Published On: Wed, Apr 1st, 2020

Cracks in the coalition

Government Administration Building - 20200223 JH

By Hilbert Haar

The Indian Merchants Association (IMA) is among the private sector organizations that chose the St. Maarten Hospitality and Trade Association (SHTA) not even a week ago “to speak on its behalf for continued representation and information.” But only a few days later the IMA broke ranks and issued a press release of its own under the ominous headline ‘Economic doom, mass closures and layoffs on the horizon for St. Maarten‘.

As far as content goes, the press release does not differ significantly from what the SHTA communicated earlier. But there is more to it. One of the prominent members of the IMA is Member of Parliament Sidharth Bijlani-Cookie. As a member of the UP faction he also supports the freshly installed government.

That the IMA rips into that government in its press release with remarks like “callous disregard of employees and businesses” comes therefore as a bit of a surprise.

Policymakers focus mainly on those who face unemployment and on the self-employed, the IMA says, but they “fail to address the real issues and hardships of small and medium businesses.”

The IMA does not have anything good to say either about the government’s draft stimulus plan: “It has economic stimulus written all over it but it lacks commitment in terms of funding and assisting the business sector.”

“Sadly, our government does not seem to gauge the financials effects of this pandemic on its economic partners which are the small and medium businesses. In the event there is no real stimulus plan laid out for the business sector, major catastrophic effects can be seen like business closures, job losses and even social unrest.”

Again, not much wrong with the content; I just wonder why the IMA does not let the SHTA do the talking. Agreements in this department apparently are not worth a lot.

And then there is this: the IMA’s (and by extension Bijlani’s) harsh criticism of the government. It is interesting to note that Bijlani does not stand alone in his criticism. “Communication and cohesive efforts by the coalition leave a lot to be desired,” his fellow faction member Grisha Marten-Heyliger stated in a recent press release.  She disagrees with decisions taken by the Emergency Operations Center (EOC), the Prime Minister (Silveria Jacobs) and the Minister of Finance (Ardwell Irion).

Being critical of the government, even if it is supported by your faction, is not necessarily negative. It is, after all, the role all parliamentarians are supposed to play. But the criticism coming from Bijlani (via the IMA) and Marten-Heyliger does suggest that governing St. Maarten through the corona-crisis is not going to be a walk in the park for the new Council of Ministers. With a stretch of the imagination it could even suggest cracks in the coalition.

The government could easily ignore criticism from the opposition (feeling confident with majority support in parliament) but when that – in itself justified – criticism comes from within its own ranks it becomes a different ballgame.

Circling the wagons and confronting the crisis as one appears to be too much to ask. See the unexpected solo action of the IMA, see the criticism the government has to deal with from parliamentarians that are supposed to support it.

I am not suggesting that the critics keep their mouths shut; on the contrary. As long as they have something meaningful to add to the debate that aims to guide the government in the right direction, they are doing the country and its people a service. This requires proposing alternative solutions instead of whining about what’s wrong. But if there are other motives in play we could be heading for a completely different crisis.

Clem Labega Square - 20200223 JH

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