Published On: Thu, Apr 5th, 2018

MP-status Frans Richardson called into question

Frans Richardson - 20180105 HH

By Hilbert Haar

PHILIPSBURG – There are strong indications that Frans Richardson, leader of the United St. Maarten party (USp) has been wrongfully admitted to the parliamentary elections on February 26 and that his election as a member of Parliament is invalid. According to article 49 of the constitution, members of Parliament must be a resident of St. Maarten, have Dutch nationality, be at least 18 years of age and not be banned from the right to be elected. Richardson does not meet the first requirement because he lives on the French side of the island.

The national ordinance registration and finances political parties defines in article 1 ‘residents’ as “those who have factually residence in St. Maarten.”

Richardson is registered at the census office, otherwise he would not have been able to participate in the elections. But that registration does not define him as a resident, based on the definition in the national ordinance registration and finances political parties.

There are two strong indications that Richardson does not live where he says he lives. On Valentine’s Day, Richardson was arrested as a suspect in the Emerald- and the Squid-investigation by members of the anti-corruption task force TBO. The suspicions against the parliamentarian are membership of a criminal organization, taking bribes to the tune of $370,000, tax fraud and vote-buying during the 2016 elections.

In its press release about the arrest, the public prosecutor’s office stated: “In both cases the home of the suspect in Saint Martin was searched on Wednesday February 14.”

When recently the courier for a local law office wanted to deliver documents to Richardson on the address where he is registered on the Dutch side – Orchid Drive # 2 – the residents told him that Richardson does not live there.

Governor Drs. Eugène Holiday reacted within a day to a request for his view on the situation. In an email dated April, the director of the governor’s cabinet, B.A. van Deele, confirmed that the governor had received our email with questions about Richardson’s status, but he offered no further comment: “Your request has been forwarded to the chair of the Parliament for further handling.”

The Parliament’s chairlady, MP Sarah Wescot-Williams, was also quick to react, saying that she had forwarded our questions to the Central Voting Bureau. “As long as the person has been identified as eligible voter in the basic administration, and thus appears in the voters register, the Parliament in approving the credentials of incoming members relies on the information provided in the letter of credence (the “geloofsbrief”).

Article 108 of the electoral ordinance says about this document that details the credentials of a candidate: “The Parliament examines the letters of credence and decides whether the elected member will be admitted as a member of Parliament. They thereby check whether the elected member meets the requirements for membership, whether he or she does not hold positions that are incompatible with the membership and they decide about the disputes that arise in relationship to the letter of credence or the election itself.”

“Any matter can be raised by the committee appointed to review the credentials of MPs,” Wescot-Williams said. “No issue was raised in this respect.”

The chairlady of Parliament added that our question about Richardson’s situation is however “a valid one for the civil registry administrators and the Central Voting Bureau.”

Attorney Jason Rogers, chairman of the Central Voting Bureau had not reacted yet to our questions about Richardson on Wednesday evening. The chairman of the Electoral Council, attorney Bert Hofman said in a reaction that Richardson’s situation “indeed seems to be an issue.”

Hofman added that the chairman of the Central Voting Bureau “seems to be the designated person to explain what has been regulated in the Electoral Ordinance about the required residency.”

In case the Central Voting Bureau comes to the conclusion that Richardson does not meet the requirements for membership of Parliament, it is unclear which action is open to the Bureau to rectify the situation.

It stands to reason to assume that in such a scenario the United St. Maarten party would lose the 315 votes Richardson won in the February-elections and that he would be removed from Parliament. Stripping the party of Richardson’s votes would, based on our calculation, not alter the outcome of the elections. If the USp-leader is forced to give up his seat, the party’s number three voter-getter, Maria Buncamper-Molanus, would take his place and form the USp-faction together with Rolando Brison.

Photo caption: United St. Maarten party-leader Frans Richardson pictured on January 5, when parties submitted their lists of candidates to the central voting bureau. Photo Hilbert Haar.