Published On: Mon, Sep 23rd, 2019

SMCP stance on the fall of government and new elections

PHILIPSBURG — The Sint Maarten Christian Party (SMCP), represented by the party leader and Minister of Education, Culture, Youth and Sport Wycliffe Smith and Member of Parliament Claude Chacho Peterson issued a joint statement on the recent collapse of the Governing UD-SMCP coalition on Monday.

In their statement, they made it clear that another snap election would not have been their choice. “The SMCP would have preferred to avoid going to the polls. However, given the reasons mentioned in the rest of this article, the SMCP is of the opinion that invoking article 59 is the only right thing to do at this time.”

SMCP gained one seat in the 2018 elections and was prepared to sit in the opposition in Parliament with Smith as the elected representative. However, when the United Democrats (UD) invited SMCP to help form the majority coalition, the party consented with some prerequisites. SMCP ensured that the Governing Accord signed on April 5, 2018, stipulated that the incoming government would govern based on principles of “stability, transparency, openness and integrity”. High on the priority list of the Government were, among other things, the physical and economic recovery of Sint Maarten, the improvement of Kingdom relations, and tax reform. The question raised at that time was, how can the Christian party join a coalition whose leader was rumoured to be involved in illegal dealings. The SMCP found that, at that time, the leader of the UD was never arrested for such suspicions.

Knowing how sluggish government’s bureaucracy functions, one cannot expect miracles from a Government in its first year of office. With only one year and three months of being in office since June 26, 2018, the UD-SMCP coalition government was able to achieve several goals, despite the country’s setbacks post Irma. The UD-SMCP government was still able to get the Integrity Chamber off the ground, set up the National Recovery Bureau, obtain Trust Fund and European Investment Bank funding for the recovery of the airport, secure funding for the new hospital, for GEBE and liquidity support to ensure salaries of civil servants and members of parliament are paid on time.

Due to the complicated and cumbersome procurement procedures of the World Bank, Trust Fund monies were slow in being released. However, many of the projects that were in the pipeline, are on the verge of being rolled out such as “World Bank approves PJIA Terminal Reconstruction Plan”, which was Monday’s headline in The Daily Herald. According to Smith, “From first-hand experience, I can attest to the fact that within the Council of Ministers of the Romeo-Marlin II administration, the principles of integrity, honesty and transparency were always held high and decision making was always measured based on these principles.”

On the other hand, the functioning of the Parliamentary Coalition did not always flow. MP Claude Peterson previously compared SMCP’s relation with UD/SMCP coalition to a marriage. Peterson mention that “in a marriage sincere partners give and take. They do not air their dirty laundry but try to work things out for the sake of unity, stability and progress. In this light, SMCP was a true partner and all UD members have voiced this on several occasions. Most recently, this was publicly stated on several occasions by now independent Member of Parliament, Franklin Meyers.” There is no doubt that SMCP’s Member of Parliament, Claude Peterson, did go out of his way to try to maintain unity and stability within the Coalition. However, when self-interest among individual members took precedence over coalition interest and, more so, over country, then it became practically impossible to sustain the coalition.

The SMCP was actually in the process of calling the coalition together for to re-evaluate the coalition accord as well as the coalition management agreement that had been signed by all members. However, MP Franklin Meyers’ decision to leave the coalition and declare himself an independent member of parliament expedited the collapse of the UD-SMCP Coalition. Smith and Peterson noted however that, as an independent member of Parliament, MP Meyers expressed his willingness to support the Coalition. Having worked well with MP Meyers in the Coalition, SMCP had no problem with this move and consequently had even submitted a draft for a new governing accord for the new UD-SMCP-Meyers Coalition. Unfortunately, with the defection of two other UD members of parliament, the prospect of a UD-SMCP-Meyers Coalition fell through.

MP Chanel Brownbill and MP Luc Mercelina have since jumped ship, withdrawing from the UD faction, and have gone on to support the opposition parties in forming a new coalition of 9 members of Parliament. Consequently, this means that a new government will be formed. “Why not let this whole political saga end here?, you may ask. Why would the current government still pursue invoking article 59 of the Constitution?” Smith repeated a statement previously published on December 7, 2017, in explaining the SMCP’s position. Smith stated,  “SMCP is of the opinion that this article [59] has its place in our constitutional system of checks and balances. Article 59 was included in the constitution in case parliament failed to execute its duties. For example, if Parliament does not call meetings, does not review and pass laws submitted by the government and as a result the functioning of government is grossly stagnated or impeded, then government is given the right, according to article 59, to dissolve parliament on behalf of the people and call for new elections. However, we, the people, do not expect government to abuse this right and use article 59 as an instrument for retaliation. Rather, it should be used as a last resort to ensure that the people get a proper functioning parliament”.

SMCP supports the government in its attempt to give the people the opportunity to appoint a proper government by electing representatives to Parliament who are not about grandstanding, self-interest and greed but who are able to put country above self and who are objective in their assessment of Government. According to the then-opposition, the government has done nothing right and that it is the worst government ever in the history of St. Maarten. Since only the government will change and not the parliamentarians there is absolutely no guarantee that the interference, the sabotage, the undermining and the outside manipulation by Parliament will cease to exist.

In Smith and Peterson’s views, “The possibility of the influence by the so-called Cupecoy Government is also very real. The tactics used by members of parliament to delay the decision making on certain laws, crucial to the recovery and development of the country will continue with the same people in parliament. For example, the delay in passing the CFATF regulations can cause Sint Maarten to be blacklisted in the financial world. The delay in passing the general pension ordinance will continue to cost Sint Maarten Naf 600.000 per month. The delay in passing the tax reform laws means that St. Maarten is not able to revamp its outdated tax laws with the result that a lot of companies and persons slip through the tax cracks and do not pay taxes. Believe it or not, Sint Maarten, at this time, is rather dependent on the Dutch financing through the Trust Fund and liquidity support. In Parliament, the NA, the USP and independent member of Parliament, Luc Mercelina have been very opposed to what they term Dutch interference, Dutch control and Dutch support.”

SMCP is of the opinion that the sabotage, the undermining, the outside interference and manipulation, the delay tactics as well the anti-Dutch sentiment displayed on the floor of Parliament is reason enough for the Government to give the electorate of Sint Maarten the opportunity to decide on the way forward as far as their representatives in parliament are concerned and by extension what type of government they would prefer to have. Smith has submitted his letter of resignation to the Governor of Sint Maarten and MP Peterson has relinquished his post as Vice Chair of Parliament.

Smith concluded, “As leader of the SMCP, this party remains committed to serving the people of Sint Maarten for a change. I am confident that when persons unite to serve country above self, Sint Maarten will progress.”