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Gumbs vows not to resign


1_Marcel_Gumbs_Prime_MinistercPHILIPSBURG--Feeling strengthened by the opinion of constitutional law expert Professor Arjen van Rijn and convinced that the St. Maarten Constitution must be upheld, St. Maarten Prime Minister Marcel Gumbs has decided not to resign, and neither will the rest of the Council of Ministers.

“As Prime Minister I have the responsibility to protect the Constitution and to carry it out the way it was written. I am not fighting for the mere reason to be able to hold on to the position of Prime Minister. I am fighting to uphold the Constitution,” Gumbs told The Daily Herald in an interview on Sunday.

The Council of Ministers, appointed in December 2014, was within its rights to dissolve Parliament based on article 59 of the Constitution and to call for new elections, stated Professor Van Rijn in his advice to Gumbs dated October 2, 2015 (see related article).

Gumbs and the other members of the Council of Ministers are determined to stay until a new Government has been formed after the elections, which should be held on December 8, regardless of the motion of no confidence that was adopted last Wednesday by a small majority of Parliament.

“Fact is that we are in a constitutional crisis because of a difference in interpretation of the Constitution. But I say the time has come to stop the patch-working of forming new coalitions all the time with a different group of people taking over,” said Gumbs.

Switching coalitions seems to have become custom, an unwritten law, a “gewoonterecht,” said Gumbs, referring to the changes of government in 2011 and 2013, outside election years. “Now again? It is not correct and we can’t have that in light of our Constitution.”

The main motive to dissolve Parliament and to call for new elections in the draft National Decree (concept Landsbesluit) is that an answer is needed on the continuous practice of switching parties and divisions in Parliament. This answer would have to come from the people through elections.

“We need clarity,” said Gumbs. Van Rijn supported this line of thought, saying that Government had all rights to have the voters judge the behaviour in Parliament.

“The opportunity must be given to the people. It is only fair to the people. They have a right. This situation with the frequent changing of coalitions can’t go on. Nobody is taking us seriously anymore. We are a country. We are no longer an island territory. Being a country means upholding the Constitution,” Gumbs said.

He said there was “nothing wrong” with having elections outside official election years. The last elections were in 2014, which means that officially the next elections would be in 2018. The reactions he has received from people so far were positive. “Many people feel strongly about new elections. People are telling me that we’re right to call new elections.”

According to Gumbs, the current developments cannot be compared to those in May/June 2013 when then-Vice-Prime Minister William Marlin, supported by three members of the Council of Ministers and in absence of then-Prime Minister Sarah Wescot-Williams, decided to dissolve Parliament and call for new elections after three Members of Parliament withdrew their support from the National Alliance/Democratic Party-led coalition.

“What happened in 2013 can’t be used as a reason to have the Council of Ministers resign, because the situation is different. The Council of Ministers in 2013 was split. We are not. We are all on the same wavelength in the current Council of Ministers and no one has resigned. That needs to be respected,” Gumbs said.

St. Maarten Governor Eugene Holiday has not signed the draft National Decree so far because he does not consider the move by the Gumbs Cabinet desirable. According to Van Rijn, the Governor does not have the authority not to ratify the draft National Decree to dissolve Parliament.

Gumbs said a meeting was scheduled with the Governor during the course of this week, but he did not know what would happen. One thing he knew for sure: “I am going to the office on Monday and on Tuesday we will have a Council of Ministers meeting, as usual.”

He contradicted the perception that the Council of Ministers was holding on in order to complete a one-year term in Government so they could make use of pension and other related benefits. Gumbs stressed that five of the seven members of the Council of Ministers were on pension already, as they were past the age of 60. (Suzanne Koelega)

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