~ Govt. holding country, Governor hostage ~
PHILIPSBURG--National Alliance (NA) leader Member of Parliament (MP) William Marlin issued a firm call to Justice Minister Dennis Richardson on Wednesday to “do the right thing” and “uphold the constitution” by resigning, given the no-confidence motion passed against the Council of Ministers.
Marlin also accused Government of staying in office and deliberately stalling the process to buy time to make deals and further plunder Government-owned companies such as utilities company GEBE and the Harbour and to “fix deals” about issues such as the waste-to-energy plant.
He said Ministers still were travelling and squandering the country’s money while they should have made their positions available to pave the way for a new cabinet. He called the situation that Prime Minister Marcel Gumbs is aiming to create as being “a European standoff,” as the PM “is calling on Europe for their opinion” in the country’s affairs.
Marlin told reporters at a press conference on Wednesday that of all the minsters, he expected more from Richardson. He said that based on Richardson’s background serving two terms as former Lt. Governor; as a member of the Council of State and his intimateinvolvement in the constitutional process leading up to 10/10/10, including serving as one of Marlin’s main advisors, Richardson should not be one to trample on the country’s constitution the way the current cabinet is doing.
Marlin accused the cabinet of holding the country and Governor Eugene Holiday “hostage” by refusing to make their positions available unless the Governor agrees with their unconstitutional position of dissolving Parliament and paving the way for new elections.
“You now have a Council of Ministers that is blatantly violating the constitution. … Dennis Richardson was in functions where he knows the importance of upholding the constitution. … Why is he putting the Governor in this awkward position?” Marlin asked. “You can’t hold a country hostage because of political difference between opposing parties.”
Marlin said he considered Richardson a friend whom he held in high esteem and saw as a shining star. He said he had held an hour-long phone conversation with Richardson on Wednesday in which he expressed his dissatisfaction with Richardson in particular for flouting the constitution, given his background.
He said Richardson had informed him during the phone call that the Cabinet would resign, but it first needed a guarantee from the Governor that Parliament would be dissolved.
Marlin calls this illegal. “This is not what the constitution says. … This is illegal and it is creating chaos. If Government can take the constitution and shove it in their back pocket, then what stops a youngster from … doing something illegal because Government is doing it themselves,” he said.
“I expected him [Richardson – Ed.] more than anyone to lead by example. I am making a public plea for [Richardson – Ed.] to lead by example. …
“You are a former Lt. Governor, a former member of the Council of State and you put the constitution aside to prolong the political wishes of some to stay in office long enough to fix deals for waste-to-energy, fix deals for [other issues – Ed.] and in defence say that they want to dissolve Parliament to avoid people getting into Government to do things that are not correct.”
Marlin questioned how Richardson could have supported a Government that “gave away” Emilio Wilson Estate to a developer for “far less” than a local would have paid for land in long lease knowing that the Estate had been purchased to be preserved for the people of St. Maarten.
He also questioned how Richardson could have supported a Government that had backed the Harbour paying a huge sum of funds for the right to develop a property and “when some deal went sour” the “people of St. Maarten had to fork out US $10 million to pay it off.”
“Dennis Richardson knows that what they [the Gumbs Cabinet – Ed.] are doing is wrong. If a minister has a vote of no confidence, you make your position available and the Governor decides whether to send you home or ask you to stay on,” Marlin said, adding that he “won’t argue” if, on their way out of office, the Ministers indicated that their last decision was to dissolve Parliament, as the Governor would make a pronouncement of the validity of this.
But as of now, he said, the Ministers should make their positions available “immediately” as stated in the explanatory notes of Article 3, Sub 3 of the constitution.
Marlin also accused the Council of Ministers of double standards: telling the Dutch not to interfere in the affairs of the country, yet “inviting” them to interfere in this matter by seeking their opinion.
He said the opinion government had “requested” from Dutch persons on this issue did not matter, as it was the Governor who had the last say in the process of upholding the constitution.
Marlin said that when the Dutch had wanted to introduce new screening regulations in St. Maarten a strong message had been sent to the Dutch that they should have faith in the country’s institutions. Marlin said he believed that bringing an instruction for added screening was a motion of no confidence in the Governor.
As it relates to the Integrity Chamber, Marlin said Minister Richardson had “riled up” Parliament about Dutch interference “in our business.” He said the current political issue “is our [St. Maarten’s – Ed.] business. A democratically-elected group in Parliament, eight MPs, support a motion saying they have no confidence in Government and that Government is expected to hand in its resignation.”
“We will never grow as a people if we try to drag Holland into everything we do,” Marlin said.
Marlin said the constitution was clear when it came to motions of no confidence against a cabinet. “The constitution says under Article 3, Sub 3, that once a minister gets a vote of no confidence, that minister has to make his position available to the Governor. And the recent motion explicitly gives a nod of no confidence to the Gumbs Cabinet and mentions every one of the ministers by name.”
He said that, depending on the circumstances, the Governor could then ask the Ministers to stay on to keep the institution of Government running until a new Cabinet was in place or, if a Minister were accused of a crime such as embezzlement, allow the Minister to demit office immediately.
He alluded to 2013, when the then-NA fraction had lost its majority support and the Cabinet eventually tendered its resignation before a motion of no confidence was passed against the Ministers. “We did not have a vote of no confidence. When it was clear that a motion of no confidence was going to be tabled, we tendered our resignation,” he said.
The motion of no confidence against the current Cabinet was passed in an official “democratically held” meeting of Parliament in which all 15 MPs were present.
Marlin said this issue was not about NA being “afraid” of an election or about his wanting to be Prime Minister “or about anyone else wanting to get anything. … It’s about the democratic process in the Parliament of St. Maarten.”
Contrary to what Gumbs gives as justification for wanting to dissolve Parliament, Marlin said calling early elections would not stop the practice of ship-jumping amongst MPs.
Irrespective of when elections are held; it will not stop ship-jumping because those elected can engage in the same practice. If the system is broken, it needs to be fixed to curb the problem, Marlin maintained.
He said the new Government should be allowed to take office to ensure that “the system is fixed” in a year to prevent a recurrence. “If I become Prime Minister, this will be priority number one besides balancing the budget and other issues. We need to address these issues.
“What we have to do is deal with the laws that we have as is now and the constitution says a minister who gets a vote of no confidence, according to Article 3 Sub 3 of the constitution … he has to resign … and in the explanatory note it says immediately. Dissolving Parliament becomes secondary.”
Asked whether NA had sought or planned to seek the advice of any expert on the current situation, Marlin said it was not necessary to involve anyone in St. Maarten’s affairs because the Governor was there to uphold the constitution.
He said members of the minority were calling members of the just-formed majority coalition “morning, noon, and night.” He said one MP supporting the new coalition had been called and asked what the person wanted, to which the MP had replied that they needed nothing they did not already have.
He said too that the Dutch, throughout their political history, had been subjected to falling governments “more than 100 times,” noting that this was part of their culture.