St. Maarten Constitutional Mess: a Gloomy mood

POSTED: 10/7/15 6:12 PM

How will we ever get out of this constitutional mess? The governor has given the green light to the new coalition and the incumbent cabinet is not prepared to give up its position.

Here is a possible outcome: article 21 in the regulation for the governor.

This article says that the governor does not ratify a national decree when he considers it to be at odds with the Kingdom Charter, an international regulation, a kingdom la or a general measure of kingdom administration. He would also withhold his signature from decrees that conflict with interest of which the maintenance of the guarantee is a kingdom matter.

The article notes that the governor immediately informs the king as the head of the kingdom government if such a situation arises. The Council of State will be consulted about the matter and when this results in a kingdom decree that establishes that such conflicts are not present, the governor ratifies the decree after all.

The royal decree that establishes that such a conflict is indeed present, will be published in the official publication paper – the Staatscourant in the Netherlands and the National Gazette in St. Maarten.

So far, those publications have not materialized.

Constitutional expert Prof. Van Rijn has made clear in his advice that the right to dissolve the parliament is an autonomous right of the government. There seem to be no two ways to look at such a statement, but apparently the governor has arrived at a different conclusion.

How he got there we do not know, for lack of information. The determined position of Prime Minister Gumbs, who is not going anywhere, saying he has sworn to uphold the constitution, should give some reason for thought and reflection.

This is even more pregnant given the fact that Gumbs does not have a personal agenda. We won’t vow for all members of his cabinet (not because we have suspicions, but because we simply have no information) but we feel absolutely certain that this is also true for Justice Minister Dennis Richardson and Finance Minister Martin Hassink.

Because all cabinet members are sticking together, we gladly assume that they all put country before self.

It is hard to see how the national decree to dissolve the parliament violates any rule and that makes it even tougher to understand why the governor is not prepared to sign it.

The ugly thought arises that the driving force behind this decision making process resides in the Netherlands. Last year The Hague welcomed the National Alliance-led coalition after the elections. When the balance of power tipped the other way and Theo Heyliger’s UP emerged as the ruling party, all hell broke loose.

Now we are looking at a set of seemingly clear rules that are not that clear after all. Like all legislation, these rules seem to be made of elastic, for politicians to stretch at will in any direction they desire.

If this is indeed so, why have any rules at all? Why not simply say: we are telling you what to do?

We have seen the same thing happen with the endless debate about the dispute regulation. When the parliaments of the four countries reached a wonderful agreement during the Inter-Parliamentary Consultation (Ipko) in May, everybody thought for a while that this was a real breakthrough.

If parliaments speak, governments have to listen,” were the historic words of the Dutch MP Jeroen Recourt.

But when the Kingdom Consultation in Curacao put the dispute regulation on ice again in April, the Dutch politicians who had so wholeheartedly supported the Ipko-agreement, suddenly fell silent. We reminded Recourt of his statement that the governments should listen and asked what he was going to do next, but we never received a reply.

In other words: the dispute regulation is not worth a cabinet crisis in the Netherlands, and not even worth a firm debate to remind the government of its role versus the parliament.

Might is not only right in the Caribbean, the same principle applies to power politics in The Hague. If a cabinet does not want something to happen, all the rules go overboard or are twisted to the most powerful player’s liking. That’s the world we live in and that is why we are in a rather gloomy mood about the possible outcome of this constitutional crisis.

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