Published On: Tue, Dec 15th, 2020

Parliament flips but does not denounce the Pro Soualiga Foundation

PHILIPSBURG – In July a united Parliament rejected the Kingdom’s conditions for continued liquidity support, labeling the intention to establish a Caribbean Reform Entity (CRE) as “a takeover of St. Maarten’s autonomy in disguise.” But five months later Parliament’s resistance has almost completely melted away. In Monday’s Central Committee meeting almost all parliamentarians gave Prime Minister Silveria Jacobs the green light to continue the process that will ultimately result in the establishment of the CRE.

All this did not happen without a lot of political grandstanding whereby UP-faction leader Grisha Heyliger-Marten even asked PFP-MP Raeyhon Peterson to unzip her dress (Peterson declined) to demonstrate how State Secretary Knops’ demands are stripping the country of it dignity.

When everything was said and done it turned out that the Prime Minister indeed has the support of a majority in Parliament, with the exception of independent MP Christophe Emmanuel.

MPs used the occasion to throw all kind of derogatory terms at Knops like “mafia” and “gangster-style negotiations” (Grisha Heyliger), “Hitler-thinking” (MP Emmanuel) and “A little Napoleon without a sense of direction” (MP Buncamper). But this heavy artillery did not change the course of events; parliamentarians sputtered and moaned but in the end they meekly toed the line and expressed their support for the Prime Minister.

What did not materialize was Knops’ demand for Parliament to withdraw its support for the motion of November 5 that contains an endorsement for the Pro Soualiga Foundation. How this will affect the outcome of the meeting of the Kingdom Council of Ministers on Friday remains to be seen.

UP faction leader Heyliger-Marten noted that the Prime Minister “seems to be in a bind and running out of options, having to choose between liquidity support and giving up part of St. Maarten’s democracy.”

She warned that, once the money for the third tranche of liquidity support runs out by the end of January, the Kingdom will come with new conditions. “They’ll say, I want your airport, your harbor, GEBE ….,” Heyliger-Marten suggested, furthermore hinting that Knops is playing a game for the home crowd because there are elections in the Netherlands in March of next year.

She nevertheless presented a declaration to show where she stands on the issue of the Kingdom’s conditions. “I am sure that Prime Minister Jacobs – who I believe is with her back against the wall and with the proverbial knee on her neck by the Dutch government and its representative State Secretary Knops – will make the best decision proven to be beneficial to the people of St. Maarten (….) which is to allow the process of the Caribbean Reform Entity to go forward and sign the country package related to the agreement. I support this; I do, as long as the mandate of the Parliament is respected, as well as the local, kingdom and international laws.”

USp-MP Claudius Buncamper acknowledged that austerity measures are necessary. “I support that, but within reason.” Buncamper called the demand to withdraw the motion of November 5 “absurd” saying that Knops cannot tell the Parliament what to do.

Later Buncamper said that his faction “would not stand in the way of the Prime Minister.”

The Party for Progress also expressed support for the Prime Minister, though faction leader Melissa Gumbs said that she strongly disapproves of Knops’ attempt to force the parliament’s hand, while Raeyhon Peterson noted that the “questionable tactics of the Pro Soualiga Foundation” had pushed Jacobs into a corner.

The only one who did not offer support was independent MP Christophe Emmanuel. “We have given up everything but we have received absolutely nothing in return,” he said, ignoring the fact that the Kingdom has made millions available for the reconstruction after Hurricane Irma and that it has also provided liquidity support and emergency assistance during the COVID-19 pandemic, while continued financial support is depending on conditions. “St. Maarten does not need supervision. This is unacceptable,” Emmanuel declared.

National Alliance MP William Marlin noted that the Dutch government misused Hurricane Irma to get what it wanted – the Integrity Chamber and a grip on border control. But Marlin seemed to have learned something from his experience in 2017: “Are we prepared to put this to the test and tell the prime minister: absolutely not, and pull the trigger? Are we prepared to take our own garbage to the dump? To tell our police officers that they have to show resilience but that they won’t get their salary?”

 Marlin does not want to go in that direction. “I say to our Prime Minister: you have a responsibility and you must do what you have to do – that what is best for this country. You have my support.”

Before members of Parliament took the floor Jacobs gave a presentation in which she outlined the process of the past couple of months. She went like a high-speed train through the details of the pending consensus kingdom law, clobbering her audience with a barrage of articles and paragraphs from the draft legislation. Nobody asked a single question about these details.

Answering a question from MP Buncamper whether she would resign if she did not get Parliament’s support, Jacobs said: “If Parliament decides that I should not proceed and tell the State Secretary that I am not signing then that is the decision of Parliament that had to be carried out. But as long as I have the support of this Parliament I will remain as Prime Minister.”

President of Parliament Rolando Brison concluded that the majority of Parliament has expressed support for the Prime Minister to continue on the trajectory towards an agreement with the Kingdom. Whether that will be enough to convince State Secretary Knops is another question.

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