PFP: Reaction to Supreme Court Opinion



Failures to Protect Constitution and Autonomy of Country Sint Maarten

PHILIPSBURG – “Disappointed” was the sentiment within the Party for Progress (PFP) after the Supreme Court in the Netherlands issued their opinion on the Braam case in Curacao. The disappointment, however, is not with the opinion that has been issued, but with the fact that St. Maarten’s democratic process was interfered with by the Cabinet of the Governor. “Awaiting the outcome of this Supreme Court opinion” was used as a reason from Governor Ajamu Baly for not signing the national decree to appoint PFP candidate Mr. Raeyhon Peterson LL.M., as the Minister of VROMI. PFP, via party leader and member of Parliament Melissa Gumbs and PFP member of Parliament Ludmila de Weever issued a reaction in a media statement.

“While self-proclaimed journalists and political candidates masquerading as journalists have shared their very biased opinions on the matter, the reality is that Raeyhon Peterson did not fail his screening,” Gumbs stated. “His screening reports, which he himself made public, and other documentation prove that he passed his screening. The Governor, and by some extent the then-formateur, now Prime Minister Dr. Luc Mercelina, failed the democratic process of St. Maarten and also violated the constitutional rights of Raeyhon Peterson by failing to complete the formation process.”

Gumbs is referring to the fact that at the time of the outcome of the screening process, Peterson was, according to existing case law, entirely capable of being sworn in as the Minister of VROMI. The principle of legal certainty and the principle of trust are paramount in this case. When Peterson accepted his nomination, he had the right to assume that based on the current jurisprudence and St. Maarten laws, there would be no obstacles to his appointment as Minister of VROMI. However, Governor Baly refused to sign Peterson’s national decree, citing the “unwritten constitutional norms” that have been applied in the past when screening candidate ministers. Prime Minister Mercelina and the Governor then engaged in a bit of a back and forth, during which the Governor sent the national decree back to the Prime Minister with the advice to “retract or withhold” it.

“This was a gross misuse of the office of the Governor,” Gumbs stated. “The Regulation of the Governor itself says that in the event the Governor does not agree with a decree, he or she must send it to the Kingdom for further handling. Until today, the Governor has not complied with his own regulation. I am curious if this cat and mouse game was played because the Cabinet of the Governor was receiving warnings from The Hague that his position would not be supported. That would make this entire situation even more terrible because it would mean that Raeyhon Peterson has suffered damage to his reputation for absolutely no reason.”

“We must also ask ourselves if human reactions following a crime committed against a person, means that someone is not integer and cannot be a minister,” de Weever mentioned. “I would hate to think that, faced with a similar situation as Raeyhon, that maybe the Governor himself would be considered unfit for a position that should only focus on integrity and good ethical conduct and decision-making.”

“The reality is that formateurs in the past have been able to advocate for their candidate ministers on more than one occasion,” Gumbs continued. “I did this, as party leader, by providing an extensive explanation, drafted with input by several legal minds, as to why Peterson was able to be Minister. The Governor, for whatever reasons he had, remained adamant in his personal decision to wait for the outcome of the Supreme Court’s opinion, on a case that has nothing to do with St. Maarten or its laws. After all, St. Maarten doesn’t have the stipulation on which the Supreme Court gave its opinion in our laws. But the Governor waited to see if his personal opinion would be right, interfering with our right to form a government and violating Peterson’s constitutional rights.”

Gumbs is referring to the case of Eduard Braam, who was convicted without punishment of a case of sexual misconduct when he was a company doctor. When he was submitted as a candidate minister, he was blocked based on article 7 of the National Ordinance for the Integrity of Ministers in Curacao. St. Maarten does not have this law or anything similar to it in its legal records. Peterson was convicted for pushing the person who almost killed him, without receiving a punishment, but this, PFP says, is where the comparison between him and Braam ends.

“Peterson was the victim of a drunk driver, who almost killed him,” de Weever stated. “A drunk driver. The videos are public for all to see. How does this affect his integrity to serve as a Minister? It says nothing about his ethics and his approach to governance.

Gumbs and de Weever also highlighted the fact that ultimately, the national decree did not return to the Governor because Mercelina, now in a new capacity as Prime Minister, did not send it back to him after resigning his cabinet and calling snap elections. 

“Twice, the Governor disrespected our autonomy, our Constitution and our right to form a government by returning the national decree relating to Peterson’s appointment,” Gumbs said. “Article 21 of the Regulation of the Governor is clear, and the Governor does not have the authority to “return” any national decree sent to him. but can only send it up to the Kingdom Council of Ministers for further handling. This, combined with a lack of a sense of urgency by the Prime Minister to protect the same Constitution and the same constitutional rights of Peterson that he swore to uphold, is very discouraging. It means that this fake narrative of Peterson failing his screening has been allowed to take hold.”

Gumbs is referring, of course, to biased media reports that Peterson failed his screening, which has been the rallying cry of several opposition members as the snap election approaches. One media outlet is even owned and operated by someone who ran as a candidate on an opposition party slate.

“I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but this experience has only led me to question ‘what was it?’? Gumbs concluded. “Was it external forces and political opponents of PFP, working together to keep Raeyhon Peterson out of that seat? Why are they so afraid of young, professional politicians who want to clean up the mess, for no personal gain? I can imagine, considering the controversies that have plagued VROMI, both before and after 10-10-10, there is some fear of anyone who promises to clean the house. Time will tell what happens next and history will be the judge. But the fact remains: we cannot expect change if we are not willing to be uncomfortable and to confront the reality of what has been happening under everyone’s eyes, for decades. It takes strong leadership, determination and uncompromising integrity to improve things, from VROMI to VSA to TEATT, everywhere. And that is the character and approach that Peterson was ready to take and in fact, has been taking even though he was not sworn in.”