PHILIPSBURG--Members of Parliament (MPs) have expressed concern about the signing of a financial information sharing contract between the St. Maarten Telephone Group of Companies TelEm and regional telecom company Digicel.
Democratic Party (DP), National Alliance (NA) and Independent MPs Frans Richardson and Patrick Illidge expressed concerns during a meeting of the Central Committee of Parliament on Friday, to handle amendments to the 2014 budget.
Neither United People's (UP) party MPs nor independent MP Dr. Lloyd Richardson were present at the meeting, which was chaired by Deputy President of Parliament, independent MP Romain Laville. Two of the five UP MPs (Gracita Arrindell and Silvia Meyers-Olivacci) submitted notices of absence.
Laville said a letter will be sent to the Council of Ministers and to TelEm shareholders to explain exactly what is happening to Parliament. Laville echoed sentiments expressed by other MPs that Parliament had passed a motion earlier this month to avoid a situation such as this one from occurring.
The motion in question had restricted outgoing ministers from making any long-term policy, financial and/or decisions of such a nature as granting lands in long lease, bus and taxi licences, concessions, hiring and placement of personnel in crucial functions.
DP MP Roy Marlin said the outgoing government should respect the incoming government and not do anything that would harm the functioning of the new administration. He said this seem to not be the case, particularly when it comes to the agreement TelEm has inked with Digicel. "Something like this could have waited until the new government came in," Marlin said, noting that the motion Parliament passed earlier this month was necessary, as experience had shown that in the past when there is a change of government and a minister "wants to do something fast" it can be present a challenge.
He called for a review of all decisions made by outgoing ministers and those that "can't see the light of day" should be reversed. He said the onus should remain on the minister who took a questionable decision to challenge the annulment in court. Marlin said jurisprudence has shown, as had occurred in Curaçao, that annulment of such decisions can be upheld in court.
Independent MP Frans Richardson said there were "a number of things" taking place and several "quick decisions" were being made by sitting ministers that would have serious consequences for the country.
He accused a minister of being busy "peddling off" land in Fort Willem that had been earmarked for a basketball court for the area to someone else. Another MP later referred to the same matter saying that the land was being given to someone for a cemetery.
"We are hearing all sorts of issues taking place," Richardson said noting that Parliament's earlier motion seemed to have fallen on deaf ears. The MP called for a serious investigation into the actions of the current government over the past weeks. "I will be holding all those responsible for these decisions being taken. I will not sit in government and let things pass by and no one is held accountable for them... If we don't bring these matters to the attention of the public then we are just as bad as those taking the decisions," he said.
The independent MP stressed that those who fail to adhere to motions and legislation passed by Parliament should be "dealt with seriously" because "it would be the public who would have to pay for their wrong."
Several other MPs including Independent MP Patrick Illidge and NA MPs George Pantophlet and Hyacinth Richardson registered concerns about the TelEm-Digicel accord. DP MP Leroy de Weever was not present at yesterday's meeting.
In the meantime, the status of talks between TelEm and United Telecommunication Services (UTS) could not be ascertained. St. Maarten is entitled to between 12 and 25 per cent of UTS' operation as a result of the dissolution of the Netherlands Antilles.
Prime Minister Sarah Wescot-Williams is the shareholder representative for TelEm, while the minister responsible for telecommunications is Ted Richardson, who had been appointed by Laville.