Published On: Tue, Jul 9th, 2019

MP Tamara Leonard saw first amendment passed in Parliament to fund pilot breakfast programme

MP Tamara Leonard 20190709

PHILIPSBURG — Member of Parliament for the United Democrats UD party, Tamara Leonard, recently saw her first amendment law being passed in Parliament during the budget debate on Tuesday, July 2, 2019.

On the night of the aforementioned date, chairman at the time, MP Claude “Chacho” Peterson, tabled the amendment motion submitted by MP Tamara Leonard. This happened just before the voting on the 2019 budget. Leonard, who took the opportunity to motivate her vote on the motion, explained that the submitted law amendment called for funds to be reserved to provide public schools with a pilot project with a meal programme for school children. This was to be done budget neutrally as the 300,000 guilders needed for this breakfast programme was to be taken from the legal consultancy fees reserved under the minister of Finance’s budget.

Leonard explained in her motivation that while the hurricane was two years gone, it was a very sad situation to note that many students still go to school hungry. The allocated funds would be placed at the disposal of the minister of Education to use to feed 50 students from August to December, Leonard explained. Based on the feedback from the evaluation of this programme Leonard plans to push for the programme to become permanent.

The amendment was supported by eight MPs of the coalition voting in favor and six MPs from the opposition voting against the motion.

This is not the first time a member of Parliament has advocated the implementation of a breakfast programme in the public schools on St. Maarten. In 2014, as member of Parliament, Romain Laville initiated a breakfast programme together with the management of Princess Juliana International Airport and Goddard Catering. The programme was discontinued after the pilot phase.

In 2016, Romain Laville, who was at the time candidate #7 on the United St. Maarten Party (USP) list, wrote how he believes “we need to ensure that every morning our youth attend school on a full stomach.” Laville also wrote that it was his “vision that our public schools continue to benefit from this great initiative and also broaden this project to ensure students from the subsidised schools have the same opportunity to attend school on a full stomach.”

Now member of Parliament Leonard is in a position to see to it that providing breakfast to children who go to school every day without food or without having breakfast becomes a structural programme anchored in law where the government will be providing these meals to students in the public schools starting from next year.

Despite this being the first law amendment passed in Parliament for MP Leonard, it is not her first law amendment proposal. In December 2017, MP Leonard submitted to Parliament a law amendment to establish paternity leave. Implementing this amendment entails changes to the Labor laws and that would require MP Leonard to work closely with the minister of Labor on this amendment.

Currently, the ministry of Labor (VSA) is headed by caretaker minister Emil Lee. Lee’s caretaker status is a direct result of him receiving a vote of non-confidence in a motion spearheaded by his own party member, MP Luc Mercelina during the same budget debate on Tuesday, July 2. An unprecedented move never seen before in the history of St. Maarten’s island politics.

The question on everyone’s mind is what Lee intends to do. Will he attempt to regain his seat in Parliament? Would that be even possible?

A review of the Electoral Ordinance shows that in order for Lee to be able to return to Parliament after being ousted as minister of Health, Social Affairs & Labor (VSA), the member of Parliament occupying his seat would have to voluntarily give up the seat. According to procedures regulated by the electoral ordinance, Lee who had received enough votes (259) in the 2018 elections to receive a seat in parliament, had opted to resign from this seat in accordance to article 116c after initially accepting it according to article 105 of the Electoral Ordinance. Lee opted to remain in the Council of Ministers (COM) as the minister of VSA.

The vacant seat in Parliament then went to the next in line on the UD party list in terms of the number of votes received during the 2018 elections. This was Perry Geerlings with his 258 votes. The latter, knowing that he would become the next minister of Finance, opted to refuse the seat in accordance with article 115 of the electoral ordinance.

Which brings us to the next in line for the vacant seat and that is none other than the present member of Parliament, Tamara Leonard, who received 233 votes. Based on article 105 of the electoral ordinance, Leonard accepted the vacant seat and was sworn in as the member of Parliament occupying the seat vacated by Emil Lee.

Based on article 116b of the electoral ordinance, Lee’s seat in Parliament remains occupied for as long as MP Leonard remains active as a member of parliament. There is no statute in the electoral ordinance that can oblige MP Leonard to give up the seat she is occupying in Parliament. Of course, as a UD party member she can opt to do the gentlemanly – or ladylike – thing and offer up her seat to allow Emil Lee to re-enter Parliament.

With her current track record in Parliament, her plans for future amendments and her goal to see the school children’s breakfast programme become a permanent service within the public schools system, the chances of MP Leonard giving up the seat in Parliament is a long shot at best.