The Central Committee meeting of Parliament, convened on October 12, 2017 to discuss hurricane preparedness, disaster management and the recovery of Sint Maarten, was closed based on an erroneous ruling. As the Prime Minister, the Honorable William Marlin, was unable to attend this meeting, Acting Prime Minister, the Honorable Raphael Boasman, together with the Honorable Ministers Jacobs, Doncher and Lee substituted for him. After opening the meeting, the Chairlady, the Honorable Sarah Wescot-Williams, announced that there could be a problem with her chairing this meeting. Article 9 of the Rules of Order does not permit her to preside over the meeting due to the fact that she had taken the floor on the topic in the last two meetings. As the first and second acting chairpersons were absent, the meeting would have to be postponed, unless, based on article 95, none of the parliamentarians present objected to her continuing to chair the meeting.
The Chairlady then posed the following question to the Parliament. “Is there any member opposed to the chairperson of parliament, having taken the floor on the topic at hand, can continue the chairing of this meeting nevertheless?”
Immediately, the Honorable MP, Franklin Meyers, requested the floor. “Madame Chair, I oppose the continuation of the meeting for one reason and one reason in particular, it’s the Prime Minister is primarily tasked with the disaster management…however there was a lot of questions that were posed by Members of Parliament to the Prime Minister that wanted to know what the Prime Minister was exactly thinking at the time certain decisions was made and no Member of the Council of Ministers can answer what the Prime Minister was specifically thinking, so I oppose the continuation of this meeting until he, the Prime Minister William Marlin, is present, thank you!
The Chairlady thanked MP Meyers and then declared, “according to article 95 of the Rules of Order the Parliament can only decide to deviate from the Rules of Order if no member opposes that deviation…! Having stated that. Having heard the opposition of one Member of Parliament to the continuation of this meeting, the meeting regretfully cannot take place.”
Clearly, MP Meyers did not answer the specific question raised by the Chair, who wanted to know if there was any objection to her chairing the meeting. Instead, MP Meyers answered that he was opposed to the continuation of the meeting due to the absence of the Prime Minister. The Chairlady’s ruling to postpone this meeting was obviously based on an erroneous answer. Remarkably though, not one Member of Parliament present stood to a point of order concerning this ruling and so the meeting was closed. This raises a few questions and observations.
Besides being Members of Parliament, the honorable drs. Rodolphe Samuel and Frans Richardson have an added responsibility. They are respectively first and second acting chairpersons of Parliament. Basic courtesy dictates that they should inform the Chair of their absence prior to the meeting. Did both acting chairpersons deliberately not attend the meeting, knowing that the meeting would then have to be postponed? Seeing that MP Meyers was so eager to take the floor just after the opening of the meeting, one wonders if he too were involved in ensuring that this meeting would not take place. In view of the fact that not one of the members of parliament raised objections to the erroneous ruling by the Chair, could it be that, they also colluded in the closing of the meeting. Or perhaps they are so used to business as usual that the ruling of the chair caught them off guard?
Six weeks after the passing of Irma Parliament still has no answers, no plan and seemingly no clue as to what to do next. So now, we see individual Members of Parliament approaching the Kingdom Government on their own. The Honorable MP, Theo Heyliger, has sent a letter, thanking the Dutch Government for their assistance post hurricane Irma. Furthermore, the Honorable MP, Sarah Wescott-Williams, also sent a personal letter, requesting the Kingdom Government not to attach the Integrity Chamber and border control as conditions to the much the needed disaster aid. The fact that two Members of Parliament approached the Dutch Kingdom on their own is an indication of no cohesion between the parliament and the government. In my opinion, both letters could have had a greater impact if they had been sent by the Parliament, which is the collective representative of the people of Sint Maarten.
On two occasions, during the past parliamentary year, Government and Parliament formed a united block against the Dutch. After hearing the Prime Minister on both occasions, Parliament unanimously passed motions instructing the Government to act. On November 9th 2016, Parliament instructed the Government to request the Kingdom Minister of Foreign Affairs to address the border dispute with his counterparts in Paris. The motion of January 30, 2017 condemned the action of the Minister for Interior and Kingdom Relations and instructed the Government to use all means available to block the Integrity Chamber. Both instructions were carried out by Government!
If Parliament and Government could unite then, why is so hard for them to cooperate on the matter of disaster aid for the country? Seeing that the Government is dragging its feet on the recovery effort and on hurricane aid from the Kingdom, Parliament should step up and take the lead. Because right now, the people of Sint Maarten are definitely not well served by and do not stand to gain from the current incompatible relationship between Parliament and Government.
Leader of the Sint Maarten Christian Party