Published On: Sun, May 26th, 2024

Legislative Oversight

By Hilbert Haar

An unintentional failure to notice or do something. That is, according to the Oxford dictionary, the definition of the term oversight.

The current discrepancies between Article 59 of the Constitution and the election laws stem from a legislative oversight, the Central Voting Bureau (CVB) wrote in a letter to Prime Minister Dr. Luc Mercelina.

Attached to this letter was an advice written by constitutional expert Prof. Dr. Arjen van Rijn. I quote:  “Tot dusver heeft reeds driemaal een Statenontbinding op grond van artikel 59 Staatregeling plaatsgevonden met een – deels inderdaad aanzienlijke – overschrijding van de driemaandentermijn.” (So far dissolution of Parliament based on article 59 of the Constitution has taken place already three times with a – partially significant – exceeding of the three-months term).

This is the problem in a nutshell. The Constitution states in article 59 that, after the government has dissolved the parliament, the new parliament must be seated within three months. The national ordinance registration and finances political parties and the electoral law however, contain articles that make it virtually impossible to adhere to them and stay within the timeframe of three months.

When Prime Minister Mercelina submitted the national decree to dissolve parliament (and thereby called for new elections) Governor Baly held the opinion that the constitution ranks higher than national ordinances and that therefore article 59 prevails. While this is in itself correct, it also makes it impossible to adhere to the rules laid down in those lower-ranking ordinances.

The Central Voting Bureau has labeled the cause of this situation as a legislative oversight. It is good to note here that St. Maarten’s constitutional democracy consists of three levels: legislative, executive and judicial. The parliament is the legislative branch of this system, the government is the executive branch.

St. Maarten became an autonomous country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands on October 10, 2010. Almost fourteen years down the road, one could say that the country is still a teenager. During the fourteen years of its existence as a country nobody has ever paid any attention to the conflict between article 59 and electoral legislation. According to the CVB this is due to a legislative oversight.

What they are saying, based on the Oxford definition of the term, is that the parliament (the legislator) has unintentionally failed to notice the problem or do something about it.

My question would be: how can you not notice a problem that has already surfaced three times in the past? And why have our politicians not done something about it? That is the big question because creating a solution (for instance by extending the three-month term in the constitution) is not going to do any political party any harm.

Greeks are only in a hurry when they are behind the wheel of a car and they only notice that something is wrong after that car hits a tree. Politicians in St. Maarten are a bit like that. They darn well know that there is a problem with article 59 (I mean, how could they not know?) but they have never bothered to do something about it. That’s what I call failure with a capital F and I wonder very much whether this time around somebody – anybody – will spring into action to make sure that the discrepancy between article 59 and the electoral laws will be repaired.

I am curious, but not optimistic.

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