Are government and parliament waiting until the next election comes around or until the next ship jumper presents him or herself in parliament to start working on electoral reform again? Any electoral change involving the constitution requires the input and blessing from the kingdom government which includes the governments of the Netherlands, Aruba and Curacao. On the other hand, according to our constitution, amendments to election related ordinances such the Election Ordinance, the National Ordinance Registration and Finances of Political Parties only require “a majority of at least two thirds of the votes cast by the serving members” (art. 129 sub 2). In both cases, the progression, from reform-proposals to the final approval by parliament, is a very long and tedious one and would require that government and parliament begin the process immediately if they want these reforms in place before the next election in 2020. We have enough experience to know that initiative laws such as the tourism authority ordinance, the ban on import and the sale of plastic bags and the integrity chamber law can take years before a draft law reaches parliament for final approval.
Let us take for example electoral reform pertaining to the curtailing of ship jumping. On October 28, 2015, Parliament called an urgent meeting to oust the Gumb’s government, citing that “if the Gumbs cabinet was serious about addressing the matter of “ship-jumping”, efforts to do so would have been evident, which is not the case”. A motion of non-confidence was then signed by a majority of eight parliamentarians, among whom were MP’s Sarah Wescot-Williams, William Marlin, and Frans Richardson, who happen now to be the leaders of the current Red, White and Blue coalition government. Hence, one would expect that the matter of ship-jumping would be high on the United Democratic Alliance (UDA) priority list. Unfortunately, this is not the case. According to page 30 of governing program, the current UDA government is only concerned about “finalizing the process to enable students abroad to vote and about legislating voting day procedures”. This means that our current government and the majority in parliament are no longer interested in the matter of ship jumping, an issue for which they even threw down the government in 2015. It appears that to appease the voters at that time, a Commission for Electoral Reform was established in December 2015 with the task to come up with recommendations and proposals on how to deal with the phenomenon of ship jumping. The Committee issued a public survey after which we, the people, never heard anything more about the survey or from the committee. All matters concerning electoral reform were conveyed to the public by the Honorable Prime Minister, William Marlin. It seems as if the phenomenon ship-jumping has now become a non-issue that is until it raises its ugly head again and then our government and parliament will find themselves in a reactive mode once again.
Perhaps we can learn something from our neighboring island Anguilla that seems to be much more serious, diligent and willing to deal with major electoral reforms. In September 2015 the Government of Anguilla established a combined Constitutional and Electoral Committee to research and come up with proposals for constitutional and electoral reform. On March 31st 2017, eighteen months later, the committee was able to present an extensive reform proposal to the Government.
I acknowledge that ship-jumping is a universal, parliamentary phenomenon and has been and still is the subject of much research, public discussion and parliamentary debates. Officially, it is called “crossing the floor”, but I really like the Dutch terminology “seat robber”. Being fed up with this phenomenon, the Dutch have attempted to ground seat robbers by amending the parliamentary rules of order. In December 2017, the Dutch parliament (second chamber) approved that a seat robber can no longer be considered a faction and as such will not be entitled to the financial benefits and perks that come with being a faction. In addition, the seat robbers’ speaking time in parliament has also been reduced. Of course, there were parties in the second chamber that would have liked to impose more drastic measures, but these would have required amending the constitution which would have been a long and drawn out process. Parliamentarians therefore settled for the amendment of the rules of order.
In order to begin to restrict future ship jumpers, I am of the opinion that our parliament could start by amending article 19 of the Rules of Order for the Parliament of Sint Maarten. The amendment would restrict a ship jumper from becoming a full-fledged faction. This means that a ship-jumper would not be rewarded with a faction office, equipment and faction-support staff. He or she would also not be able to participate in the Assembly of Seniors. In other words, the ship-jumper can remain an independent member of parliament but will not be able to claim any of the rights pertaining to a faction. Are our parliamentarians willing and ready to review article 19 and subsequent articles of the Rules of Order and strip ship jumpers from their right to become a faction?
Leader of the Sint Maarten Christian Party