PFP against efforts to silence MPs, rush through the 2022 national budget



~ Faction proposes to extend debates into Parliament recess ~

PHILIPSBURG, Sint Maarten  – With only one week left before Parliament goes on recess, Party for Progress (PFP) Members of Parliament (MPs) Melissa Gumbs and Raeyhon Peterson are spearheading a proposal for MPs to continue working well into the holiday season.

The late submission of the country’s 2022 budget is the reason for the proposal. Although Article 100 sub-point 3 of Sint Maarten’s Constitution stipulates that the national budget should be submitted to Parliament by September 1 of the preceding year, MPs only received the 2022 budget on Wednesday, December 8, 2021 – more than three months late of the Constitutional deadline and a month later than the Governor informed Parliament they would have it in his address at the opening of the 2021-2022 Parliamentary year.

While MPs Gumbs and Peterson could ignore the budget’s lateness, they were dismayed at what emerged just two days later, when the Presidium of Parliament announced that MPs would handle the budget in two days of Central Committee Meetings (today, Monday, December 13, and tomorrow, Tuesday, December 14), followed by two days of Public Meetings (Thursday, December 16, and Friday, December 17). For the MPs, it was even more concerning that the Presidium proposed that only faction leaders be given the opportunity to pose questions in the Central Committee meetings.

“This manner of handling the national budget is unacceptable. It places undue pressure on MPs to quickly review, discuss and pass the 85-page budget in just 9 days,” said MP Gumbs. “As the document outlines Government’s operations for the next 12 months, Parliament must be completely free to run a fine-tooth comb through the various plans and budget items, and, in so doing, help streamline the budget through carefully crafted amendments. Parliament’s supervisory role is even more necessary now because we are in the middle of a financial crisis. Further to this, the budget itself seems incomplete; for more than a few ministries, we are lacking an itemized list of particularly large budget posts, especially in Education and TEATT. How are we to make amendments if we cannot see what we are amending?”

“It also restricts a majority of MPs from exercising their right to question the budget. Article 100, sub-point 1 of the Sint Maarten Constitution outlines the right to approve and amend the budget; one of the most important tasks given to Parliament by the Constitution,” added MP Peterson. “To date, we have not received any concrete reasoning from the Government regarding the rush to pass this budget. However, we will not allow Parliament’s role to be harassed or disregarded in this manner.”

Given these objections, the PFP MPs drafted a letter to protest the current schedule and speaking restrictions, with several other MPs voicing their support. The letter also outlines an alternative proposal to handle the 2022 national budget. The proposal calls for:
To begin the Central Committee debate on Monday, December 13, 2021 as scheduled, and continue it for this week as needed.
To interrupt the holiday recess of Parliament so that the Public handling of the 2022 budget can be done the week of December 27, 2021.

“This would allow for Parliament to begin handling the country’s budget, but it would also ensure
that each Member of Parliament has been provided with sufficient time to peruse and evaluate the budget. It would also allow all members of Parliament who may have questions related to the budget to pose said questions in the Central Committee and Public Meetings, and not just faction leaders. More importantly, it would show that the Parliament is giving the people’s business the proper attention, time, and commitment it deserves, rather than rushing to handle and pass a budget in the immediate following week,” it was stated in the letter.

“The handling of the budget is one of Parliament’s most important tasks and it should never be done in a hap-hazard manner. It is our firm belief that keeping the existing schedule is a recipe for disaster, and we cannot in good conscience support it,” the letter concluded.

The PFP MPs urge Parliament Chairperson Grisha Heyliger-Marten to accept this alternative proposal and amend the schedule going forward from today.