PHILIPSBURG, St. Maarten - It is nine in the morning and a purple dawn is rising with difficulty in the east while a strong ice-wind is blowing over the cold North Sea to the west. It is February 2008 and I am standing with fifty of my fellow Master students at the Volgermeer Polder, a former toxic waste dump for the city of Amsterdam. In front of us two million square meters of garbage and dangerous chemicals are being transformed into a natural reserve by engineers contracted by the city of Amsterdam. My professor, Dr. Joyeeta Gupta –a Nobel Prize Laureate- lectures on the process of changing a national health hazard into a viable natural reserve.
While listening to Dr Gupta speak I couldn’t help but notice the similarities between Volgermeer and our Landfill back home on St. Maarten. The Volgermeer polder, which is approximately ten kilometers north of Amsterdam, is an area of land saturated with dykes and streams and lakes. It used to be a peat farm, the peat used to warm beautiful Amsterdam throughout its history. At about the turn of the last century the city decided to get rid of its garbage at the polder, ferrying in mass amounts of waste on garbage boats and dumping it in the lakes and bogs which dot the area. As Amsterdam grew in size so did their garbage and soon the dump spread to immense dimensions. The area was plagued by fires caused by escaping gas and the residents in the area started to complain about their health: strange infections, respitory problems and diseases caused by the lowering of their immune systems. All of this sounded eerily familiar.
The city of Amsterdam closed the area in the eighties and sent teams of scientist to monitor and take samples of the soil and water. They soon found that dangerous chemicals that leaked into the soil and groundwater, chemicals such as Agent Orange, famous for being used in the Vietnam war, and PCBs –a pesticide that causes deformities in both animals and humans.
As we started our tour of the area a representative of the company that was involved in the project started to explain the process by which a waste dump was transformed into a nature reserve. The streams and lakes that are a part of the polder were dredged and the silt used to cover the dump to about two meters high. The city of Amsterdam also provided soil from its various building projects to cover the dump and a special layer of plastic-like organic material was placed on top, a process called natural capping. This material, which is widely used and quite inexpensive, allows for the gasses and fumes to escape while preventing further contamination to the area. On top of this layer peat moss and grasses were planted which eventually dissolved the garbage under it and in a few short years a viable ecosystem started to develop with clean water with fish and frogs and swans and ducks.
I started to think that perhaps this may be a solution for us here as well. Even with some of the advances that Sint Maarten has had regarding conservation in the last four years there are still three issues which blemish our reputation in terms of environmental protection. One is the need for a terrestrial park to protect and conserve our land-based flora and fauna; the second is the continued challenges faced by our wetlands; and the third, and this is by far the issue of most concern both for the health of our environment and that of our population, is the Dump.
With the amount of chemicals and garbage entering into our soil, wetlands and into our lungs when the dump is on fire we need to address the issue of the landfill yesterday. The heavy metals and other pollutants present on the Dump and the surrounding area are a national health hazard. A waste-to-energy plant is good and very necessary to mine the current landfill. But why not make it better? A waste-to-energy plant combined with a complete rehabilitation of the area, including that of the Great Salt Pond, which is the reason why Sint Maarten, our Soualiga, exists in the first place. If the Pond is dredged and the silt used, if the tons of soil from all of the projects current and planned are used to realize a sustainable solution for one of the most embarrassing scars on our island, then yes we will be at the vanguard of forward green thinking in this region. For it is only when we solve the issue of a landfill in our capital and in our natural and national heritage, can we speak of sustainability.
I remember the tour being over and having to return to my tiny apartment in the city to prepare for the next day’s class. I remember how hard it was for me to focus because I couldn’t help but think how useful this would be for my home. Imagine a green park with paths and fountains and bird-watching blinds and swings for children where garbage once stank in the blazing sun and where flies and midges once made life miserable. Imagine it being the centre of the capital of a new St. Maarten; the fact that it was a dump a vague and unpleasant memory, like the memory of the taste of aloes on our sucking-thumbs as children. Imagine the Salt Pond, the cradle of our society, gently lapping at clean green shores. Imagine our grandchildren, students at our university, being lectured on how a dump was turned into a natural reserve. Imagine the lecturer, one of our children, winning the Nobel Prize for Science. Anything is possible under the Caribbean sun.
PHILIPSBURG, St. Maarten - Today, two months after the new Council of Ministers was sworn in, we still do not have a Minister of Tourism, Economic Affairs, Traffic and Telecommunication (TEATT). The blame for this has been placed on the vetting or screening process. However, in truth and in fact, the blame lies squarely on the shoulders of our parliament.
Now, the USP will have to present another candidate minister and the screening process will start all over again. We trust that it does not take another two months. Who is to tell, though, if this candidate will pass the screening, which is shrouded in a cloak of mystery! With the exception of the Governor and the Prime Minister, no one else seems to know, for sure, what exactly the criteria are for the screening of candidate ministers. We expect the Prime Minister to be transparent about this issue and to enlighten the candidate ministers, the political parties and the general public about the screening criteria, the procedures and how the final decision is made to pass or fail a candidate minister. SMCP believes that the screening criteria should be clearly established up front and that political parties should be aware of these before submitting the name(s) of their candidate minister(s) to the Formateur.
The obscurity as well as the insecurity surrounding the whole screening process could have been avoided, if parliament had taken the bull by the horns and dealt with the law pertaining to the screening some years ago. Take Curacao for example. Shortly after 10-10- 10, the Parliament of Curacao annulled their original screening ordinance and passed a revised one, in 2012. Nearly seven years after 10-10- 10, Sint Maarten is still using the original 10-10- 10 screening ordinance which is apparently outdated and full of flaws.
St. Maarten has a very short history, as far as vetting or screening of candidate ministers is concerned. It is unfortunate that the first three governments of Country Sint Maarten never underwent any serious screening. In its Integrity Report of 2014, the Bob Wit Committee clearly pointed out that the screening was a mess and even stated that the then Prime Minister as well as the Ministers were in violation of the law and could be 2 sentenced to a maximum of three years imprisonment. Seeing that governments were forming and falling so frequently, the Kingdom Government felt that they should step in to ensure, the much needed integrity in the government of Sint Maarten. Consequently, prior to the formation of the fourth government in 2014, the Kingdom Government issued a directive, instructing the Governor, to ensure that the screening of candidate ministers be done in a thorough manner. I believe that, if the Sint Maarten Government and Parliament had taken the screening process seriously from the beginning, there would have been absolutely no reason for the Kingdom Government to step in.
Almost seven years after 10-10- 10, Sint Maarten’s parliamentarians are still complaining about the screening, when all the while it was up to them to do something about it. Finally, after five years, a draft of the screening law, entitled “Ordinance Regulating the Integrity of (candidate) Ministers”, was officially submitted to Parliament, on January 20 th 2016, by then Member of Parliament, Dr. Van Hugh Cornelius de Weever. If parliamentarians were really concerned or dissatisfied with the screening, they would have been more zealous in seeing this law move from the Ad Hoc Committee of Integrity to the Central Committee and finally to the Public meeting where it would have been approved. It is good to note that when this ordinance was submitted, the members of the Ad Hoc Integrity Committee were: Sarah Wescott-Williams, George Pantophlet, Cornelius de Weever, Leona Marlin-Romeo, Frans Richardson, Maurice Lake, Franklyn Myers and Silvio Matser, who did not attend any of the three meetings that the Committee held. Regrettably, neither the Committee members nor the other parliamentarians did anything with the draft ordinance. They just sat on it and allowed it to accumulate dust. SMCP calls on parliament to handle this draft ordinance as soon as possible and ensure that it is transparent and fair to all concerned.
The next ordinance that Parliament should deal with immediately is the Ordinance Regulating the Integrity of Parliamentarians. The Bob Wit Integrity Committee also seriously questioned the integrity of our parliamentarians and made very pointed recommendations such as: establishing a code of ethics, making public all paid and unpaid side jobs, setting up a public registry to record all gifts accepted by parliamentarians, determining whether side jobs are permissible and if so reducing the salaries accordingly. The report also calls for parliamentarians to declare their assets, before and after taking office, as well as for the establishment of an Integrity Committee.
If parliament had followed up on the recommendations in Bob Wit’s Integrity Report, the screening of candidate Ministers would not be a big issue today and the integrity level within parliament would have been higher. SMCP is expecting parliament to work on these two ordinances as soon as possible.
PHILIPSBURG, St. Maarten - One of the things we must give our Members of Parliament credit for is the large number of motions presented to and passed by Parliament. Since 2010, seventy-five motions were submitted, 22 were rejected and 53 were passed, according to the 2015/2016 Annual Report of Parliament. All in all, not bad for a young legislative body! Does the activity of presenting, discussing, rejecting or passing motions tell us something about the work of parliament? Yes, it does. It tells us that a lot of energy is put into writing, discussing and passing motions in vain. In other words, if no action ensues from all this activity, then our parliamentarians are engaging in an exercise of futility and in the process, they are wasting precious tax-payers’ money.
What is a motion? It is merely a petition, asking government to take action on a matter of concern to the parliament. However, if that petition is not a matter of concern for government at that time, then the motion is shelved and never executed. It seems to me that motions, submitted and passed in our parliament, only give the impression that our parliamentarians are working. But, if we follow the motion-trail, we will see that the majority of those motions go no further than the hall of parliament.
Unfortunately, this has been the fate of most of the 53 motions that our parliament has passed. What happened to the motion that was passed, three years ago, (January 16th 2014) that requested government to explore the possibility of acquiring land in Middle Region, to build a Community Center? And what happened to the motion passed on December 3rd 2013, requesting the Minister of Health Care, Social Development and Labor to carry out a survey to determine the level of a “living wage” for Sint Maarten and to report back to Parliament within sixty days? Unfortunately, sixty days have turned into more than 3 years and the living wage has not yet been determined. What happened to the motion, passed on March 17th 2016, requesting the Minister of General Affairs to prepare and submit a plan regarding mandatory services for youngster ages 18 through 25? This motioned was to go into effect as of January, 2017. We are now in February 2017 and to this day no plan has been submitted to Parliament. What about the motion banning the use of plastic bags? What about the motions passed in 2013, concerning the protection and preservation of our national/cultural heritage such as Fort Amsterdam and Mullet Pond? On October 22nd 2014, parliament passed a motion, instructing government to set up a Committee to study, evaluate, and recommend an action plan, based on findings and recommendations of the various integrity reports. Unfortunately, no time frame was given. We are now almost 1000 days further and Parliament has not yet received the Plan of Action.
Had Parliament followed-up on this motion, we would not have had the recent integrity chamber and quartermaster dispute between Sint Maarten and the Dutch Minister of Home and Interior Affairs. The deadlines for action on all these motions have quietly passed and there has been no action by Government and no follow-up by parliament. These are just a few examples, of how parliament passes motions that yield no results whatsoever. Regrettably, members of parliament never follow up or call out a minister or the government, on their blatant refusal to execute parliament’s motions.
So far, the only motions that parliament follows up on, are motions of non-confidence. It is amazing how quickly parliament ensures that these motions are expedited yet takes on a nonchalant and laissez-faire approach towards all the other motions.
Our parliamentarians really need to reconsider the issue of passing motions. They should make sure that the motions that they pass yield results. They should ensure that each motion answers the basic questions of who, what, why, when, where and how? Most of the time the answer to one of these questions is missing, especially the answer to when. Most motions do not have a time line or a target date, which is crucial, if parliamentarians intend to follow-up on their motions. If the date passes and a minister or government has not complied with the motion, then parliament should send reminders. If this does not work, then the minister or the government should be called to parliament to give an account. Failure to do so can lead up to a motion of non-confidence in the minister or the government. This is how parliament and individual parliamentarians should carry out their supervisory or controlling function over government. It is time that parliamentarians become proactive and make demands on government.
What about all the motions passed in parliament? Well, they are worthless if parliament does not follow up to ensure that they are executed. We trust that parliament will start doing its job!
Leader of the Sint Maarten Christian Party
PHILIPSBURG, St. Maarten - All factions of the St. Maarten Parliament supported a motion that was submitted to the House on Monday January 30th 2017, during a plenary session. The meeting was called to discuss the appointment of a quartermaster for the Integrity Chamber by the Dutch Government. During the deliberations it became clear that the validity of the Protocol that was signed between Minister of Interior Affairs and Kingdom Relations and the Minister of Justice of St. Maarten in May of 2015 became questionable. What was also clarified at least to me was that, the protocol document that was established by the two aforementioned Ministers was contingent on an ordinance that was to be voted into law. The ordinance or law was to regulate or institute an Integrity Chamber for St. Maarten.
The third point disclosed by government was that the drafting of the Integrity Chamber law received input and support from the Dutch government. This draft ordinance was debated in the St. Maarten Parliament and subsequently passed by a majority vote in 2015.
PHILIPSBURG, St. Maarten - Recently, Parliament held a meeting to discuss the appointment of a quartermaster for the Integrity Chamber by the Dutch Government. Most Parliamentarians, however, overlooked the fact that the discussion had to be focused on the process, the procedure, the legality and the validity of said appointment. With the exception of MP Sarah Wescot-Williams, parliamentarians and members of government spoke more about the Integrity Chamber. It was also very sad to observe that half of the MPs present had absolutely nothing to say about the appointment neither about the Integrity Chamber.
All the speakers practically agreed that breaches of integrity are common in Sint Maarten. And actually, the same can also be said of all countries. Each year, a list of countries is issued by Transparency International (TI), showing how each country ranks and scores as far as corruption is concerned. In 2016, TI investigated 176 countries and not one of them came close to a perfect score.
The highest score of 90 percent went to Denmark and Zealand. The Netherlands scored 83 percent and ranked as the 8th least corrupt country. During the parliamentary debates, it was said that the Dutch wanted to impose an Integrity Chamber on Sint Maarten, while they do not even have one themselves. Although the Netherlands may not have an Integrity Chamber, it has two institutions that tackle integrity issues in government.
Being a member of the GRECO (Group of States against Corruption), the Dutch government submits annual integrity reports to this European Union Entity. Furthermore, each municipality in the Netherlands has a B.I. (Bureau Integriteit or Integrity Office) which falls under BING (Bureau Integriteit Nederlandse Gemeenten). Albeit, even if the Netherlands did not have these two bodies, this does not justify Sint Maarten not having one!
An Integrity Chamber is considered the watch dog in a country that guards against all integrity breaches. Currently, the highest integrity body in Sint Maarten, is our Parliament, which has done a bad job at dealing with integrity issues, since its inception in 2010. Unfortunately, Parliament, in many instances during the past six years, succumbed to numerous integrity breaches itself.
On October 22nd 2014, Parliament passed a motion, instructing Government to establish a committee to review the findings of three integrity reports and to come up with a budget and a timeline. It is two years later and Parliament has heard nothing yet from this committee. Conversely, Parliament has also neglected, to follow up on the instructions given to government, two years ago.
Furthermore, in 2015, Parliament established an Ad Hoc Committee of Integrity which tried to establish a code of conduct for parliamentarians. Nothing came out of this exercise, because our parliamentarians did not want to be subjected to any rules. Article 64 of the Constitution gives our parliament a very strong integrity tool which is, the right to carry out an in-depth investigation into wrong-doing in parliament and in government and if need be, parliament can ultimately submit its findings to the Public Prosecutor, according to article 80 of the Rules of Order of Parliament. Regrettably, during the last six years, Parliament has never made use of this right of inquiry.
Indeed, Parliament itself, has several instruments at its disposal which can be used to effect greater integrity. Yet, Parliament has never made use of these instruments to promote integrity. Hence, we can only conclude that Parliament is either not willing or not capable of “fixing we”, to use the expression of the Prime Minister. This means then, that there is certainly a need to establish another body that is specifically charged with integrity issues. If countries, regionally and internationally, that have oversight bodies, which we call High Councils of State, still see the need to establish integrity commissions, then there must be something that an integrity commission can do that the other oversight bodies are unable to do.
It is worth mentioning here that most CARICOM countries have established integrity commissions and that since June 2015, these commissions have formed the Association of Integrity Commissions and Anti-Corruption Bodies in the Commonwealth Caribbean (AICACBCC).
Since Sint Maarten has to totally revamp its Integrity Ordinance that was rejected by the Constitutional Court, SMCP proposes that the new entity be called the Integrity Commission, in keeping with the term used by countries in the Caribbean. We also recommend that the Sint Maarten Integrity Commission seeks membership to the (AICACBCC).
The goal of the Integrity Commission is not to lock up people, even though this could be a result of its investigation, but to be the watch dog and to keep an eye on both the legislative and the executive branches of government. In addition, to uncovering corruption and exposing integrity breaches, Integrity Commissions regionally, as well as internationally, have also an educational component to their scope of duties.
They provide education and training to civil servants and government officials and they also seek to develop an integrity awareness among all citizens and to reach out to all educational institutions. Given the above information about contemporary Integrity Commissions, SMCP encourages government and parliament to take the Constitutional Court’s advice and develop an integrity commission similar to the ones in the region. SMCP believes that there is certainly a need for an Integrity Commission on Sint Maarten and the sooner the better!
PHILIPSBURG, St. Maarten - The appointment of Quartermaster Hans Leijtens, last week, came as a shock to our politicians. The Honorable Prime Minister said he was flabbergasted. The Honorable President of Parliament called the appointment provocative and Member of Parliament, Theo Heyliger, described it as vindictive. And of course, the Dutch Minister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations, Ronald Plasterk, gets the blame. However, is it fair to place all the blame on the Dutch? It takes two to tango, therefore Sint Maarten also plays a role in this whole saga.
Our Prime Minister declared, in the newspapers, that St. Maarten does not need an Integrity Chamber because we already have a number of laws such as the LMA that can be enforced. That is our problem on Sint Maarten. Indeed, we have the laws but we have never ensured that they were enforced. Consequently, lack of integrity, corruption, bribery, nepotism etc. have been the order of the day in government for years. Sint Maarten has a history of reports and investigations related to corruption and lack of integrity in government. In 1978 and in 1991, such investigations were conducted. Eventually, the government was placed under higher supervision in 1993 which lasted until March 1996. Again, between 2013 -2015 there were no less than three integrity reports plus an internal review of government done by the General Audit Chamber. The results of these reports were damaging for government as well as for parliament. One of the reports highly recommended and gave as priority the establishment of an Integrity Chamber. The necessary legislation for this was drafted and after several revisions the ordinance was passed by parliament. The ordinance was then sent to the Constitutional Court for review where it was totally dismissed and consequently returned to parliament to be rewritten.
Meanwhile, our government had approached Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Minister Plasterk, for financial and personnel assistance, in connection with the implementation and development of the Integrity Chamber. On May 2015, Justice Minister Dennis Richardson, on behalf of the government of Sint Maarten, signed a protocol with Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Minister Plasterk, in which it is agreed that the Sint Maarten Government would ensure that Parliament pass the National Integrity Chamber Ordinance, no later than June 31st 2015 and that the Dutch would appoint a quartermaster, no later than July 1st 2015, who would work together with the quartermaster, who was already appointed by Sint Maarten. It was also agreed that the cost of the Integrity Chamber would be shared by both Governments.
Even though the signed protocol permits the Kingdom Minister to unilaterally appoint the quartermaster, I agree with Prime Minister Marlin and President of Parliament Wescot-Williams that Minister Plasterk could have handled the decision with a greater degree of respect and courtesy. Sint Maarten should not have had to learn of this important appointment via the media.
However, I wonder if the Government of Sint Maarten has treated the Dutch Minister with the necessary courtesy and administrative respect? Did the Sint Maarten Government officially inform him that they were unable to meet the June 31st 2015 deadline? Now that the Integrity Chamber is derailed, has the Government given priority to the implementation of other aspects of integrity? Were integrity priorities reflected in the 2016 and 2017 budgets? Did Government and Parliament give the necessary time and attention to reviewing, debating and implementing the recommendations in the four integrity reports? Seeing that the Government had signed a protocol with Minister Plasterk, not officially notifying him of the developments surrounding the integrity reports and the integrity chamber is also a demonstration of lack of courtesy and respect on the part of Sint Maarten.
SMCP is of the opinion that the parliamentary meeting, scheduled for January 26th 2017, concerning integrity, is long overdue. However, it should not be a meeting to point fingers at who did and who didn’t do! This meeting should be one of action as to when and how to tackle the recommendations listed in the four integrity reports. It is also a known fact that the Prime Minister and the President of Parliament, have opposing views, with regard to the Integrity Chamber. Therefore, Government and Parliament should, first synchronize their positions, with regard to the Integrity Chamber. In addition, Parliament should set a time table, for the approval of the National Integrity Chamber Ordinance. Government should inform Minister Plasterk that due to extenuating circumstances, there is no work for the appointed quartermaster at this time But he can perhaps be involved in the rewriting of the Integrity Chamber Ordinance. Government and Parliament will also need to amend the budget, so as to allocate funds for the establishment and development of the Integrity Chamber. The relationship Sint Maarten versus the Dutch is not a matter to be fought out via the media. Let us go beyond the talk! Let us unite and come up with realistic plans and concrete action.
SMCP believes that after spending hundreds of thousands of guilders on integrity reports, Sint Maarten should get better results for its money. It is now up to you, Parliament and Government, to promote and implement integrity measures, so that the people can enjoy good governance. Therefore, let us not blame the Dutch.
I foresee 2017 as a very challenging year for St. Maarten in which it is going to define the future of our beautiful island and our Leaders. We are right now in the eye of the storm which is January where there is calm before the storm.
SMCP would like to commend MP drs. Rodolphe Samuel for representing Sint Maarten at Friday’s IPKO press conference on Curaçao. We feel proud, when Sint Maarteners are able to hold their own, especially when abroad. We are looking forward to MP Samuel and the rest of the Sint Maarten delegation (MP’s Sarah Wescot-Williams, Frans Richardson and Franklin Meyers), who attended the Inter-Parliamentary Kingdom Consultations, to hold a press conference on Sint Maarten, to inform our people about the outcome of the IPKO conference.
On another note, SMCP would like to ask the NA/USP/DP coalition government: where is their governing program? After signing the governing accord some two months ago and after the swearing in of the coalition government on December 20th 2016, one month ago, it is reasonable to expect that, by now, the governing program would have been released and submitted to Parliament. We know that it is available because his Excellency Governor Holiday referred to it at the swearing-in ceremony on December 20th. In addition, the Honorable Prime Minister, William Marlin also made mention of it in his New Year’s address, when he said that the Government “has produced a governing program, titled Stability for Prosperity”. From the Governor’s reference as well as the Prime Minister’s statement, we conclude that the governing program is ready. Why has it not yet been released and submitted to Parliament? I have checked the websites of government and parliament, as well as the websites of the parties forming the coalition for the governing program, but these sites have not yet released “Stability for Prosperity” either.
Last year, I wrote that, in order for parliament to be able to carry out its supervisory and monitoring function, it must be in possession of the governing program. This program, as I proposed, should be officially submitted to parliament by government and debated by parliament, for the sake of the parliamentarians as well as the general public. During the campaign period, political parties were required to publish their manifestos, outlining the intentions the party once elected. By the same token, the coalition partners should also publish their governing program and make it available to the general public so that the people will also know what the coalition partners plan to do and they can consequently hold government accountable if it does not execute according to its governing program.
When the DP government was still in opposition in Parliament, MP Sarah Wescot-Williams was very adamant about the now defunct NA/UPP coalition submitting its governing program to Parliament. In a press release, dated October 12th 2016, MP Wescot-Williams wrote that her party awaits “the publication of the NA/UPP governing accord and we hope a governing program will soon follow. After all, none of them are new to this, however their past records of presenting governing programs are not encouraging”. She then went on to list some fifteen points that she expected the NA/UPP to address in their governing program. According to her press conference on January 6th 2017, MP Wescot-Williams mentioned that upon the forming of the current NA/USP/DP Government, “the three parties signed an agreement to work together, to support the government and develop a Red, White and Blue governing program”. Now that MP Wescot-Williams is a part of the coalition, we trust that she will continue to push for the governing program to be submitted as soon as possible to parliament and to the general public.
A governing program is very important, because it describes what the government plans to do and accomplish during its four-year governing period. It is also imperative, that Parliament receives the governing program as soon as possible, in order that it can begin to carry out its supervisory role adequately by monitoring decisions and controlling actions taken by the government. In other words, the governing programs will give Parliament something to measure government by. And by the way, SMCP hopes that Parliament would also present a plan of action for the next four years, in a public meeting, as well.
The SMCP expects that, within short, the Honorable Prime Minister William Marlin will present the 2016-2020 Governing Program “Stability for Prosperity”, in a public meeting, to parliament so that parliamentarians can be given the opportunity to ask questions and receive clarification concerning it. In addition, SMCP expects that copies of Stability for Prosperity will be disseminated to the general public and that the coalition government will also inform the people, via media as well as via public- and town hall meetings, about their plans to govern the country. If they did so during the campaign, it is incumbent on them to do so now that they are in government. We are looking forward to the unveiling of the mysterious NA/USP/DP governing program as soon as possible.
I would like to wish everyone a Happy New Year and congratulate our Harbor and Airport for being named the Best Caribbean Port and Airport of 2016 by various international entities.
I also would like to commend our Honorable Governor for his "Imagine speech" at his New Year's Reception held last week Friday where he shared several imaginary projects with the general public.
I can remember last year the Florida Caribbean Cruise Association (FCCA) Executives also shared with Parliament and the people of St. Maarten areas that need improvement to enhance our Tourism product.
The Central Bank also shared their year-end report of the St. Maarten economy and projections for this year. I have also listened to our Council of Ministers speeches during our Budget debate in Parliament to pass the Budget 2017.
I fully agree with all of these speeches which are nothing new, but as our Excellency stated we have to come together as individuals, media, businesses, unions and government and put a plan action with respect to projects to move St. Maarten forward in 2017. Anyone today in Government has to be creative with a little Budget and take a hands on approach to get any project executed within Government.
The question is how we move St. Maarten forward for 2017 with a limited Budget is by setting our priorities for the year and start acting on most of these imaginary projects which are already in the making by the former Coalition Government. There is a Master Plan already on how to revitalize and bring back life in the entire Philipsburg area. Port St. Maarten also has a Master Plan for the entire Great Bay Harbor area with all stakeholders included.
As the former Chairperson of the Ad Hoc Committee of Parliament, we sent a letter to Government identifying the old Government Administration Building as the new location for our New Parliament Building and the Post Office Building as a Parking Garage with the vision of making the Clem Labega Square into a national park, and upgrading the entire Soualiga Boulevard to the Court House as a people’s avenue. In this area you can also create a bus terminal and taxi holding area.
We need to focus more on safety and security with, a comprehensive camera surveillance network in Philipsburg and the border, and start putting more blue on the road for 2017 in which was already started b the former Minister of Justice. We also need to give our Community Police Officers in the different districts the necessary tools and equipment to better serve the community.
Community policing is a very successful programme along with neighborhood watch programs for the residents in the different districts.
The Minister of Health would follow the court decision and focus more on building a modern hospital facility and improving our quality care at the Medical Center for our growing population.
I have a lot of confidence in our new Minister of VROMI who has hit the ground running in improving our garbage and traffic situation in which was a main concern by the FCCA and the people of St. Maarten. I have several quick win solutions on how to improve the traffic situation and on renewable energy, solar park which I would be happy to share with the new Minister of VROMI.
I also would like to see my previous motions in Parliament to establish our first National Park and Agriculture Station at Emilio Wilson Estate for our residents and visitors to enjoy. In the signed agreement with Rain Forest, there are conditions for them to establish a national park for the people of St. Maarten to continue to teach our children the history and culture of St. Maarten.
I would like the Minister to follow up with NV GEBE to complete the solar project for the public parking lots in Philipsburg and the water tank project for the residents of Marigot Hill and Guavaberry Road in St. Peters. Last Year, the French Government gave approval in writing for NV GEBE to put the cables underground on the dirt road which is historically on both sides of the island and for the people to get water and lights in the Marigot Hill area. How they say the French and the Dutch Sides can't work together in the general interest of the people. I would like to see us put aside our egos and work together on behalf of the people in which we represent.
Government needs to start a project to upgrade and beautify all the districts, especially Suckergarden and Dutch Quarter. We need to bring back that pride within the different districts and revitalize some of the dormant Community Councils.
I also would like to see the University of St. Martin being recognized as our National University with dormitories and for Government to increase their subsidy. I am still amazed on how we talk about how we believe in higher learning and still neglect our University.
In closing, I would like Government to focus on revitalizing our economy and market our tourism product together with the business community and the people of St. Maarten. We need to cut back on the red tape and bureaucracy in Government to get the people permits and building permits out on time. We need better control on prices and immigration. Everyone has a role to play in making St. Maarten a better place for 2017. We also have to create incentives to stimulate our local entrepreneurs for 2017 which a lot of them closed their doors last year.
We need to encourage our foreign investors to invest into our island to improve our economic growth for this year.
Little things make a big difference in the community.
What happened to the branch offices NV GEBE wanted to rent in St Johns and Belvedere to accommodate the long lines of customers at the main office?
What happened to Link 4 (Cake house road) making it a two way with railings to ease the traffic flow in Cole Bay? Government already purchased some of the land to widen the road and they just need to talk to the other landlord to make it possible.
What happened to the taxi way and clearance facility at the Airport to continue to make St. Maarten the clearance hub of the Caribbean?
What happened to the upgrading of Weymouth road for the residents and the beautification plan of Sucker Garden and Dutch Quarter?
What happened to the road markings for the motorists and cyclists and painting of the pedestrian crossings for the safety aspect of our people?
2017 would be a very interesting year but we have to be up for the challenge by being creative in Government and going to get things done and work more closely with the businesses in a Public Private Partnership and the people of both sides of our beautiful island St. Maarten. We need less talk, firmer decision making and more action in 2017.
Former MP Maurice Lake
PHILIPSBURG, St. Maarten - The taking of almost 3 months to form a government (September 26 to December 20, 2016).This article looks first at the larger (2016) political landscape and context within which the September 26, 2016 Parliamentary election took place. More specifically, the article examines the reason(s) for the early 2016 Parliamentary election in light of a vote of no confidence in Government (by Parliament). Secondly, it provides further analysis of the determination of the election results or allotment of Parliamentary seats in the aftermath, of the election. Finally, the politically false presumption in the selection and appointment of Council of Ministers, lending to the stagnation of the formation of a government for 13 weeks after the election and the signing of 2 governing coalition agreements. In retrospect, what the future hold for the sustainable socio-political and development administration of the constituent state of Sint Maarten beyond 2016 appears to be quite uncertain. However, what is certain is that St. Maarten’s present political entangled path is unsustainable and needs to be changed – a change that needs to be legislatively substantive rather than superficial.
It is no exaggeration to argue that the September 26, 2016 Parliamentary election in St. Maarten marked a significant benchmark in the political history of the constituent state (of the Kingdom of the Netherlands). Said election was mandated by the Governor in the aftermath of a vote of no confidence in the Council of Ministers motivated by “ship-jumping”. [A chronic practice where a member-elect or a member of parliament indiscriminately breaks ties with his/her elected party list, declare him or herself as an independent member of parliament, align him or herself with a different party list and render the premature fall of government.] Consequently, a new coalition government was formed to govern until the mandated September 26th election would be held, with the specific instruction to explore, formulate and pass legislation to “stop” and/or “avert” ship-jumping. Needless to say, this was not realized before the September 26, 2016 election, despite the Government having some 10 month to accomplish it.The election was notably highly contested with a record number of 9 parties taking part, while yielding no definitive results, as no one party garnered a majority of the seats in Parliament to presumptively take the lead in the formation of a coalition government. Respectfully, Party-list 2 and 9 equally garnered 5 seats, Party-list 3 garnered 3 seats and Party-list 8 garnered 2 seats.
The Election Ordinance that governs the Parliamentary Election has many strengths and weaknesses. Weaknesses that nurtures “ship-jumping” by not ensuring the confirmative of proportional representation within Government/ Parliament, in accordance with Article 47 Section 1 of the Constitution (and matters concerned therewith). The concept of proportional representation allows that – “the make-up of a parliament by allocating seats on the basis of the number votes each party received” which ensures that votes carry equal weight. In effect, if party A wins/ allotted 5 seats in parliament this should be maintained throughout the electoral or governing cycle. However, in the previous elections (in 2010 and again in 2014) this has not been the case, as parties have seen their allotted seats in Parliament diminished as a result of “ship-jumping. As such, the wishes of the people, by democratic vote, are being disrespected and reallocated in the absence of clarity and key provisions in the narratives/ Article of the Election Ordinance where the apparent unconstitutional practice of “ship-jumping” is entertained. Consequently, the young constituent sate of St. Maarten has seen 5 governments in 6 years, hardly conducive to the further socio-political and developmental administration of the Island constituent state.
The alternative is electoral reform through proportional representation wherein any elected/selected candidate who attempts to ship-jump automatically loses his or her seat in Parliament, thereby guaranteeing each party the number of seats in Parliament in proportion to the number of votes received. See the proposed Draft Election Ordinance Amendment Legislation presented to Parliament March 7, 2016.
Allotment of Seats in Parliament
In the aftermath of the 2016 Parliamentary election other prudent concerns emerged which rightfully can be attributed to the “largest remainder (“rest-zetel”) method presently use in filling the seats, as a result of the election, in Parliament where the total number of valid votes cast is divided by the total number of seats to be allocated, referred to as the “electoral quota”. Next, the electoral quota is divided into the total votes each party list received with the party-list being allotted one seat for each electoral quota produced. After this allotment process is completed and there are remainder sets to be allotted then the total votes each party received is divided by the allotted seat(s) plus one fictitious seat. The party or parties with the highest average(s) is/are allotted the remaining seat(s). The latter calculation is repeated until all seats are allocated. As such 10 seats were allotted outright with 5 remaining seats. Party List 1, allotted zero seats; Party-list 2, allotted 4 seats with 1 remainder seat totaling 5 seats; Party-List 3, allotted 2 seats with 1 remainder seat totaling 3 seats; Party-List 4, 5, 6, and 7 zero seats; Party list 8, allotted 1 seat with 1 remainder seat totaling 2 seats; and Party-List 9, allotted 3 seats with 2 remainder seat totaling 5 seats.
The prudent concern with the allotment of the Parliamentary seats (by the largest remainder method) is the distorted allotment of 2 remainder seats to Party-list 9 over 1 remainder seat to Party-list 2, whilst Party-list 2 received more votes than Party-list 9, specifically, 4,130 votes compared to 3,778 respectfully. In effect, the largest remainder method, as used, rewarded Party-list 9 more seats, despite not winning a majority of the votes.
Another distortion is precipitated by Article 96.2 of the Electoral Ordinance which regulates that ‘if the total votes received by a party-list is less than the electoral quota, that party-list would not be permitted to participate in the seat allotment process. Consequently, Party-list 6 after receiving a significant 848 votes (99 votes less than the electoral quota of 947) was instrumentally omitted from the seat allotment process. Thus effectively leaving some 848 voters with no direct representation of their policy/ issue interests in the Parliament. Such distortions produce notably less proportional results in the Parliament.
An alternative is proportional allocated/ allotted seats based on the highest average method; the d’Hondt method, which is used worldwide including the Netherlands and considered to be the best proportional representation method. This requires the total number of votes for each party-list to be divided successively by 1, 2, 3 etc. up to the total number of Parliamentary seats (15). The seats are then allotted to parties with the highest resulting (15) averages.
Given the d’Hondt method, the allotment of seats in the 2016 Parliamentary election would be : 5 eats for Party-list 2; 3 seats for Party-list 3; 1 seat for Party-list 5; 2 seats for Party-list 8; and 4 seats for Party-list 9. In contrast to the largest remainder method in use which disenfranchised a block of 848 voters, the highest average method/ the d’Hondt method best allots seats to the parties who get the highest number of votes. As such Party-list 5 with a significant 848 votes would be allotted 1 seat in Parliament and Party-list 9 would not be allotted an extra seat with fewer votes/ the second highest number of votes.
Politically False Presumption
Perhaps most stunning of the changing political landscape is politically false presumptions that have been thrusted into the political system and society and which is being accepted (for now); Political correctness/ false presumptions that overrule or reject reality and replace them with beliefs that are fabricated out of thin air for political purposes and/ or expediency. A notable example is the present false presumption that “if one is good enough to run on a party-list one is good enough to be appointed as a Minster” or the notion that the Council of Ministers should be comprised of (unelected) party-list candidate who form Government (which was hailed by the press as a “good thing”) and by the virtue of getting more votes over the other the party-list candidate that form Government is enough of a reason to be first appointed to the Council of Ministers. Essentially, politically false presumptions at best rationalize emotional decisions
Truthfully, the rationale of the Council of Ministers is to appoint and bring competent professional persons, in their own right, into these Ministerial positions for the proper and good governance of Government not for the expediency of political appointments.
That is, for example, the political favor of appointing a “blacksmith” to the mistrial position of economic development with the obvious task of engaging in strategic economic development tasks, overseeing and managing related departments, formulating and proposing economic development policy/ legislation to which the necessary capacity is definitely not there.
Looking to the future
Will the (present) Government’s factions seek to address the changing political landscape of St. Maarten for the sake of sustainable social, political and economic development and good governance of the Island-state? Will the Red, White and Blue coalition joined by the sitting minority (in Parliament) to seriously embark on the elimination of the political anomaly of “ship-jumping”, and ensuring party-list representation in Parliament as voted for by the electorate - by redrawing proportional representation in the Electoral Ordinance? Will St. Maarten slide deeper into the abyss of political dysfunctionalism, personal politics among the notion where unsubstantiated personal beliefs tend to overrule reality or realize that governance is not based on individual consciences but on sound public policy and consensus building? Only time will tell what the next chapter in the evolution of St. Maarten holds. What is absolutely clear, however, is that political thought and reform is essential in St. Maarten.
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