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St. Maarten parliament blames talk of independence for integrity instruction

FRIDAY, 04 OCTOBER 2013

PHILIPSBURG–Talk of going independent from the Dutch Kingdom, rehashing of the government crisis in May and some finger-pointing about who was most responsible for the country’s integrity issues were the common thread of Thursday’s meeting of the Central Committee of Parliament.

The meeting was requested by government to update Members of Parliament (MPs) about the instruction the Kingdom Council of Ministers has issued to Governor Eugene Holiday to carry out an integrity assessment of government.

Prime Minister Sarah Wescot-Williams and Justice Minister Dennis Richardson were in Parliament to outline government’s opposition to the instruction based on the legal basis used by the Dutch Government. Government has sought an advice from the Council of State on the basis used to issue the instruction, with a request for this advice to be rendered speedily.

Most MPs who spoke asked what would be the way forward on this matter. Wescot-Williams suggested that they meet, preferably in a closed session, to come up with an action plan and then deal with it further in a plenary session of Parliament. Such session will be set as soon as possible by Parliament President Gracita Arrindell.

The Royal Decree charging the Governor with the responsibility to conduct an investigation into the integrity and proper functioning of government was published Thursday in the Gazette of the Kingdom of the Netherlands (Staatscourant).

Democratic Party (DP) MP Roy Marlin showed his disapproval of the instruction, saying the Netherlands was plagued with integrity issues. The country has been admonished by the European Council for not having sufficient regulations to address integrity and conflict of interest, and there exist no rules regarding the acceptance of gifts, holding of second jobs by MPs and the regulations of MPs’ business interest.

Regulations for some integrity issues are now being put in place, while St. Maarten, a country less than three years old, is “being persecuted” with “draconian measures.”

National Alliance (NA) leader MP William Marlin said the prime minister had refused to deal with integrity matters about which the Dutch had informed her based on information picked out by former Finance Minister Roland Tuitt in The Hague. This and other incidents, including the government crisis in May, have snowballed into this instruction, according to him. The country is now in “a standoff” with Dutch and it is now left to see “who will pull the trigger first.”

Politicians in St. Maarten have brought it on themselves, the MP said about the instruction. “The mess was created by those who at all cost wanted to stay in government by misusing the rule, hiding information and twisting fact to the point where the Dutch government is staying, ‘We can’t allow this to continue.'”

Marlin said that while the country’s own institution could carry out the integrity assessment, there needed to be will from government “to clean up the mess.”

He questioned who would be defending St. Maarten’s interest in the Council of State when the instruction was under review, because the country does not have a member in the Council. The post has been vacant since Dennis Richardson resigned in May to become Justice Minister.

“We have brought it upon ourselves. By ‘we,’ I don’t mean ‘me,'” said MP Hyacinth Richardson (NA), excluding himself. He put the blame on Wescot-Williams for her refusal to dissolve Parliament in May during political crisis that ousted NA from government.

Independent MP Romain Laville said the issue for many people about standing up to the Dutch was the affinity they have to the Dutch passport. He waved his passport as he spoke, adding that St. Maarten is “still a slave colony of Holland. So they are treating us just like the slave master treats his slaves. Some of us are behaving like the house Negro. We have an identity crisis.”

Laville said maybe it was time for independence. He asked for the telephone number for Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte so he could call and request this, as Rutte had been reported as saying the independence was just a phone call away. Laville is also keen to know King Willem-Alexander’s take on the instruction.

Independent MP Frans Richardson said St. Maarten needed to speak in a “strong” and “shocking” voice. He added that the Dutch Government needed “to stop the ‘Nancy stories'” about the country.

MP Dr. Lloyd Richardson said MPs and government “could pointedly thrash out what has been transpiring in our country” in a closed door session. He urged MPs to resolve their differences, as evident during the meeting, and focus on the country’s image and dealings with the outside world. “It is not only our own personal interest, but the interest of St. Maarten. … We have to fight this fight collectively.”

MPs George Pantophlet (NA) and Jules James and Johan Leonard of United People’s (UP) party, Leroy de Weever (DP) and Patrick Illidge (independent) also weighed in during the debate on the instruction.

Wescot-Williams told MPs the instruction stemmed from “resentment” in the Netherlands with St. Maarten’s attainment of country status. It also hinged on the country not giving into demands of the Dutch related to Saba and St. Eustatius.

She recalled Dutch Minister Ronald Plasterk saying last year that St. Maarten’s dealings with Saba and St. Eustatius would determine the relationship with the Netherlands. Not adhering to those demands have led also to “a technical blockade” of the country as stated in a letter from the Dutch administration to Finance Minister Martin Hassink.

Prior to the issuance of the instruction, government offered to carry out its own assessment, but this was not accepted by the Dutch Government.

She urged MPs to keep their “eyes on the ball” instead of focusing on local politics and placing blame with anyone.

She said MPs did not realise the harm they were doing to the St. Maarten people by the way they talked and that relation matters to people outside of the country. “Integrity is a matter for every person in St. Maarten.”

Justice Minister Richardson said none of the compromises put forward by St. Maarten had been accepted by the Dutch Government, although those were “broader and more sweeping than what the Dutch proposed.”

It was “difficult” even to have a conversation with any of the main players in The Hague. The minister said that while in The Hague he had been told “to cool his heels” and had not been permitted to attend meetings related to the issuance of the instruction on September 27.

“Our people need to understand it is not about the investigation, but the methods used by the Dutch Government,” he said, adding that the use of the law regulating the functioning of the governor as the basis for carrying out the instruction put the governor in a difficult position.

“Can’t we clean our own house?” he asked. He pointed out that the country already had made strides with the build-up of the Prosecutor’s Office since attaining country status on 10-10-10. The national detective team that also was put together since then has closed some 18 cases, conducting investigations in four cases and has seven pending at the Prosecutor’s Office for further handling. “How are we not cleaning our own house?”

The Justice Minister asked whether St. Maarten had a right to an opinion or was the country “to roll over in adorations” for the Dutch Government. He added that he had not fought for higher supervision to be removed from the country when he had served as Lt. Governor nor fought for country status for more than a decade just to roll over. “I would rather die first.”

If being in the kingdom means rolling over and living with what the Dutch government wants to impose on the country, the Justice Minister said the Dutch could send the country its independence and to do so not by post, but by e-mail as that is faster.

The start of the Central Committee meeting was delayed due to an electrical problem that left the general assembly hall without any power. The fault was remedied by a team of electricians.

Source: The Daily Herald, St. Maarten

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