Clash in Island Council over ‘written’ answers

The National Alliance (NA)-Heyliger government, sticking to the Rules of Order, refused to present written answers to questions posed by the opposition Democratic Party (DP) during the continuation of the budget debate on Thursday.


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The refusal to give the answers in writing was based on the Rules of Order that require council members to present their questions in writing at least five days prior to a budget debate or in the first round of the debate. Debate on the draft 2010 budget started on Monday, but was adjourned after questions were posed by opposition members.

Island Council Chairman Lt. Governor Franklyn Richards stated that all questions from DP had been posed "verbally," not in writing. The Executive Council, under the Rules of Order and the Gentlemen’s Agreement, was therefore not obliged to present the answers in writing.

He caucused with NA leader Commissioner William Marlin and Commissioner Theo Heyliger on the possibility of giving the opposition the package of answers via e-mail, a request made by DP leader Sarah Wescot-Williams.

However, Richards firmly stated later in the meeting that the budget belonged to the people and the issues with the answers and whether questions were answered or not could have been dealt with easily by "giving the council the information. I don’t see why the answers [in writing] cannot be given."

Marlin replied that he was not in the mood for fighting or bickering and that Richards could have his opinion. DP, he added, can continue to demand the answers in writing "until Doomsday" but the Executive Council was under no obligation to provide them.

The decision not to give the answers in hard copy format, by presenting them verbally by the commissioners, did not sit well with DP. Wescot-Williams said her party "respectfully disagreed" with Richards’ standpoint.

She said there was no way questions could have been posed on the draft budget five days prior to the debate because the draft (a third version) of the budget had only been presented to council members at the beginning of the meeting on Monday along with seven amendments.

She is also of the opinion that the questions had been submitted to the Executive Council in the first round because the meeting had been adjourned while the first round was still in progress. "Why can’t the Executive Council back up their statement in writing not only for the Island Council but for the people? Is it because the Executive Council does not want to put its position on paper?"

DP Island Councilman Roy Marlin also protested the refusal to supply the answers in writing. He said that if the NA-led government was serious about the budget debate and the business of the people the answers would be provided in writing.

After the commissioners presented answers to questions posed, DP members indicated that several questions had not been answered and because there was no hard copy to follow with they could not be certain if they had been answered or passed over.

Commissioner Marlin put the DP members’ objections down to pushing to get their way by having the Executive Council rescind its decision not to give the answers in writing. He added that they were also creating the impression that a number of questions had not been answered because DP members were "not happy" with the answers given.

He said the opposition sought to drag on the budget process so that every day the Committee for Financial Supervision CFT gave St. Maarten a bad mark "they can gloat." He called on Richards to put a stop to the questioning that in his opinion should have been left for the second round, because the opposition was bringing up new questions.

Prior to the debate over the written answers, Thursday’s continuation of the budget meeting was adjourned after about 30 minutes of answers presented by Finance Commissioner Xavier Blackman.

The two-hour adjournment was to get the answers sorted out, because Commissioner Frans Richardson had found a mistake in an answer already given by Blackman on queries about Richardson’s cancelled attendance at Seatrade Cruise Shipping Miami.

The answer prepared by the civil service and read by Blackman stated that taxpayers had footed a NAf. 5,391 bill for Richardson’s cancelled attendance. However, this was not the case, according to Commissioner William Marlin later in the meeting.

Answers to the 145 questions posed by DP had been typed up and made into packages for Island Council members, but had never been distributed. The answers covered 30 pages. A package was made for each Island Council member.

When Councilwoman Buncamper-Molanus noted that the commissioners were reading from prepared statements, Commissioner Marlin said nothing prevented the commissioners from reading from notes.

The debate was adjourned Thursday evening for the answering of more questions and will continue on Monday, March 29, at 2:00pm.