Published On: Mon, Jun 25th, 2018

Government Formed: Amidst the threat of the formation process being impeded by informateurs

Julio Romney 20130301 - HHBy Political Analyst, Julio R. Romney

As a scholar of Comparative Government & Politics and political analyst the intent here is to merely ask the tough and intriguing political questions and highlight potential political anomalies and let you the people, the electorate in particular, make sense of it all.

118 tumultuous days since the February 26, 2018 Parliamentary election and now the swearing in of the Council of Ministers (June 25, 2018), Sint Maarten has a new Government; A United Democrats – Sint Maarten Christian Party, one seat majority, coalition Government, under the prime-minister-ship of Leona Romeo-Marlin. We must remain mindful that this democratic political process of the formation of Government, by the elected political parties, was subjected to obstruction. Just 4 days after the Parliamentary election (March 1, 2018) the Governor appointed two informateurs with specific instructions to “explore the possibilities for the formation of a new government (that could count on having the broadest possible support in Parliament) and advise him accordingly, with the obvious intent to have these political parties form the new government.

The Governor’s directives specifically instructed the informateurs not only to seek out the “broadest” combination of the elected political parties to form the new Government but they should also share the same vision in the following areas: (1) a sustainable reconstruction of Sint Maarten with priority for (a) the critical infrastructure, (b) the tourist sector, (c) the social infrastructure, (d) law enforcement and public finances; (2) the cooperation with the Netherlands and the World Bank in connection with the reconstruction fund; (3) the preparation of Sint Maarten for the upcoming hurricane season; (4) finding a sustainable and durable solution for the landfill and the waste processing problem; and (5) the role of the social partners in the reconstruction.”

The instructions on the surface might sound laudable and presumably further seek to “consider bringing the best political parties together in forming a likely stable coalition government; however, this impedes the democratic political process in that constitutionally, it should be up to the democratically elected parties and fair elections without outside intervention and certainly not unelected actors like informateurs.

Granted the idea and use of informateurs to support the formation of government after elections is quite prevalent in the Kingdom, particularly in the Netherlands, where after elections, the Monarch on the advice or in consultation with advisors, appoints informateurs to “explore the various options for forming a new government”. This is done primarily because there are many political parties that tend to win parliamentary seats and consequently it becomes challenging and time consuming to form a majority government equally reflected in their two chamber parliamentary system.

However, since 2012 the Netherlands has amended this process and no longer provides for the Monarch, on the advice or in consultation with advisors in appointing an informateur or informateus. The informateur or informateurs are now appointed directly by the newly elected members of the House of Representatives. The documented reasons being the traditional process not only took place out of public and the newly elected parliament’s view but that the Cabinet/ Council of Ministers had been formed without direct involvement of the elected political parties. Undeniably the same dire concern of the indiscriminate appointment of informateurs, by the Governor, to the formation of a new government impedes the democratic political process. Yet, Sint Maarten ignored the crucial amendment taken by the Netherlands to ensure that democratic control over the process is not undermined.

The methodology employed by the informateurs in carrying out the assignment should also be a concern to the political process in many ways. First, meeting with a cross-section of stake holders in the community, imposes the subjective views of interest groups on the formation of Government. It is Constitutionally the electorate by the ballot that determines which political party or parties are to form Government. Respectfully, it is not the Sint Maarten Time Share Association (SMTA), the Chamber of Labor Unions, the Environmental Protection in the Caribbean (EPIC), or the various other public and private organizations (see Informateur Report, March 12, 2018). Second, scheduled interviews with the leaders of the elected political parties, individual members elected to Parliament, as well as members of the political party’s board. It is both logical and justified to interview and bring the elected parties to a joint conclusion in forming a government. However, why is it necessary to further interview the elected party members individually – does this not speak to the old wise saying of divide and conquer? Third, the comparison of party manifestos and programs or comparing the vision and programs of the political parties to determine which ones are best considered to form a coalition government. If this is the intent, why have elections at all? Just have the contesting political parties submit a manifesto to the informateurs who would review them and determine which party or parties should form the government. Again, informateurs in the Netherlands when carrying out their assignments are usually confined to first meeting with elected party leaders, requesting information from the various government ministries and further consultation with expert advisors who are always career civil servants from the Ministry of General Affairs and who assist the informateur(s) for the duration of the formation process.

In conclusion, I would be remiss if I do not highlight the gross misrepresentation and misuse of the term “Cabinet” with reference to the Council of Ministers, by the media and political leadership. When the Honorable William Marling was Prime Minister, the Council of Ministers, which is the executive body of Government, was referred to by the media as the “William Marlin Cabinet” and now with the Honorable Leona Romeo-Marlin as Prime Minister it is referred to as the “Leona Romeo-Marlin Cabinet”. (The misuse of the term is also prominent in the published Informateur Report.)

It is obvious that the misapplication of “the cabinet” is borrowed from the Netherlands. However, the media failed to take into account that when the term “cabinet” is used in the Netherlands it is in reference to or consist of ministers and state secretaries, a complete and distinct body from the Council of Ministers of the Netherlands. The Cabinet, which consist of ministers and state secretaries, is primarily an advisory body to the Council of Ministers. Its primary task is to assist the Council of Ministers with research and the development of public policy. Thereafter, it is the Council of Ministers that solely approves, implements and executes public policies and laws.

In contrast, the executive body of the Government of Sint Maarten does not consist of any such cabinet as the Netherlands nor embodies any state secretaries; it consist only of ministers with no semblance of a cabinet. Thus any reference to the present executive body of the Government of Sint Maarten i.e., the Council of Ministers as “The Leona Romeo-Marlin Cabinet”, is a gross misrepresentation of the governing facts.

In addition, the term “cabinet” in political systems is operationally defined as “a body of high-ranking state or governing officials who purely serve as an advisory body”. As such any reference to the present executive body of the Government of St. Maarten/ the Council of Ministers (or any past Council of Ministers) as the Leona Romeo-Marlin cabinet is further proof of a gross misrepresentation of the governing facts. The Prime Minister is an equal member of the Council of Ministers with no extra privileges other than the leader and chairperson of the Council.

Factual knowledge is essential, shouldn’t we have a public responsibility to properly educate and inform the community as opposed to disseminating or providing readers and listeners with “alternative facts?”