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You are here: Islands Islands News PM weighs in on ‘political turmoil’

PM weighs in on ‘political turmoil’

MarcelGumbs_crop1PHILIPSBURG--Prime Minister (PM) Marcel Gumbs issued a statement on Friday in which he weighed in on the current “political turmoil” that has gripped the country for just over a week since he and his cabinet members refused to make their positions available after Parliament passed a no-confidence motion against them on September 30.

In an address to the nation, Gumbs said the legal nature of the “crisis” was “very complicated,” and he wanted to “explain what is going on in plain St. Maarten English.”

He first alluded to the Parliamentary meeting of September 30, called to handle two agenda items, including the situation of Government-owned companies, which he said had been “vague.” He said no Minister had been requested to attend the handling of the latter agenda point, which he believed “defies the rules of propriety and common decency which Parliament should observe.”

Gumbs spoke about the passing of the no-confidence motion against the cabinet, which he said had been “in very general terms.” He went on to detail who had voted in favour of the motion, noting, “This meant that a majority withdrew its confidence in my Cabinet.”

“Shortly after the vote was taken, a letter was delivered to the Governor advising him of the vote of no confidence and of the pretended new coalition claiming to have a basis for a new Government that can rely on the confidence of the majority of Parliament,” he said.

Gumbs said the options then available to Government centred on the interpretation of “two very important articles” of the Constitution. The first is article 33-2, which states that a Minister who no longer can count on the confidence of Parliament should vacate his or her function.

He said this article and its explanatory notes did not say when exactly this had to take place, which he said was connected to the second article: Article 59, which states that Parliament can be dissolved by Landsbesluit (Resolution) so new elections can take place.

“This requires a decision by the Government, which means that the Cabinet prepares the decision, which is signed by the Governor and then co-signed by the responsible Minister, in this case yours truly,” he said.

He said that although the Governor represented the King as the head of Government, these decisions must and could be taken only under the political responsibility of the Cabinet.

“If the Governor has his doubts about the wisdom of a decision, the Constitution allows him to warn or advise the Cabinet. Unless he takes the decision to the Kingdom Government, ultimately the Governor has no choice but to sign the decision as deemed necessary by the Cabinet,” Gumbs said. “Only then can the Governor function above all parties.”

He said that given the legal complexity of the situation, the Governor was in a difficult position. “However, the fact remains that up to this moment he has not signed the decision to dissolve Parliament and to call elections; he has ignored the political responsibility of my Cabinet; and he chose to prepare the formation of another Cabinet without having the authority to do that,” he said.

Gumbs said the Cabinet had sought advice on the issue from four professors, one of whom supported the Governor’s view and three of whom supported the Cabinet’s view.

“They explained the fundamental importance of the combination of article 33-2 and article 59, since this presents the balance of powers in our Constitution. This means that Government, struck by a Parliament that withdraws its confidence, has the power to strike back by calling for elections. Then solving the conflict is brought back to the people, the roots to this great tree called democracy,” he said.

Gumbs said that, knowing what options were open to the Cabinet, Government had weighed the “facts” and considered the possible consequences.

He said the motion of no confidence against the entire Cabinet had been motivated in general terms; none of the Ministers were given the chance to address these terms before the vote; and “the motion was signed by some of the very same people who created some of our biggest problems.”

He said too that the Cabinet had been in office for about 10 months and had spent most of its time “putting out fires and navigating serious legislative and operational problems that were left to us by our predecessors.

“There are, to put it mildly, an awful lot of lingering issues to be dealt with. Expecting this Cabinet to solve all legacy issues in 10 months, when they were not addressed for four years, is expecting us to walk on water or change water into wine. Still, it seems that in St. Maarten even Jesus Christ himself could be sent home with a motion of no confidence.”

He also said that the Cabinet was the fourth since St. Maarten had attained its status as Country in the Dutch Kingdom in 2010 and the first since the 2014 elections.

“If my Cabinet would have bowed for the majority in Parliament as of September 30, that would mean the start of a fifth Cabinet since 2010, while you, the people, were only allowed to vote once. Going on in the same rate, by 2018, the next year for regular elections, St. Maarten could have 10 Cabinets, which will achieve nothing and leave us economically and constitutionally stagnated,” he said.

Gumbs said it would be the third time since 10-10-10 that the Cabinet would change after some MPs, between elections, “jumped ship” from the coalition and others from their own party.

“Some see the Caribbean as the place where the Carnival never stops. That may be so, but in St. Maarten we must stop the Carnival coups. They only serve to hinder our country’s progress and damage its international image.

“There seem to be no real political motives, let alone political principles, behind all this ship-jumping. Therefore rumours are rampant in our community that the motives would be self-interest or even plain money.

“I cannot make a substantiated judgment about such rumours. All I can say is that I put my trust in you, the people, to now vote from your conscience and your conscience alone for representatives who, in turn, really deserve your trust,” he said.

He also spoke about the various integrity reports on St. Maarten, which highlight ship-jumping as an issue that damages the reputation of St. Maarten and undermines integrity of its Government and other institutions.

“Due to all the fire-fighting we were forced to do these past 10 months, we have not been able – yet – to come up with proposals for electoral reform to curb ship-jumping. But such proposals only have a chance with the support of Parliament. Such a change needs a clear mandate from the people to deal with this once and for all. As it is now, true electoral reform is as feasible as expecting turkeys to vote for Thanksgiving,” he said.

Gumbs said that, having weighed the “facts,” Government had considered the options to either take the path of least resistance offered by article 33-2 of the Constitution by resigning immediately or “use the countervailing power of Government” laid down in article 59 of the Constitution and dissolve Parliament and call new elections.

“The choice was not easy, because of the deep controversy that has developed and that you all are now a witness to,” Gumbs said, adding that the Cabinet consisted of seven members who were committed to ensure and improve stability, integrity, sound financial management and accountability.

“These may seem empty words to you in light of the activities of previous Ministers and Parliament, but I can assure you, for us they are not. For this agenda we need a sound majority from MPs who can be trusted, not by us, the Cabinet, but by you, the people.

“Not much more than a year ago, the second or third generation of ship-jumpers was voted into Parliament. We may have our suspicions or doubts what this has brought them, but we cannot have doubts where this has brought the Country.

“Are the people of St. Maarten now prepared to cast their votes for candidates who really stand for Country and not for self? If it is up to my Cabinet that is the question that will now be brought to you,” Gumbs said in concluding his statement.

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