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Frans joins UP-led coalition, gets Justice Ministry portfolio

page1b203PHILIPSBURG--The United People's (UP)-led coalition again has the support of ten Members of Parliament (MPs) as of Monday morning when United St. Maarten (US) party leader MP Frans Richardson signed on to the coalition.

Richardson signed on with the "100 per cent support" of his party's board. The party will be responsible for the portfolio of the Justice Ministry.

There is no immediate plan by the US party to replace current Justice Minister Dennis Richardson. Continuity and stability in the ministry will be taken into consideration, especially with the pending review of the consensus kingdom laws this year. The laws primarily cover the operation and build-up of the Police Force, the Prosecutor's Office, the Joint Court of Justice and the Council for Law Enforcement.

The agreement between the two political parties brings to an end speculations that arose last week about just this possibility.

UP leader Theo Heyliger told The Daily Herald he was happy to have Richardson and the US party on board. "My aim since the elections in 2010 has been for a broad-based government for St. Maarten. This is another step in that direction."

Frans Richardson said in an interview with this newspaper that a meeting would be held with the Justice Minister to ascertain exactly what is going on in the ministry now and to get an outline of the future plans. "I think it's important to speak with the Justice Minister to get a feeling for what is going on," he said.

What is certain is that Frans Richardson will not opt to leave Parliament to take up the minister's post should a party decision be made for a new minister. "As a party, we have decided it is better for me to remain in Parliament. It is where I was elected to. Also, Justice is a very specific ministry. It is always better to have someone who has a Justice background, knowledge and capability."

The US party campaigned on the issue of security and safety of the country along with other issues during the lead-up to the August 29, 2014, Parliamentary Elections.

"Security of our people has been and continues to be a priority for us. This portfolio gives us an opportunity to work on that," said the US party leader. Implementation of a closed-circuit security camera monitoring system starting in Philipsburg will be a top priority for the party. "At the end of the day, we need to stop talking and start doing."

As he has always been interested in tourism and economic affairs, the US party leader was asked why his party had not opted for the portfolio of the Ministry of Tourism, Economic Affairs, Transport and Telecommunications (TEATT). "There is a minister there already – Claret Connor. The US party is joining an existing coalition and the Justice Ministry was available," he said.

Justice Minister Dennis Richardson served in the Wescot-Williams III Cabinet that demitted office in December to make way for the current Gumbs Cabinet. He was asked by the then-UP/Democratic Party/Marlin-Romeo coalition to stay on as Justice Minister after the minister candidate for the post encountered some issues with his screening.

The coalition later became the UP/De Weever/Marlin Romeo coalition when DP leader MP Sarah Wescot-Williams bowed out after differences. Her departure on November 13, 2014, left the governing coalition with the support of nine MPs. The coalition now has been strengthened further with the inclusion of the US party.

On the campaign trail, US party candidates, including the party leader, were critical of UP and its way of governing. Asked how that sentiment from the campaign trail would translate into a successful working relationship with UP, Frans Richardson said, "We all addressed critical issues on the campaign trail. Joining the coalition will mean we can also work for St. Maarten at the executive level for the people of St. Maarten. There's no doubt UP and the US party can work together to better this country."

This will not be the first time Heyliger and Frans Richardson have worked together in a coalition. They were part of the last Executive Council and Island Council of St. Maarten (2008-2010).

The awarding of the Justice Ministry to the US party does create a hurdle. The Justice Minister also serves as the Public Health, Social Development and Labour Minister. The latter ministry already belongs to coalition partner independent MP Cornelius de Weever. To date, De Weever has not put forward a candidate for the Health Ministry. The minister candidate for the post encountered issues in the security and integrity screening issues.

As for why this signing on to the coalition has come now, the US party leader said: "The UP leader and I have always had communications about country matters. The opportunity to join forces came up and we worked to get here."

There are speculations that other cabinet changes can be expected in the coming weeks. This includes a possible shifting of TEATT Minister Claret Connor to the Ministry of Public Housing, Spatial Planning, Environment and Infrastructure VROMI and the TEATT post being filled by an appointee of coalition partner MP Leona Marlin-Romeo. However, this was not confirmed by the UP Leader.