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Statia’s appeal against higher supervision heard

page13e117ST. EUSTATIUS--The appeal filed by the Executive Council against the decision of the Ministry of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations to impose higher supervision on St. Eustatius was heard Friday.

An advisory board of the Dutch government met with Commissioners Reginald Zaandam (United People’s Coalition, UPC) and Astrid McKenzie-Tatem (Progressive Labour Party, PLP) and ministry representatives in the conference room at Old Gin House.

Dutch Government Representative Gilbert Isabella and Hyden Gittens and Manus Twisk of Committee for Financial Supervision (CFT) were also called to be heard. Island Governor Gerald Berkel, Island Secretary Koos Bartelds, Island Council Members Richelline Leerdam and Clyde van Putten (both PLP) and Frini Adelka Spanner and Nicolaas Sneek (both Democratic Party, DP) were among the audience.

The Ministry’s standpoint is that the Executive Council is not admissible in the case since the instruction for the supervision was given to the Government Representative and the interests of the Executive Council are therefore not directly affected.

Commissioner McKenzie refuted this by pointing out that the letter was addressed directly to the Executive Council. A letter was sent separately to the Government Representative the day after. Moreover, the supervision means that all Executive Council decisions have to be shared with the Government Representative without delay, so the Council is directly affected.

McKenzie motivated the appeal in emphasizing that the consecutive phases of the procedure to come to an instruction like this were not followed by the Ministry. Instead, the supervision was imposed quite abruptly.

She also pointed at various inconsistencies in the Ministry’s motivation for the supervision on the basis of financial mismanagement. The appointment of a new investment officer without prior approval is an issue that the previous responsible Commissioner has already admitted was a result of misjudgement on his part. It can therefore not be used as justification for supervision, since it was not part of a pattern and did not happen again, according to McKenzie.

The appointment of her brother in another position did not go through, which McKenzie used to illustrate that the system of checks and balances actually works and does not require higher supervision.

Zaandam emphasized that no law was broken by any staff appointment and that if this turns out to be the case, the Governor and Government Representative are just as much to blame, because they were part of all procedures.

McKenzie concluded that the decision to impose supervision was based on arbitrary, subjective conclusions, while it makes it more difficult to actually remedy the situation.

Later, she also stated that there is no identification of what the actual problems are that need to be solved. “Is there a file? What are the points?" she asked.

She also stated there are solid agreements with CFT that work well. “So why is this supervision necessary? It is premature,” she maintained.


No boycott

The Ministry denied that the decision came out of the blue and stated that expertise and manpower had been offered to the Island Government on several occasions. It was said that there was no boycott of Statia, as McKenzie had mentioned, but “We do not feel to discuss other matters while the efficiency of the island’s administration is not in order,” said Director Kingdom Affairs at the Ministry of Home Affairs Erwin Arkenbout. The multi-annual plan, however, has been put on hold, he admitted.

He gave the high staff turnover and resulting lack of continuity as an explanation for the observed financial inefficiency and made a reference to the dismissal of the Head of the Finance Department. McKenzie explained that he was not sent away, but his contract had expired.

In summarizing, Arkenbout said the problems had grown so out of hand that these could not be solved without external assistance and concluded that imposing supervision was a matter of drawing the line. This far and no further,” he said.


Good governance

Chairman Spijk wanted to establish if the imposition of higher supervision was in keeping with the principles of good governance. He tried to establish if supervision had been imposed abruptly or whether the Ministry of Home Affairs had tried to warn the island and gave it the chance to avoid it.

Zaandam stated that the recent meeting with Secretary-General Richard van Zwol could not be described as a consultation, since Van Zwol simply announced what his advice to the Minister was going to be. Arkenbout denied that such was the nature of that meeting.

Spijk also wanted to know why the existing process with CFT had to be cut short by this wider, more general supervision and why a more limited, custom-made measure could not have been found. Arkenbout asserted that a “robust measure” was the only way out of the problems.

Isabella explained how a Steering Committee was put together as per Minister Plasterk’s instruction, with the Commissioners included as members. However, they refused to participate with only the Governor and Island Secretary attending meetings.

Zaandam explained that logic dictates that Commissioners cannot take part because the Steering Committee is the result of a decision they have appealed. “Participation would mean acknowledgement of its legitimacy,” Zaandam said.


Action plan

Isabella said an action plan has been put together and sent to the Minister. For the financial aspects an experts committee was created, which will submit a financial management plan next week. This plan will then be incorporated into the overall action plan. Plasterk has set January 1, 2018, as the date for completion of the action plan.

Spijk asked the CFT representatives why they did not take steps to get Statia’s financial situation improved, despite recognizing the signals that things were not going in the right direction.

Gittens replied that they did advise the Executive Council to put a ban on new financial obligations. He also stated that CFT had said that if there would be no balanced budget by July 18, they would “most probably” issue the advice to the minister to impose prior supervision.

Zaandam and McKenzie both said that when they asked the Ministry for consultation and support, they were consistently referred to Isabella, who then referred them on to the Steering Committee, which they both considered not very helpful or constructive.

McKenzie explained that a local financial committee had also been put in place to help with the budgets and financial reporting. The concept budget amendment will be ready next week, she added. “There obviously is progress,” Spijk concluded.

Gumbs cabinet seeking to dissolve Parliament, call new election Dec. 8

page1a116~ PM: NAf. 150,000 available for new elections ~


PHILIPSBURG--One day after Parliament passed a motion of no confidence against the Gumbs Cabinet, the Council of Ministers is seeking to dissolve Parliament and have new elections called on Tuesday, December 8.

Prime Minister Marcel Gumbs announced at a press conference on Thursday that based on legal advice received the Council had decided to use Article 59 of the Constitution to dissolve Parliament by resolution and call new elections. A National Decree (landsbesluit) to this effect was prepared and submitted to Governor Eugene Holiday with a request for him to sign it. Gumbs said the Council was awaiting a response from the Governor.

Gumbs said he and the other members of the Council had been shocked by news of the vote of no confidence on Wednesday and the cabinet believed a new election was necessary, as the country was feeling the effects of the constant changes in short-lived Governments in the last five years.

“We are not calling elections because we feel that we have to stay as Minsters. Each of us has things that we would like to do and we dropped these things and tried to lead this Government in the right direction,” he said.

“There will not be any Mexican standoff or any St. Maarten standoff, but the people of this country deserve an opportunity to go to the polls and to analyse all those who have been elected in the past and make up their minds. … If they want the same players in Parliament then God bless the people, but we believe very strongly that the time is right to make use of Article 59 provided in the Constitution of St. Maarten.”

The National Decree sent to the Governor recommends that elections be called on December 8 and the new Parliament would convene on December 30.

Gumbs said he was cognisant that there would be a lot of discussion on this subject. He already has heard that discussions are being held to expand the new parliamentary majority from eight to nine. However, he asked what could be expected a year from now.

He said every time Government changed there was a delay before work could resume, as a new minister and cabinet took office and first had to become with the issues.

“We feel that with the advice received, that we have all rights to make this move,” he said.

Asked by a member of the media whether funds were available to hold elections this year, given the budgetary constraints, Gumbs said an amount of NAf. 150,000 could be allocated from the General Affairs Ministry for this purpose. He said the 2014 parliamentary elections had cost the country around NAf. 90,000.

He said a change of Government would not dig into Government’s coffers, as ministers had to sit at least a year before they could come into consideration for a minister’s “pension.” Also, six members of the Council are currently of pensionable age and would not be eligible for pension had they sat a year.

However, Finance Minister Martin Hassink said changing Government does cost money, as projects could be cancelled, and results in loss of productivity.

Justice Minister Dennis Richardson said members of the cabinets of the various Prime Ministers also had to be given severance pay, which also built cost.

Gumbs said he had been in transit in Puerto Rico, on his way back to St. Maarten from New York where he had been attending the United Nations (UN) General Assembly with the Kingdom Delegation, when he received the news about the no-confidence motion against the Council. An extraordinary meeting of the Council of Ministers was called and the matter was “analysed and discussed.” Legal and constitutional advice was sought on how to proceed.

Asked whether the Council members were prepared to submit their resignations and demit office if the Governor denied the request to dissolve Parliament, Gumbs said: “We haven’t reached that bridge as yet.”

Asked whether calling new elections would solve the problem of the constant falling of Government, he said every time this had happened in the past, “we went down the left road. Let us try the road to the right, which the constitution gives us.”



Gumbs also took aim at the motion passed by Parliament, during the press conference. He said that although Wednesday’s meeting had been called to discuss the state of affairs of Government-owned companies, none of the Ministers in Government had been invited to be present at this meeting to discuss this specific agenda point. He speculated that perhaps there had been no intention to have a debate about Government-owned companies.

“I bring this up because … if you will have debate about an issue, we expect that a Minister would be called to give account,” he said.

Parliament has been calling in Ministers to discuss issues at every opportunity over the last nine months. Gumbs said his intention was not to contradict or get into any debate on any issue with Parliament on the motion it had passed, but clarity needed to be made on some of the issues raised in the motion.

Alluding to the statements in the motion that there was an “absence of a measurable Government programme,” Gumbs said everyone knew that Government had been through a process and the programme had been delayed. However, he said a governing programme eventually had been finalised.

The comments on the governing programme “beat” the PM, particularly as three of the Members of Parliament (MPs) who are signatories to the motion were part of the Government that had accepted and presented the governing programme to the Council.

Regarding the reference in the motion to lack of leadership, Gumbs said the cabinet had been faced with many challenges since it took office on December 19, 2014. The Council spent eight months “outing fires” it had not started and “cleaning up mess” it had not made, he said.

He also alluded to the reference in the motion about the untenable situation at “most” Government-owned companies and entities such as St. Maarten Housing Development Foundation (SMHDF).

According to Gumbs, when the former Government and former Housing Minister Maurice Lake had an opportunity to make a decision to re-appoint members to the SMHDF board they had declined to do so, leaving the decision up to the incoming Government and, because the appointments of board members are tied to a time limit, the decision of the former Government not to appoint someone meant the current Government had “lost” its authority to appoint members to the foundation’s supervisory board. This also meant the foundation had rights to appoint its own candidates to fill the positions.

The constant falling of Government in St. Maarten has made the country the “laughingstock” of the rest of the world, Gumbs argued. He has been asked about stability in St. Maarten at many overseas forums he attended, including at the recent UN forum he attended in New York.

“I was at the UN and the question popped up – Is St. Maarten going to have a stable Government? – and while I was flying at 33,000 feet in the air, the Government fell,” Gumbs said.

Also attending Thursday’s press conference were Ministers Rafael Boasman, Rita Bourne-Gumbs and Claret Connor. Minister Ernest Sams was expected to return to the island on Thursday and could not be present.  

Plasterk regrets fall of Gumbs cabinet

THE HAGUE--Dutch Minister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Ronald Plasterk said on Thursday that he regretted the resignation of the St. Maarten Government headed by Prime Minister Marcel Gumbs. He urged the next Government to work in the general interest.

Without wanting to become involved in local party politics, Plasterk said he regretted the resignation of the Gumbs cabinet for two reasons: the good cooperation he had with Gumbs and the fact that too many changes of Government were not good for a country.

“The basis of cooperation with Prime Minister Gumbs was good. He was able to make a strong point for St. Maarten. I had a very angry Prime Minister on the phone after the visit of Dutch National Police Chief Gerard Bouman to St. Maarten,” Plasterk told The Daily Herald in an interview on Thursday.

“Secondly, many changes of Government are not good for a country. A lot is being invested in relations, in the exchange of knowledge and in learning to appreciate one another. For instance, the gathering in New York at the United Nations this week where four Prime Ministers and the King got together. It is not a good thing for continuity when new faces show up the next time.”

Asked if there had not also been tensions with the Gumbs Government, Plasterk said this also had been the case with previous coalitions of the St. Maarten Government after the last elections. “I am merely establishing that there have been many changes of Government,” he said.

Having a Government that completes the entire governing period is in St. Maarten’s best interest, said Plasterk. “It isn’t about Government A or B. Important is that a Government for once completes its governing period. That is in the people’s best interest.”

A new Government that solely works for the general interest is also in the best interest of the people, he said: “People should be able to count on a Government that solely uses its power for the general interest and not for their own interest. That is also the basis for good governance. There can be no other interest than the general interest.”

As for the motion the St. Maarten Parliament adopted on Wednesday calling for the resignation of Attorney-General Guus Schram because of the latter’s remarks about integrity in St. Maarten, Plasterk said this was clearly a case of the division of powers, the so-called Trias Politica, which separates the Legislature (Parliament), the Executive Branch (Government) and Judiciary (Courts).

“It is not up to the Parliament to render judgement on the Attorney-General. It is up to the St. Maarten Minister of Justice to respond to the Attorney-General’s remarks. It seems clear to me that this is a case of the division of powers,” Plasterk stated.

Sarah: Dismissed ministers cannot turn around to dissolve Parliament

page3c116~ Ministers should resign ~

PHILIPSBURG--Democratic Party (DP) leader Member of Parliament (MP) Sarah Wescot-Williams says ministers who are dismissed cannot “turn around and dissolve Parliament.”

She was reacting to news that the Gumbs cabinet, against whom a motion of no confidence was passed on Wednesday, had submitted a National Decree to Governor Eugene Holiday on Thursday to dissolve Parliament and call new elections.

Wescot-Williams said the move by the Gumbs’ cabinet “could have been anticipated,” because Government had been “throwing this around for some time.”

“There is a constitutional history behind that legislation [to dissolve Parliament – Ed.] and it surely is not that ministers who are dismissed by means of a parliamentary motion can turn around and dissolve the Parliament,” she said. “Just imagine, if that was a legal recourse then any time a Parliament uses its democratic and constitutional mandate to dismiss one or more ministers, they could turn around and dissolve the same Parliament.

“Then there would be no use for the basic constitutional tenet of ministerial responsibility. The political world would be on its head. When there is no confidence, there is no confidence. The constitutional jurisprudence is clear.”

She said too that there was no impasse in Parliament or between Parliament and Government. “Had the Government received its marching orders and there was evidence of a stalemate in Parliament such as no fractions and/or persons willing to work together, that is something else. But right now, the dismissed ministers should have already done as the law prescribes and immediately made their positions available,” she said.

She stressed that St. Maarten had to pursue some electoral reforms as well as additional legislation for cases such as these. “The constitution also gives that possibility. At least you could legislate additional regulations in the case of motions of no confidence. In the meantime, once a motion of no confidence is given, the members of Government need to tender their resignations,” she said.

The Treaty in Full

Due to recent developments and comments, The Daily Herald thought it useful to publish the complete text of the so-called Dutch American Friendship Treaty so readers can make up their own minds as to what it means or should mean.

 *Treaty of Friendship, Commerce and Navigation*

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