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MPs express concerns about Electoral Council regulations

~ Council reminded MPs can make changes ~

PHILIPSBURG--"Difficult to comply with" and "complicated" were some of the ways some Members of Parliament (MPs) described the stipulations in the national ordinance on the registration and financing of political parties when they met with the Electoral Council in a meeting of the Central Committee of Parliament.

Council member Linda Richardson, a former minister, countered their argument by reminding them that several MPs objecting to the stipulations were the ones who had been members of the Island Council of the then-Island Territory of St. Maarten that had approved the ordinance in 2010. She minced no words when she told MPs they should read their laws before agreeing to them and if they wanted to see them changed, they as MPs had to be the ones to make this happen.

She said Council Chairman Bert Hofman, Vice-Chairwoman Celia Richardson and she herself had listened to MPs and were "a bit concerned" that they were dealing with a Parliament that had "nothing to do with the law." MPs who want to see changes to the ordinance should have brought these to Parliament, she said.

Linda Richardson said that from the statements from MPs, "it seems like the law was not read." She pointed out that the ordinance was readily available on Parliament's own Website and on the Website of government in English and Dutch. She suggested that MPs "really look at the law again."

National Alliance (NA) parliamentarian Louie Laveist said he was "not comfortable" with rules outlined in the national ordinance. The MP, who was an Island Councilman in 2010, described the capping of amounts individuals or businesses can make to a political party as "a grotesque violation of the democratic right of a citizen." The rules as is are "trampling on democracy," he said.

He said he was "all for rules," but not these "very, very draconian-like rules." His main concern was that the rules would limit the possibility of new political parties and benefit a rich one.

Laveist argued that if there were a cap on campaign financing there would be no issues about who had given how much to a single party. Linda Richardson said the council also was "surprised" that the law did not have a cap on campaign spending.

Independent (former NA) MP Frans Richardson said Parliament had had no opportunity to debate the law. He described its handling in the last days of the Island Council as "rushed" and carried out in "a hasty manner." He said that when he had voted to approve it as a then-Island Councilman he had hoped there would be time to review the law and make changes when Parliament was established.

Frans Richardson sees the law presenting "a challenge and battle" for the parties to keep up with the "stringent" regulations. Political parties will have "to hire lawyers and accountants" to ensure they stay within the legal perimeters.

Frans Richardson told the Electoral Council, "You may want to follow the law to the tee, but you will have to give a little leeway [to parties – Ed]." His reason for this call was that the stipulations in the law are "difficult to follow and comply with" and require all candidates on a party's slate to realise their responsibility under the law.

Frans Richardson said the council only being physically in place and members appointed in January was the fault of Prime Minister Sarah Wescot-Williams (DP), who had been tasked with executing the regulation since 10-10-10. "Parliament is not taking any blame [for issues arising now – Ed]. This is squarely with the prime minister."

United People's (UP) party leader MP Theo Heyliger queried the need for political parties to submit their manifestos on Nomination Day. He sees this as leaving candidates out of the development process, because often candidates for an election are not fully secured until that day. The process of putting an election slate together is "a dynamic one."

The council is working from the premise that political parties should have their manifestos ready for submission to the council by Nomination Day. This timeline was countered by several MPs.

Heyliger said the rules were "going to be brutal" and would require parties to hire people to ensure they were in full compliance. He has "no issue" with regulating the financing of political parties. However, his concern lies with the complexity of policing 23 candidates and their finances during an election year.

Heyliger said he had had concerns with the ordinance when it was brought to the former Island Council of which he had been a member in 2010, but not supporting its passing had the stigma of being against the quest for country status.

Independent (former NA) MP Dr. Lloyd Richardson said the ordinance was not in accordance with best practices. He believes it is "unfair" to the three-person Electoral Council, headed by attorney Bert Hofman, to finalise and carry out the process required in the ordinance in the short period of time before elections.

Lloyd Richardson said the ordinance specifically made separate two entities, the party and the candidate, by asking the party to be "an accomplice" in their financial administration. "This is unacceptable."

Celia Richardson of the council said all candidates were responsible to ensure their finances were in order and in accordance with the ordinance.

Lloyd Richardson believes several articles of the ordinance "need to be revisited." He expressed concern that the ordinance does not cover penalties for people who make insinuations about a candidate receiving money without having proof of such and for people making derogatory statements about candidates.

Democratic Party (DP) MP Leroy de Weever said there were "inconsistencies" in the ordinance, but it was too late now to make changes. He enquired about the other consequences if a party or candidate were found in contravention of the regulations.

NA Parliamentarian George Pantophlet said the ordinance was "unrealistic" and had been "passed in haste" by the Island Council of which he had been a part in 2010. The haste was credited to "the need to get to 10-10-10" – the date St. Maarten became a country within the Dutch Kingdom. He said changes to the ordinance could be made by Parliament.

MP Jules James (UP) agreed that changes were possible and suggested that Parliament issue an instruction to government to draft "fast changes" to the ordinance for Parliament to handle ahead of this year's elections.

NA leader MP William Marlin said MPs had no one to blame but themselves. At the start of Parliament MPs were given a package of laws that included this ordinance. He added that MPs could have requested a review of the law, similar to the review carried out to revise the Rules of Order of Parliament.

The Electoral Council was established by ordinance prior to 10-10-10 and was put physically in place as of January this year, Marlin said. Considering when the establishment took place, he said to his fellow MPs that questioning the council would be "to question ourselves."

Marlin pointed out that with the physical setting up of the council only taking place this year, no elections could have been held prior to that time. This means that Marlin's own fervent call for elections last year during the "Mexican Standoff," as the government crisis was deemed when NA was pushed out of government, could not have taken place.

Electoral Council Chairman Bert Hofman explained the basics of the law to MPs. That process includes political parties registering with the council and the ultimate publication of that registration in the National Gazette. Parties will have to pay for that placement and the procedure to facilitate this is being worked out with government's Legal Affairs Department.

Parties also are expected to submit their financial reports for every calendar year to the council by April 1 of the following year. Those reports will be reviewed by the General Audit Chamber and subsequently made public. This procedure will allow the public to see who the financial donors to the parties are.

A political party or a candidate can accept donations of a sum or a value in excess of NAf. 5,000 only if these originate from enfranchised residents of St. Maarten, non-Dutch residents of St. Maarten who were residents for at least five years prior to the date on which the donation was made, and from businesses and social organisations registered in St. Maarten.

A political party and a candidate cannot accept donations from businesses in which the country participates or from institutions subsidised by the government.

In any calendar year, donations made to the same political party by a person, company or institution shall not exceed a total sum or value of NAf. 30,000 while those made to a candidate cannot exceed a total sum or value of NAf. 20,000.

In any calendar year, donations made to the same political party and to candidates of that same political party by a person, company or institution shall not exceed a total sum of NAf. 50,000.

Donations in excess of the maximum set limit shall not be accepted or shall be returned to the donor by the party or candidate.

Cash donations to a political party or a candidate in excess of NAf. 5,000 are prohibited. Failure to comply with the regulation on the registration and financing of political parties carries a penalty of jail time and fines.

Chikungunya situation stable with fewer cases

page1b279MARIGOT--A tripartite Declaration of Intent to cooperate on chikungunya prevention was signed between President of the Collectivité Aline Hanson, Dutch-side Minister of Health Cornelius de Weever and Préfet Philippe Chopin at the Préfecture on Monday afternoon, as a follow up to the Letter of Intent on cooperation signed in February 2012.

The six points in the agreement are: information to be transmitted and shared with either side; sanitary alerts in terms of informing one side or the other of a particular situation; mutual agreement on procedures for eradication of mosquitoes; strategic planning; giving support to either side if one side is in a more serious situation that requires specialist response; and a tripartite coordinating committee will be launched in case of a serious epidemic.

While the chikungunya situation on the French side is still in a "generalised epidemic" phase, there has been a drop in cases since March, partly due to the preventative and surveillance work by the health services and a spell of dry weather.

Weekly cases have dropped from 250 in February to 100 and less than 20 of weekly cases requiring hospital admission compared to 30-40 in January, the Préfet noted. There have been three deaths, but these were not attributed directly to chikungunya. In each case the patient had a serious pre-existing condition that was aggravated by the onset of chikungunya.

The latest health institute bulletin INVS said there had been 2,913 clinically suspected cases from November 2013 to April 6, 2014. However, it adds, "The tendency is stable, with 73 new cases in week 14, following an average of 113 weekly cases in weeks 10-13 in March."

The Préfet said the encouraging figures were not an excuse for either side to let its guard down and the entire island must continue with the preventative measures already established.

The most affected areas of the French side continue to be French Quarter, Sandy Ground, Concordia and St. James.

Minister de Weever said the Dutch side currently has 224 confirmed chikungunya cases.

"The Minister of Tourism and Economic Affairs has monitored the situation on the Dutch side and there have been no cancellations of flights or hotel reservations, so the impact has not been too bad," he said, "but if you look at workers who might have contracted it, there is some economic impact there. However, it is far less than what it could have been.

"By being vigilant, very proactive and working together we have been able to reduce the impact and this cooperation really exemplifies that. Last month we did have a very dry month and I'm sure that contributed to the drop in cases."

Court: Detention of Koeiman unlawful

WILLEMSTAD--The recent detention in St. Maarten of former police officer Rogelio Gregory Koeiman based on an extradition request from American authorities was unlawful, stated the Joint Court of Justice in Curaçao.

The panel of judges agreed with the proposition by lawyers Marije Vaders and Eldon "Peppie" Sulvaran. The release of the suspect was ordered subsequently.

Koeiman had been held in St. Maarten on March 17 in connection with his alleged involvement in drug transports to New York. The Judge of Instruction in Philipsburg examined the arrest on March 23 and found all in order.

However, the Dutch Caribbean Court had already ruled on February 6 that Koeiman, who also worked as bodyguard for independent (former UP) parliamentarian Romain Laville, could not be extradited, due to illegal practices during the investigation after he first was held in Curaçao on October 2.

Since that verdict still stood on March 17, the attorney general was not authorised to order his arrest in St. Maarten, the latest ruling states. The court agreed with the attorneys that the fact that the case concerns two different countries does not matter, as the entire kingdom is considered one territory when it comes to the administration of justice.

Meanwhile, the Prosecutor's Office in Willemstad has filed an appeal against the original February 6 verdict with the High Court in The Hague. They will now await the result of that process.

Hasani Ellis elected DP Board President

~ New board a reflection of party's vision ~

PHILIPSBURG--Hasani Ellis was elected President of the Democratic Party (DP) board during the party's congress at the Philipsburg Cultural and Community Center on Saturday night.

The new board was elected against the backdrop of the party's new logo and to the music of the party's songs - adaptations of the popular tunes "Blurred Lines" and "Get Lucky."

The executive board positions have been filled by three young professionals, with their roots well planted in the DP, the party said in a press release Sunday evening. DP said Ellis contested the president's position unopposed, as did Stephan Richardson and Giselle York for the position of Secretary and Treasurer respectively. "Much praise was showered on the outgoing board under the leadership of its president, Mr. Michael Ferrier."

Apart from Ferrier the former board comprised Treasurer Roy Marlin, acting Secretary Richelda Emmanuel-Rodriquez and members Leopold York, Lourdes Brooks and Margaret Williams, who served the party since 2009.

Eight members vied for the position of board members. Elected were Margaret Williams, Mario Gumbs, Armand Meda, John Rosheuvel and Antonio Rogers.

Amongst other things, outgoing president, Michael Ferrier in his report to the membership highlighted the "red thread" symbol of the Party, a symbol of progress, connectivity and continuity (see related story).

Both the party leader and Minister of Health, Labour and Social Affairs Cornelius de Weever emphasised the consistency of the DP's representation in government since 2010. Most achievements in government can be credited to this continuity, DP said in the release.

The DP leader, for her part, reminded the membership of their important role in the party's organisation and reflected on the party's ideology as enshrined in its new charter. An ideology based on Christian and social-democratic values, the constitutional state, social cohesion and patriotism, and advancement for all.

The leader of the party that will be celebrating its 60th anniversary this year, made it clear that another focus of hers will be the grooming of a young breed to take over the leadership of the illustrious party after her 20 years at the helm of the political institution that is credited for St. Maarten's unequalled economic growth from obscurity to a player to be reckoned with. The party leader's own mark, however, will be on the attainment of country status in 2010 after years of denial and disappointments.

In her advice to the new board, Wescot-Williams reminded the members that they have to hit the ground running, but that they can rely on her guidance and that of others within the party structure.

Emmanuel-Rodriquez chaired the meeting, while a three-person election committee was responsible for the voting proceedings.

Marlin, DP's parliamentary fraction leader, also gave some insights into the current political arena. Words like loyalty, pride and volunteerism in party matters were common themes in the different discourses.

Giving the evening another twist was the mention of several candidates who will be contesting the election on the DP slate as well as nominations for such coming from the floor. DP is currently in the process of screening potential candidates, as well as ensuring that it has broad representation of the wider population and of different sectors.

Jacobs is elected deputy leader at National Alliance party congress

~ Party urged to rebuild from within ~

BELAIR--Former education and youth minister Silveria Jacobs was elected deputy leader of the National Alliance (NA) at the party's 2014 congress at Belair Community Centre on Sunday. Jacobs' appointment came as a result of a vote by the party's district representatives based on the stipulation of the party's constitution.

Jacobs received 57 of the 91 votes cast, while her challenger NA Member of Parliament George Pantophlet received 33 votes. There was one invalid ballot.

Jacobs thanked the district representatives and the party members for having faith in her "to support the leader."

NA had been without a deputy leader since 2011 when then deputy leader Member of Parliament (MP) Frans Richardson declared himself an independent MP and resigned from the party. Since then he has formed his own party: United St. Maarten Party.

NA leader Member of Parliament (MP) William Marlin was re-elected by acclamation at the congress.

Marlin told the party members they needed to strive for "the perfect 10 seats" as one supporter had urged him.

The congress marked "the beginning of the [election – Ed.] campaign." That campaign promises to be "a long hot summer campaign," according to Marlin, because elections will be no later than September 5.

NA is on its "march to victory" and will present "a full slate of candidates" for the parliament elections, he said. The slate and general NA team "will be even stronger" than in the past, Marlin said.

He expressed some satisfaction about not being able to govern right after the 2010 general elections. He said the interval had allowed "those who had to leave to leave" NA. He added that "those who have jumped [left NA – Ed.] are now trying to find a way to shore."

At the congress, NA also installed its new party board, headed by Cedric James, by acclamation. The other board members are Harold Richardson, Cassandra Webster, Jennifer Johnson, Shareen Lake, Rene Guishard and Dr. Randall "Randy" Friday.

Keynote speaker Riegnald Arrindell, who is pursuing graduate studies in political science and business, spoke about "Rebuilding from Within." He said rebuilding of the party from within did not mean "something is wrong" with the National Alliance; it meant the party was ready to come out of its comfort zone.

Arrindell added that for NA to survive, expand and stay current, it needed to rebuild from within with emphasis on raising the intelligence of the people.

Arrindell challenged party members to take action to fill gaps where these existed. In particular, if they are not happy with the way the media houses portray the party NA should "create its own" media house, he said. Members also need to finance the party's campaign as well as community efforts.

The National Alliance Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to the party's "biggest fan, supporter and cheerleader" Mabel Scott (95). The token was presented to her daughter Patricia Scott by William Marlin. Scott was unable to attend the congress because she is in the hospital.

The party's Youth Wing Committee charged with motivating the youth vote, Audit Committee and Advisory Committee were established and presented to the congress. The committees were installed by acclamation of the district committee delegates.

Serving on the youth committee are Tanya Archangel, Indhira Marlin and Riegnald Arrindell.

The Audit Committee members are Roland Tuitt, Henry Eusebius and Dolfo Pantophlet.

Joselyn Arrindell, Leonidas "Leo" Friday and Elaine Illis are members of the Advisory Committee.

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