country.

Right now, there is no stability at all. There has never been stability since 10-10-10 and if there is no dramatic intervention, St. Maarten will stumble on at the expense of its citizens.

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