Opinion: Unforeseen circumstances

POSTED: 03/13/16 7:42 PM

The parliamentary committee for Tourism, Economic Affairs, Transport and Telecommunication had a meeting on the agenda for 10 a.m. yesterday morning. At 9.34 a.m. we received an email with the following text: “You are hereby informed that the committee meeting of TEATT scheduled for 10 a.m. this morning has been cancelled by the vice chairperson of said committee “due to unforeseen circumstances.”

MP Frans Richardson (United St. Maarten party) chairs this committee and MP Tamara Leonard (United People’s party) is the vice chair. MP Silvio Matser is a member of this committee but, as we all know, he was not available yesterday because he had to be across the road to face the Judge of Instruction.

Based on the email, we assume that the chairman was not available at all. The vice chair gives “unforeseen circumstances” as the reason the meeting could not take place.

We’re scratching our confused head here. What the hell are unforeseen circumstances? Are citizens not allowed to know why meetings are blown off, less than half an hour before they were supposed to take place?

Mind you, those circumstances could be extremely valid, but given the politically volatile situation the country finds itself it in right now, it is more likely that this has to do with a pow-wow about what to do next, just in case Independent MP Silvio Matser stays where he is – behind bars. In the meantime, Matser’s extended stay in Ponte Blanche has become a fact.

This is how the guessing game begins. The parliament provides half a story and leaves it up to the imagination of others to fill in the blanks.

It was of course crunch time yesterday morning with the hearing of Matser in front of the Judge of Instruction. We can imagine how the UP was eagerly awaiting the outcome of this procedure; with Matser in pre-trial detention, the party recovers the seat he took with him.

At least, that seems to be the prevailing opinion. Matser’s attorney Cor Merx said yesterday that the suspension does not apply because the crimes his client stands accused of, are not mentioned in article 50 of the constitution.

Others have however pointed out that the same article in the constitution refers to crimes for which the court could revoke active and passive voting rights. The Criminal Code is clear about this: vote buying is a crime that falls within this category.

The argument will now be about the finer points. Article 50, under section 1.a. states: “A Member of the Parliament who has been sentenced in terms of an irrevocable judicial verdict to a term of imprisonment of not less than one year for the commission of an offense for which a national ordinance specifies that the court may also withdraw the right to vote as an ancillary punishment;

Under 2.b. the constitution says that a Member of Parliament can be suspended if he is in pre-trial detention “for a crime as mentioned in section 1 under a, b and c.”

The confusion will now be about the first line of article 50 that says that a Member of Parliament has to be irrevocably sentenced (for the crime mentioned under 1.a.); in that case he would not be suspended, but lose his status as an MP altogether.

The suspension article however does not say anything about the requirement of an irrevocable verdict; it only refers to the crime mentioned under a.

This will without any doubt become a hotly contested bone of contention. The government’s life depends on its interpretation.

If the suspension kicks in, Matser is put on ice and his replacement will be the next one on the list of the opposition party UP – none other than Maria Buncamper-Molanus, who happens to stand trial on Wednesday with her husband Claudius and others accused of tax fraud and membership of a criminal organization.

The government has therefore an interest in the position of Matser’s attorney Cor Merx. If things go the other way the government may lose its majority, depending on what Buncamper-Molanus will do once she gets the seat.

Before she gets there, the president of parliament sees some constitutional issues coming up. Recently, Wescot-Williams said in a press statement that the central voting bureau would have to be notified.

“The question is by whom?” she wrote. “The chairperson of parliament or the court?”

The question in itself already indicates that the president of parliament is not likely to take the initiative – it is not in the interest of the coalition. This way, the country could slide into its next constitutional crisis.

Wescot-Williams also wondered whether Matser’s pre-trial detention is the status as meant in the constitution. Right now, there is no doubt about that. From this afternoon 3.15 p.m. on, Matser is “in bewaring” (pre-trial detention).

Wescot-Williams has sought legal advice on whom should act first in this situation. That seems rather odd because the decision, whichever way it will go, is not a legal one but a constitutional one. Politicians therefore have to take their responsibility and take a decision, keeping in mind that not taking a decision is also taking a decision.

Whatever the parliament’s president will or will not do, one may expect some pressure from the opposition to get the ball rolling. There are once more interesting times ahead.

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