Published On: Tue, Apr 27th, 2021

Ombudman submits austerity measures for review to Constitutional Court

PHILIPSBURG — The office of the Ombudsman has submitted three national ordinances that regulate salary cuts for employees in the (semi) public sector for review to the Constitutional Court. The Ombudsman asks the court to void these ordinances completely or in part.

The Ombudsman contests the ordinances, that were approved by the Parliament of St. Maarten, based on conflicts with Articles 15 and 16 of the Constitution.

Article 15 states that everyone is entitled to the undisturbed enjoyment of his property. The Ombudsman points out in a press release that salary, pensions and employment benefits fall under the definition of property according to article 1 of the first Protocol of the European Convention on Human Rights. “An interference with the right to the peaceful enjoyment of possessions must strike a fair balance between the demands of the general interest of the community and the requirements of the protection of the individual’s fundamental rights,” the Ombudsman states in her press release.

The austerity measures from the contested national ordinances include the reduction of vacation days, the elimination of vacation allowances and any salary increases on any grounds for an indefinite period. Reason enough for the Ombudsman to submit the relevant ordinances for review to the Constitutional Court.

There is yet another argument in play: article 16 of the Constitution. This so-called equality-article states that “Everyone who is in Sint Maarten will be treated equally in equal cases. Discrimination based on religion, belief, political inclination, race, skin color, gender, language, national or social origin, belonging to a national minority, assets, birth, or whatever other reason is prohibited.”

The Ombudsman found that the ordinances include workers from organizations and companies in which the government is a (majority) shareholder but that they also exclude certain public entities. “The solidarity motive and the decision on which public sector workers to include also gives reason for concern,” the Ombudsman states.

The law firm Hoeve & Rogers represents the Ombudsman during the court proceedings. The attorneys that handle the case are Jason Rogers, the Chairman of the Central Voting Bureau, and Nancy Joubert, the former Secretary-General of Parliament.

The contested ordinances are: the Temporary National Ordinance Covid-19 cuts, the Temporary National Ordinance to amend the terms of employment of political authorities, and the Temporary National Ordinance on the standardization of top incomes and adjustment of employment conditions at (semi-) public sector entities.

The austerity measures regulated in these ordinances are designed to meet the conditions State Secretary Raymond Knops (Kingdom Relations) attached to the provision of liquidity support.

Rulings by the Constitutional Court are final and cannot be appealed. Handling of the cases will take most likely several months and a ruling is therefore in a best-case scenario to be expected sometime during the fall.