~ 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.