SMCP wishes the people of St. Maarten a blessed New Year and good governance throughout 2017. We pray that our Parliamentarians will raise the bar in Parliament and that the Council of Ministers will adhere to the principles of transparency, accountability, integrity, responsiveness, efficiency, effectiveness and the rule of law that result in good governance.
After a relatively long government formation process, St. Maarten got a new government or Council of Ministers almost three months after the parliamentary elections that were held on September 26, 2016. In the six-member Cabinet (the seventh member still being screened) four of the Ministers were, up until December 20, active parliamentarians until they tendered their resignations in order to accept the position of minister. Three of these ministers namely, the Honorable William Marlin, Silveria Jacobs and Emil Lee, functioned simultaneously as Ministers and Members of Parliament, since October 31, 2016, when the recently elected parliamentarians were sworn in by the Governor.
According to article 34 sub 4 of our State Regulation or Constitution, “a minister elected as a Member of Parliament may combine the office of Minister with membership of Parliament for a maximum of three months following his admission to Parliament.” However, since Ministers Marlin, Jacobs and Lee tendered their resignations as members of Parliament and were sworn in on December 20, as Ministers in the new Marlin Cabinet, their three seats in Parliament have since become vacant. In other words, with their resignation and immediate their appointment of ministers, the NA/USP/DP coalition now only has the support of seven members in parliament. Hence, we can conclude that the current Government does not have the support of the majority in parliament.
The fourth parliamentarian, who was sworn in as minister in the 2nd Marlin Cabinet, is the Honorable Christopher Emmanuel. As he also resigned as a Member of Parliament his seat in Parliament therefore also became vacant as per December 20, 2016. Conclusion! There are currently four parliamentary seats that are vacant, which means that the NA/USP/DP Government, after the resignation of the Honorable Christopher Emmanuel, now only has the support of six parliamentarians. Consequently, any decisions that need to be taken in Parliament will require the support and cooperation of the UP parliamentarians.
A similar scenario is currently playing out in the Parliament of Curaçao which politicians are referring to as a “constitutional crisis.” On December 27, 2016, the Curaçao Chronicle reported that there was a constitutional crisis in Government, due to the fact that the vacant seats in the Parliament of Curaçao had not yet been filled by new parliamentarians and as such the governing coalition did not have a majority in Parliament.
The Chronicle went on to say that “according to political experts, the ministers should have given up their seats in Parliament first and then waited until the new MPs are sworn in before taking the oath as the new government. The experts also indicated that the solution is very simple, but the government will need the help of the opposition. Parliament could call a public meeting where the new MPs could present their credentials and take the oath. Such meeting was planned for Wednesday, but the opposition must be part of a quorum.”
Indeed, the situation on St. Maarten is very similar. Four members of Parliament have tendered their resignations and subsequently have been sworn in as ministers, leaving four seats vacant in Parliament that are yet to be filled. Consequently, the NA/USP/DP coalition government no longer enjoys the support of a majority in parliament and therefore will need to depend on the opposition, namely the UP parliamentarians, in order to be able to conduct the people’s business in the House of Parliament.
Conclusion: in truth and in fact the situation on St. Maarten can also be considered a constitutional crisis. It seems to me that the time period between the resignation of a parliamentarian and the filling of his/her vacant seat needs to be better regulated in the Election Ordinance. This is definitely an item that should to be included in the much needed electoral reform.
Without the cooperation of the UP parliamentarians this constitutional crisis could have serious consequences for the functioning of Parliament and the continuity of government. For example, just to be able to hold a public meeting, the six-member NA/USP/DP coalition will need to have at least eight members sign the attendance list. Of course, according to the Rules of Order of Parliament, article 29 sub 3, a meeting, called for the third time, can be held, regardless of the number of members in attendance.
If the five-member UP-Party Opposition in Parliament would choose not to cooperate with the Coalition, governing the country could become a tedious process.
In order not to impede the governing process the SMCP is calling on the UP parliamentarians to cooperate with the current minority NA/USP/DP coalition so that the vacant NA seats can be filled and the government can once again enjoy a majority in Parliament. God knows St. Maarten is not ready or willing to go back to the polls so soon.
Leader of the St. Maarten Christian Party