Prime Minister Marcel Gumbs: “I will not back down”POSTED: 10/22/15 11:35 AM
St. Maarten – “I will not back down,” Prime Minister Marcel Gumbs told this newspaper yesterday afternoon while he was walking back to the government building, where earlier yesterday he shed his light once more on the constitutional crisis that holds the country in a deadly embrace.
Professor Arjen van Rijn repeated yesterday in the Antilliaans Dagblad his firm position on the constitutional crisis: when the parliament hits, the cabinet is allowed to hit back. The governor has two options: sign the national decree to dissolve parliament, or send it for annulment to the kingdom government.
At yesterday’s press briefing the prime minister gave journalists a crash course in constitutional law, explaining the role of the governor and his relationship to the government.
“The governor cannot act on his own,” Gumbs said. “Someone has to carry the ministerial responsibility. In our structure the king and the governor, who is his representative, carry out their duties under the ministerial responsibility of the prime minister. This is why, when we have the opening of the parliamentary year and the governor speaks, everything he says is approved by the Council of Ministers and the prime minister. The governor is inviolable and somebody has to take the political responsibility. So you cannot take the governor to court, but you can take the prime minister to court.”
Gumbs emphasized that there is no political crisis. “Everything that has happened since September 30, is fully within the rules of the constitution. When parliament used article 33, the Council of Ministers reacted within twelve hours, the same day.”
The group of eight says “we have a government,” Gumbs said, “but article 59 gives the Council of Ministers the authority to say to parliament: I am going to check if you have the support of the populace to sit in parliament.”
In 2013, after the fall of the second Wescot-Williams cabinet the majority in the Council of Ministers led by National Alliance Minister William Marlin clamored for elections. “No elections could have been held that year because there was no electoral council,” Gumbs pointed out. The previous government only established that council in January 2014.”
PM Gumbs contested a remark in the governor’s press release of last Friday, where he stated that the cabinet took a political position by not making its positions available. “We said in our first letter to the governor: All members of the cabinet intend to tender their resignations as soon as the decree to dissolve the parliament has taken effect. There is nothing to get emotional about, or to go shouting, or to accuse the government.”
“I bring this forward to explain the facts of the matter,” Gumbs said.
He furthermore noted that the court has nothing to do with the constitutional crisis. “There are two options: the governor signs the decree to dissolve parliament or he submits it for nullification to the kingdom government. I appeal to everyone to read the law and to live accordingly.”
The prime minister furthermore quoted from a letter National Alliance faction leader William Marlin – at the time minister of Vromi – sent to Governor Holiday on June 11, 2013.
That letter stated, and Gumbs quoted: “We are of the opinion, because the dissolution of parliament is, based on the constitution, an autonomous right of the government, that the parliament may not and cannot thwart this right. If the parliament disagrees with dissolution the government maintains the autonomous right to dissolve. Not the will of the parliament is decisive, but that of the majority in the Council of Ministers.”
Apart from Marlin, Roland Tuitt, at the time Minister of Finance, Silveria Jacobs (Minister of Education) and Romeo Pantophlet (Minister of Tourism and Economic Affairs) signed the letter.
“This is exactly what we are saying now,” PM Gumbs said, adding that his cabinet is now awaiting the advice from the panel of judges. A negative advice will however not budge the cabinet from its position: “We will not step aside if these judges advise against us. They are not experts in constitutional law. We have presented the opinions from leading experts in constitutional law. There are three advices that say that what this government is doing is the correct thing.”
The prime minister dismissed the argument that “the Dutch should not interfere” and that therefore the governor should not send the national decree for annulment to The Hague. “Saying that you want to keep the Dutch out does not make sense. This is in the constitution. We will not accept any compromise, otherwise we may as well shred the constitution and put it in the garbage.”
Gumbs concluded his presentation with a quote he attributed to Margaret Thatcher: “This government will not be beaten; this nation will meet the challenge; and democracy will prevail.”