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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.

GEBE overhauls to be finalised, maintenance schedule to resume

page6a116~ Management agreement on horizon ~


PHILIPSBURG--While deferred maintenance and ageing machinery form part of the problems faced recently by GEBE, the process of upgrading and producing water and electricity can still always be affected by unforeseen circumstances. GEBE is in the beginning stages of working together with a manufacturing and maintenance company that would help to deliver a better product to the consumer.

Also, while consumers have been frustrated in light of recent outages and load-shedding across the districts, the situation would have been even worse had it not been for some hotels agreeing to use their own generators.

These were some of the points shared by various department heads and Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Rene Gartner of the utilities company in a press conference on Thursday, aimed at addressing the background of recent outages and sharing plans for tackling obstacles.

Conditions are expected to stabilise by the end of next week, when the ongoing overhaul of two large engines, now down, is complete. Older engines on standby are being used, but these are not the most efficient, “So if one engine trips now, we are short of power … and then we go to load-shedding,” said Power Plant Manager Kenrick Chittick.

Shortly thereafter, probably in mid-October, the company will continue with the overhaul of another engine, continuing its maintenance schedule. Next year, another four engines will be overhauled.

“We want to make sure that by the end of the year we have everything in tiptop shape so that we can reorganise our maintenance schedule, stick to it, and deliver reliable power,” said Gartner.

The hotels have been of great assistance, representatives said, reducing the need for more load-shedding. The company aims at limiting load-shedding to any area to a maximum of two hours, and is trying to avoid cutting power to priority commercial areas such as Philipsburg, St. Maarten Medical Center, Princess Juliana International Airport, the school districts during school hours, and the company’s water production and pumping facilities.

The company also has to play the load-shedding schedule by ear to an extent, so there are limitations to the ability to forewarn, and GEBE has resorted to posting updates throughout the day on social media, much to the contention of consumers hit by outages unexpectedly.

The fire on September 28, which resulted in a widespread outage, was caused by a fuel leak that led to only minimum damage and was addressed within minutes, but it took four to five hours to let the engine cool to a safe level, replace damaged cables and clean before it was up and running again.

On the same day, another engine that had been running for weeks and was extremely hot also suffered a failure.

Chittick pointed out that when an engine failed it would be quite hot and could not be repaired until it cooled down. This can take up to eight hours, Gartner said, but Chittick added that employees had been getting down to work with protective gloves and other gear within two hours, with engines still hot. Engines are running at 80 to 90 per cent load, 24 hours a day, he said.

There is also a night schedule for maintenance in place at the moment.

Chittick explained that the maintenance schedule this year had started out well, but unexpectedly realised during the overhaul of two engines, components needed to be replaced to prevent damage to equipment.

Some parts had to be cast because they are no longer manufactured. There also were delays in delivery of these components. The engines had already been in use for 15 years. The situation caused a setback of around three months to the maintenance schedule.

Later, another unit failed when a bearing rolled and damaged a crank shaft, a critical part of an engine. This had to be repaired immediately and it takes time to have the technical process done properly.

Then another two component failures were experienced in a short time during an overhaul to an engine in August.

Gartner hopes that more practical insight can be provided in an upcoming open house for the media. It is also hoped that students will join the tour and gain exposure to the field. GEBE also hosted an open house and plant tour for the public over the weekend.


Possible Solution

In seeing the challenges coming, GEBE also started exploring working together with a company that manufactures and services engines for some 20 regional power plants, which can offer equipment and management services, Gartner said.

GEBE representatives have met with an agent of that company, and are now waiting on a proposal for evaluation. The parties will possibly sign a maintenance agreement in the coming period.

“While we plan our own maintenance and order parts, they have maybe 20 clients in the region, all having the same demand,” GEBE representatives noted. The company manufactures and sells engines to the islands, and has a wide overview of what parts and engines are being serviced or replaced, as well as the distribution of technicians.

Gaining St. Maarten as a client also would help them to make the most of logistics, Garner said, and result in more competitive prices for GEBE. That way, both price and management quality can become better.

In an invited comment, he said this did not typically translate to lower pricing to consumers, because changes and innovation needed to lower prices are balanced with the cost of upgrading. However, without upgrades, prices to the consumer would keep becoming steeper.

Gumbs cabinet seeking to dissolve Parliament and call new elections

page1a116~Gumbs: 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 several legal advices received last night, the Council made a decision to use Article 59 of the constitution to dissolve parliament. A National Decree (landsbesluit) to dissolve parliament and to call elections was prepared and submitted to Governor Eugene Holiday with a request for him to sign it. The Prime Minister said the Council is now awaiting a response from the Governor on the request.

  The Prime Minister, who said he and the other members of the Council were shocked with the vote of no confidence, said the cabinet believes that the country has undergone a lot in the past five years with multiple changes in government, which have been short lived, not lasting for more than a year. “And the people of St. Maarten and this country do not deserve this treatment. I am convinced that the time has come to go back to the public and give them an opportunity to go to the polls and elect a new set of people to take a decision to represent the people. We have become the laughing stock of the world,” Gumbs told reporters.

  He said if elections were to be called, an amount of NAf. 150,000 can be made available for elections from government’s coffers.

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

  Also attending Thursday’s press conference were ministers Rafael Boasman, Rita Bourne-Gumbs, Dennis Richardson, Claret Connor and Martin Hassink. Minister Ernest Sams was off island on a tourism related matter and could not be present.  

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