“Saying that elections will stop ship jumping is lying to voters”

POSTED: 10/29/15 4:08 PM

St. Maarten – Parliamentarians bitched and moaned about rules and regulations yesterday all the way until the final vote on the two motions the new majority presented yesterday morning. It was a losing battle for the opposition UP and its faithful independents and in the end, it did not change anything at all.

Independent MP Cornelius de Weever started with an attack on the new president of parliament, Sarah Wescot-Williams. “In what capacity are you sitting in that chair?” he said, noting that the meeting where she was elected was held without involvement of the incumbent president. “When hypocrisy meets opportunity, there goes integrity, transparency and accountability,” he said, adding that he disagrees with the agenda for the meeting. “It should have been about the retirement age.”

Prime Minister Marcel Gumbs was invited to the meeting but he did not show, citing other appointments. The MPs who requested the meeting – George Pantophlet, Silveria Jacobs and Christophe Emmanuel – had also asked the cabinet to submit relevant documentation to parliament, but this was not done either.

Then there was a tiff when UP faction leader Franklin Meyers asked to increase speaking time in the first round from 20 to 30 minutes, and in the second round from 10 to 20 minutes.

Frans Richardson votes in favor with the opposition, while opposition members Leona Marlin-Romeo and Tamara Leonard voted against. The request was defeated 9-5, after which parliament could finally get to the meat of the matter.

National Alliance faction leader William Marlin used his full twenty minutes of speaking time. “Article 33 (of the constitution – ed.) is very clear,” he said. “If there is a motion of no-confidence, a minister has to tender his resignation. However, this rogue Council of Ministers – in violation of the constitution – has found all kinds of excuses, saying that the constitution is not clear. If we permit this, they will only resign when they feel like it. Instead of doing what the constitution prescribes, they have deliberately created a constitutional crisis.”

Marlin accused the Council of Ministers of “hypocrisy” adding that it had called in “all kinds of advices in their favor that were published in the newspapers.”

He referred to the advice of former Justice Minister Ernst Hirsch Ballin. “He said that the interpretation of article 59 by others (other constitutional experts – ed.) is based on the Dutch constitution. In the Netherlands Antilles it was different. The government should not have invoked article 59 because of the motion of no confidence. This is a gross violation; it is unacceptable.”

Marlin contested the reason the cabinet has given for submitting the draft national decree to dissolve parliament. “Ship jumping has to stop, but that is how the Gumbs-cabinet came into being in the first place. Ship jumping was good then and today they are still sitting there, signing off on decisions.”

“Is this is not lying to the voters – saying that elections will stop ship jumping. If you do not change the rules there is no guarantee that they will not pull the plug again six weeks or six months after the elections.”

Marlin pointed out that in the Netherlands Antilles, the dissolution of parliament was the authority of the governor. “It was only to be used in case of an impasse,” he said. “The government is misusing this article now.”

Ralph Richardson, a veteran consultant on constitutional affairs has not been consulted by the government, Marlin says. “Richardson says that article 59 is not there for the government to strike back at the parliament. Because what will we see: if we have anything against a minister, they will dissolve parliament before we can bring a motion of no confidence. That should never be.”

Marlin referred to a position Justice Minister Dennis Richardson once took in parliament when MP Frans /Richardson toyed with the idea of a motion of no-confidence against him. “If the majority asks for it, I will be gone,” he said at the time, but right now, he is still in office. “He knows better and he should give the example by leaving,” Marlin said. “They claim that they will do that this afternoon (Wednesday – ed.), but there are sufficient grounds for the governor not to sign the decree to dissolve parliament.”

MP Frans Richardson noted that “all these professors are contradicting each other. They all have different opinions about article 59.”

Independent MP Cornelius de Weever kept it brief and referred to article 33, paragraph 3. This article says that the parliament can establish specific rules for what must be done after a vote of no confidence. “Let is detail this in 33.3, because right now it is not entirely clear. Nobody wants to touch 33.3, but if we do not do this, we will go through this every year. Work on 33.3, that’s what we should be doing.”

In the second round, William Marlin questioned how elections would promote constitutional change. “How does that work, without fixing the problem and addressing the issue? If government makes a mockery of the constitution, why would citizens abide by the law?”

After Marlin, and then Frans /Richardson, presented the motions (see related story on page 1), MP De Weever asked a large number of questions, then demanded that the meeting be adjourned until he had received answers to them. MP Franklin Meyers supported the request, but the National Alliance leader William Marlin asked that the request be put to a vote.

That in turn triggered protest from MP De Weever who said that his request could not be put to a vote. President Wescot-Williams however, rules that she would put the request to adjourn the meeting to a vote.

MP Franklin Meyers made a final attempt to thwart this, citing article 53 of the constitution that says that MPs cannot vote on issues in which they have a direct personal interest. “It is a public secret that William Marlin will be the next prime minister,” he said, but Wescot-Williams did not see the relevance, and De Weever’s request was voted down 8-3. MPs Marlin-Romeo and De Weever abstained, only to hear later that this was not possible: “It is yes or no, there is no in between.” Wescot-Williams said.

The motion that rejects the national decree to dissolve parliament was carried 8-5 and the motion that demands the immediate resignation of the cabinet was carried 8-6.

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