PHILIPSBURG, Sint Maarten – With an eye to redirect Sint Maarten’s limited resources into initiatives that would deepen cooperative ties between the Dutch Caribbean and other islands in the region, Party for Progress (PFP) leader and Member of Parliament (MP) Melissa Gumbs on Friday submitted a proposal to Parliament that would end the body’s membership to the Latin American Parliament (Parlatino).
“Parliament, and by extension the country and people of Sint Maarten, spend US $30,000 in annual membership fees plus a travel budget of NAf. 497,700 per year. However, after nearly 11 years as a member, there has not been a measurable return on this investment with regards to collaborative opportunities with other Parlatino member countries,” said MP Gumbs on Sunday. “I think that this is an extreme waste of our limited resources, and we would be better suited focusing our efforts closer to home; namely, with countries and territories in the Dutch Caribbean and with the other islands in the Northeastern Caribbean, where we share stronger and more pervasive cultural, social, economic, legal and family ties.”
Although Parliament is considering slashing the Parlatino travel budget in half by limiting the number of MPs that could attend sessions, MP Gumbs believes that the country should instead use these substantial resources to make dedicated and strategic attempts at developing diplomatic relationships within the region.
For example, MP Gumbs proposes that the funds could be used to restart collaborative meetings with the Territorial Council of the Collectivite de Saint Martin, with the ultimate goal of establishing working groups between Parliament’s Permanent Committees and the Committees of the Territorial Council.
“While Parliament and the Territorial Council held a meeting in 2013, there has been no follow-up in 8 years. Though many public sector areas are managed by the French State, there are several key areas under local management, such as taxes,” said MP Gumbs. “As we continue the discussion about tax reform on the Dutch side, it would be beneficial to obtain some insight into how certain levies, including property and consumer taxes, are handled with our neighbors to the North and how we can work together, as legislators, to achieve tax harmonization between both sides.”
Parliament could also use these resources to host more consultative meetings between the Parliaments of Sint Maarten, Aruba and Curacao.
“At the last Kingdom Inter-Parliamentary Consultation (IPKO), many expressed the sentiment that the three countries in the Dutch Caribbean should be in alignment when it comes to our shared challenges. Of course, there is no guarantee that we will always be on the same page, but at least it would help to be reading the same book,” said MP Gumbs. “Each country has its own strengths, weaknesses and opportunities, but we also face similar threats, such as climate change, ever-shifting financial regulations, and human rights crises in our own lands. Whether enhanced relationship development takes the form of additional Tripartite meetings outside of the official IPKO can be determined during the deliberation of this proposal.”
MP Gumbs also noted that Parliament would be better served by joining the parliamentary assemblies of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS). However, for this to happen, the Government of Sint Maarten would first have to sign on the country to become an associate member of these bodies. In that regard, MP Gumbs urges the government to clarify its status and position on pursuing these connections.
“It is the PFP faction’s hope that, by establishing these lines of communication and collaboration, it will open up opportunities for greater understanding of how we are intrinsically connected to one another, of how we can support each other both in times of safety and crisis, and how we can maximize the potential of our developing relationships,” concluded MP Gumbs. “The avenues outlined in this proposal can be considered the ‘tip of the iceberg’ when considering expanding our relationships closer to home. St. Barths, St. Kitts and Nevis, and Anguilla are also potential doorways that we will be able to access if we take the approach outlined. As the saying goes, there is nothing wrong with living good and talking with your neighbours. Only good things can come out of that.”