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Published On: Sat, Jan 8th, 2022

Parliament handles MP Buncamper’s suspension with kid’s gloves

PHILIPSBURG — Parliament’s President Grisha Heyliger-Marten sent a letter to the Central Voting Bureau on Thursday, informing it about the suspension of convicted Member of Parliament Claudius Buncamper and asking for its advice which candidate of the United St. Maarten party (USp) is eligible to take his seat as a substitute. She also sent a letter to Buncamper, informing him about his suspension.

Buncamper’s suspension was a given, after the Court in First Instance sentenced him to 32 months of imprisonment on December 23 of last year, combined with a seven-year ban on holding public office. Buncamper has appealed the verdict and as long as this process is underway, the suspension continues. If the verdict becomes irrevocable sometime in the future, the suspension would end and Buncamper would lose his seat.

It remains unclear who is eligible to take Buncamper’s place in Parliament. Based on the results of the 2020 elections, Chanel Brownbill ended in third position with 221 votes, behind Buncamper (299) and Akeem Arrindell (228).

However, Brownbill was sentenced to 18 months of imprisonment (with 12 months suspended) and 240 hours of community service for tax fraud. The Supreme Court confirmed this verdict in January 2021.

Next on the list would be party-founder Frans Richardson (who won 216 votes), but he was sentenced in 2020 to 36 months in prison and a five year ban on exercising his passive voting rights, followed by a 12-month sentence and another 3-year ban on exercising his passive voting rights in November of last year.

The Central Voting Bureau will have to advise the parliament whether one of these two candidates qualifies for taking Buncamper’s seat. If they both fail the test, Romain Laville (143 votes) and Khalil Revan (126 votes) are next in line.

Parliament discussed a letter Minister of Justice Anna Richardson received from Attorney-General Ton Maan on December 30. In it, Maan points out that Buncamper is suspended by law based on article 50.2.b of the Constitution. The relevant article stipulates that a Member of Parliament is suspended by law if the court has sentenced him (or her) to a prison sentence. Buncamper has appealed the verdict, but that does not affect the application of article 50. If the verdict becomes irrevocable, presumable after Buncamper had gone through the appeals-process and then through cassation at the Supreme Court, he will lose his seat. During the suspension, Buncamper remains entitled to his salary.

Members of Parliament did not have much to say about the suspension. Nobody made any reference to the crimes (corruption and forgery) for which the court convicted Buncamper. MP Brison (UP) questioned the involvement of the Prosecutor’s Office in the process. He suggested establishing a protocol that takes advice from the Prosecutor’s Office out of the equation in cases where a parliamentarian has to be suspended.

MP Wescot-Williams pointed out that there is nothing the parliament can do about the suspension, since it goes into effect by law.

MP William Marlin (NA) acknowledged that the letter from the attorney-general does not warrant much debate. “It is unfortunate that we lose MP Buncamper who exercised his responsibilities as a member of parliament very well.”

MP Rolando Brison (UP) expressed a similar sentiment, saying that Buncamper was a respected member of parliament. “I thank him for is contribution and wish him all the best in his future endeavors.”

MP George Pantophlet said that the prosecutor’s office has “too much influence in the political arena.”

The case is now in the hands of the Central Voting Bureau. Buncamper’s suspension is a fact, but the question who will take his seat is still waiting for an answer.

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Opinion piece: “Desperate deeds” by Hilbert Haar



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