PHILIPSBURG--Just like Parliament is one seat short of its full complement of fifteen members with the detention of now-suspended Member of Parliament Theo Heyliger, Friday morning’s meeting to make a decision about filling his seat was one MP short of a quorum. The meeting was recalled at 1:00pm with nine MPs present.
The meeting’s primary purpose was to acknowledge Heyliger’s suspension as per the Constitution. This move comes after the Prosecutor’s Office informed Parliament about the charges of corruption and money-laundering over a long period of time that have been levelled against Heyliger, based on Article 50 of the Constitution.
The Central Voting Bureau will now be informed that Heyliger’s seat is vacant. This will trigger the electoral law process to fill that seat with the next highest vote-getter from the United Democrats’ slate of the 2018 Parliamentary election.
The first meeting, set for 9:00am, failed to get the required eight MPs to be present and signed in for a start by 10:30am. Parliament Chairwoman Sarah Wescot-Williams was forced by the Rules of Order of the legislature to call off the sitting. She planned to recall the session later that day, possibly at 1:00pm. It is vital the meeting takes place for the procedure to fill Heyliger’s seat to be set into motion.
Present for the meeting from Heyliger’s United Democrats were MPs Wescot-Williams, Dr. Luc Mercelina and Sidharth “Cookie” Bijlani; from St. Maarten Christian Party MP Claude Peterson; and National Alliance (NA) MPs Christophe Emmanuel, Ardwell Irion and Egbert Doran.
Absent were MPs Rolando Brison and Frans Richardson of United St. Maarten Party; Chanel Brownbill, Tamara Leonard, Franklin Meyers and Heyliger of United Democrats; and Silveria Jacobs and William Marlin (NA). Heyliger, Leonard, Jacobs and Marlin were absent with notice.
Thanking the MPs who showed up for the session, Wescot-Williams said, “This meeting, had it gone ahead, is a very important meeting not only for the Parliament, but also for St. Maarten. So, I really appreciate those who have come out today, and call on all of the Members of Parliament who can make it when this meeting is called again to please try your utmost to be part of the meeting.”
Wescot-Williams’ call to MPs was heeded making it possible for the meeting to take place.
Heyliger was St. Maarten’s highest vote-getter in the last parliamentary election. He has been suspended from the legislature following his automatic suspension based on Article 50 of the country’s Constitution. The country’s most popular politician is currently detained in Bonaire on charges of corruption and money-laundering levelled by the Prosecutor’s Office in the investigation code-named Larimar.
Parliament has had only 14 members since Heyliger’s arrest on February 19, making decision-making precarious in the case of contentious topics.
The Constitution also covers the replacement of an MP. However, there are no specifics worked out in an ordinance how the “deputy,” as the Constitution puts it, will be appointed. The current theory is the seat will go to the next highest vote-getter on the United Democrats slate; in this case former MP Jules James.
This is the first time in the history of St. Maarten’s almost-nine-year-old Parliament that an MP has been suspended, although at least three others were detained on similar charges in unrelated cases in the past five years.
One sitting MP, Chanel Brownbill, has a sentence for tax fraud that he has appealed. He was sentenced by the Court of First Instance on April 18, 2018, to 18 months prison time, 15 of which were suspended, on three years’ probation, with 240 hours of community service, in the “Emerald” case.
Heyliger’s arrest has drawn different reactions from the community. Some are rejoicing Heyliger’s legal predicament. Others have called it yet another blatant assault on St. Maarten leaders by the “colonial” Dutch powers and have likened Heyliger’s transportation to Bonaire to that of Nelson Mandela’s imprisonment on Robben Island in apartheid South Africa.