~ Motion to be presented Wednesday ~
PHILIPSBURG--Members of Parliament (MPs) across party lines firmly denounced the Dutch government's instruction to Governor Eugene Holiday for a more thorough screening of incoming ministers from the United People's (UP) party-led government, during an urgent plenary session of Parliament on Monday.
A motion on this issue is expected to be presented when the meeting, which was adjourned Monday evening, reconvenes on Wednesday at 10:00am.
UP leader Theo Heyliger proposed that St. Maarten invite the various fractions in the Parliaments of Curaçao and Aruba to come to St. Maarten to discuss "what is happening in the Kingdom." He proposed that part of the Parlatino budget be used for this.
"What starts in St. Maarten does not end in St. Maarten. It will not end in St. Maarten, it will continue into the other islands of the Dutch Caribbean," Heyliger said as a basis of his proposal.
He said St. Maarten had been at the forefront of establishing rules and laws. The country was one of the first in the Kingdom to establish screening laws passed by Parliament. If there were no reasons for these laws to have been broken, why is there now an instruction to the governor? he asked.
Heyliger said St. Maarten's screening process had worked in the past with proposed candidate ministers being turned down. He said UP was not opposed to screening, as it had nothing to hide.
"You can take me through the wringer. My body is full of scars and bites, so a few more it isn't going to make a big difference to me, but those scars have been inflicted by my St. Maarten people and I have no problem with them being inflicted by my St. Maarten people," Heyliger said.
He added that he would have a problem with the violation of the current laws as the Dutch Government was attempting with this latest move. He started his presentation in Parliament by saying that this was how the process had started when his grandfather, the late Dr. Claude Wathey, had been incarcerated.
He said the additional screening process would mean that the Dutch could use "melee" to deny someone the opportunity to become a minister. He said if the screening to become a minister or Prime Minister would affect his socialising with persons in the community, he did not want the position.
Heyliger said he never had aspired to become a minister or Prime Minister growing up, so not having any of these positions was "no problem" for him. However, he said his parliamentary seat had been given to him by the persons who had voted for him.
National Alliance (NA) leader MP William Marlin said it was persons in St. Maarten who "gave life" to the discussions in The Hague regarding integrity issues in the country.
He said it was former minister Roland Duncan who had accused "Heyliger of buying votes" in a media publication in September 2010 and that the Dutch had picked up on it a few days later, seeking clarity on vote-buying in St. Maarten.
"It's not a Dutch minister who said this. It was an Antillean minister who said this about St. Maarten and the Dutch picked it up," Marlin said.
He said too that it was a St. Maarten MP who had accused a political party of bribing him with US $250,000, then $300,000 for his parliamentary support which had led to a formal complaint being made to the prosecutor in 2013.
Marlin also alluded to the "Bada Bing tapes," noting that when the tapes had been released, the club owner had indicated that it was "the leader of a political party" who had approached him to record the tape to blackmail an MP into supporting his political party.
Marlin said these were not "Dutch stories made up in De Telegraaf, they were things said here by us about us. They were allegations made by people here; they were not stories fabricated in Holland."
Marlin said there was talk that democracy in St. Maarten was under siege, but democracy could be under siege only if in a democratic society where elections were supposed to be free they were not.
Regarding the screening process, Marlin said the process had worked in the past by failing candidate ministers and he was confident that if the same process was applied today, St. Maarten could take care of its own screening.
"It is only if Dutch MPs or the Kingdom Council of Ministers has information that we don't have that we can see a justifiable reason for them to bend the governor's hand behind his back," Marlin said.
He said he had his concerns about the process. He believes the Kingdom Government has instructed Holiday prematurely, because "if the system worked in 2010, 2012 and 2013 it can work now again."
Marlin said NA looked forward to the motion and, depending on how it was phrased, it would have the party's support.
UP MP Silvio Matser said it appeared as though Members of the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament André Bosman and Ronald van Raak had "the heat" for St. Maarten and this bothered him.
He said if these Dutch MPs were so concerned they should "write out of Holland and write in to St. Maarten," contest an election and see whether the electorate would endorse them.
He said Dutch MPs had "a lot of friends" in St. Maarten who were feeding them information about St. Maarten. Matser questioned whether some persons were "traitors." He alluded to a photo he had seen with former DP MP Roy Marlin with a Dutch MP and said he would not be captured in such a photo, as he only took such photos with friends.
Matser said it appeared as though there was some hidden agenda behind the instruction to Holiday and said while it was not known now, in time it would be revealed. He said he had received many calls from concerned persons after the instruction was issued.
He urged people not to be fearful, even though the Dutch could use "scare tactics" and threaten to put persons in the Pointe Blanche prison since they "control the justice system."
Former United St. Maarten (US) Party MP Leona Marlin-Romeo, who said Sunday that she would declare herself independent, said she found the instruction unconstitutional.
She said screening could not be done in a secretive manner without the candidate knowing the details. St. Maarten's constitution, she added, must be respected. No one is obligated by law to give permission to anyone to violate their fundamental right to privacy.
Heyliger becoming Prime Minister, she added, was miniscule in this process and there must be another agenda. According to her, the new government should be given an opportunity to work on recommendations.
She also questioned why the Netherlands was using two measuring sticks. She said she supported screening and vetting, but it must be conducted by competent professionals in St. Maarten. Romeo-Marlin said she would be submitting a motion in the second round.
UP MP Johan "Janchi" Leonard said the PricewaterhouseCoopers integrity report was based purely on "melee." Several other MPs alluded to the report being based on melee.
However, in his remarks later in the meeting National Alliance (NA) MP Christopher Emmanuel said if the report had been based on "melee," why was St. Maarten so determined to execute its recommendations?
He said when the integrity report had been completed the Dutch Government had requested a response. The response bears the signature of Prime Minister Sarah Wescot-Williams and Justice Minister Dennis Richardson.
Emmanuel said St. Maarten had an integrity issue. He said, "We can go on and on and say what we want about the Dutch ..., but the issue is not the Dutch the issue is us – we. We have the problem. We created the problem, not the Dutch."
He said that with respect to the use of the term "mafia," as MP Theo Heyliger said he had been as called, former Island Council member Julian Rollocks, who ran on UP's slate in the August 29 election, was the one who had called Heyliger a mafia "trying to swindle the crane from us."
"No one from the Dutch voted for anyone in here, so don't divert the attention from the real issue," Emmanuel said, noting that when someone could not obtain a business licence or building permit it was not "the Dutch doing it, it's us doing it to ourselves. And here we are in the hall of the people and it's the Dutch. If the Harbour bidding is done like a cartel it's not the Dutch."
Emmanuel said if MPs did not like what was taking place they should "get out" from under the Netherlands. However, he said, many persons had been complaining, about the Dutch, but were "still holding on to the frock of the queen."
National Alliance (NA) MP George Pantophlet said St. Maarten was faced with many problems that it had brought upon itself. Pantophlet said he always had maintained as a former Island Council member that St. Maarten should not let "others" do things that it could do for itself.
He said he agreed with sentiments that the instruction placed Holiday in an awkward position, but Holiday had to decide for himself how he would handle the matter. He said while many were saying that the Dutch were coming, the Dutch were already here.
"Look at judicial system: they are here. Look at finances: they are here," Pantophlet said. "The issue now is how do we get them out of here?"
He said the Dutch seemed to be "hell-bent" on ensuring that the incoming government would not be installed and questioned whether they had an agenda. "They always have an agenda. They are businesspeople and they have a good nose for where money is."
He said St. Marten was in a precarious financial situation with many issues facing the people and questioned what MPs were doing as representatives to help the people.
Stand for something
UP MP Tamara Leonard aid the instruction was a direct violation of St. Maarten's constitution. She said if the country did not take a stand for something, it would fall for anything. St. Maarten, she noted, has a screening process that was used to approve and deny ministerial candidates in the past and she questioned what was wrong with the process now.
UP MP Dr. Lloyd Richardson questioned whether St. Maarten would have to pay for the instruction. He said St. Maarten was a young nation, just four years old, while the Netherlands was 200 years old. He said the parameters of the screening process were not known.
Separation of powers
United St. Maarten Party MP Frans Richardson said St. Maarten had urgent issues that needed to be addressed. He is concerned about the MPs who were sitting in Parliament while holding the function of ministers. He alluded to Prime Minister Sarah Wescot-Williams and Ministers Cornelius de Weever and Maurice Lake, who were MPs and ministers at the same time.
"This can't continue," Richardson said, noting that there was supposed to be a clear separation of power between the executive and legislative branches of government. He questioned what would happen if he were to call one of the ministers with dual functions to Parliament.
As it related to the instruction, Richardson said Holiday had accepted the job and he had to execute what he thought was best. He said while he would support the still-to-be-presented UP motion, he would not be happy with a motion that had "no teeth." He also called for MPs to "stop bringing down" each other in public.
Beginning of the end
UP MP Maurice Lake urged MPs to take a stand against the instruction to Holiday, as it represented what he said was "the beginning of the end" of St. Maarten if allowed. If the instruction is accepted, the Dutch Government would be able at any time to instruct the governor against signing any other national decrees.
He said the country had reached a point where its autonomy was at stake. The vetting process for candidate ministers is regulated by law and changing this process goes against St. Maarten's constitution and rule of law, he said.
St. Maarten has capable people to perform screening, he said, adding that if there was corruption in the country the relevant laws could be used to investigate and prosecute.
"We have an independent legal system that can do it, but we want to come through the back door and break your own constitution, which is totally wrong."
He said Heyliger was "just an excuse for the Dutch to come in and take over St. Maarten." Lake said Holiday should not follow the instruction and that he should instead "be there for our people."
Democratic Party MP Cornelius de Weever said the instruction was unconstitutional and a human rights violation. He said while St Maarten had been battling Hurricane Gonzalo it appeared as though Holland had chosen to create its own storm. "But just like we were able to battle and weather the storm of Gonzalo we will weather this storm together as well," De Weever said.
Also speaking at the meeting was UP MP Franklin Meyers. NA MP Silveria Jacobs was unable to attend the meeting due to medical issues.
New President of Parliament Sarah Wescot-Williams chaired the meeting.