Employer Council calls UN petition ‘an insult’, says should be retracted

Employer Council calls UN petition  ‘an insult’, says should be retracted

~ Outlines concerns in letter to PM ~

PHILIPSBURG--The Employer Council has some “serious concerns” about Parliament’s recent petition to the United Nations, referring to it as “an insult,” requesting that it be retracted and noting that it can put the financial, food and health support that the country receives from the Netherlands “in peril.”

  The council also believes that Parliament “overstepped a constitutional boundary” when it submitted the petition, noting, “Parliament may not engage the UN directly nor through a representative. If Parliament wants the UN engaged it needs to do so via the prime minister.”

  The council outlined its concerns in a letter dated March 30, to Prime Minister (PM) Silveria Jacobs. According to the council, the processes initiated at the United Nations are not likely to stop the Caribbean Body for Reform and Development COHO or the reform process, but will make relations more complicated. “The letter [petition – Ed.] will cause challenges pertaining to livelihoods for many St. Maarten residents during the pandemic, and should be retracted,” the letter reads.

  “The Employer Council thinks there is a clearly stipulated way forward in case a majority of the St. Maarten population seeks more autonomy. This is a domestic choice, and not an international one ... The timing of the letter and the effects it caused, like this weekend’s downgrading of the country by Moody’s, is, to use an understatement, unfortunate.”

  St. Maarten, the council adds, faces acute socio-economic problems that should deserve priority. Roughly one quarter of the population receives food aid; many businesses are dependent on support by the St. Maarten Stimulus and Relief Plan (SSRP) and St. Maarten receives complimentary vaccines against COVID-19 from the Netherlands, indirectly supporting the comeback of the main economic pillar of tourism.

  “All lines of aid are in jeopardy when help from the Netherlands stops, as no viable alternative to cover… [financial, food and health] challenges has been presented as yet. The Employer Council has serious concerns with this chain of events,” the letter reads.

  The council said government, supported by a majority of Parliament, signed agreements related to the COHO and Parliament will have a critical role in reviewing the upcoming COHO country packages. Many of the reforms listed in the country package stem from domestic St. Maarten advisory bodies; others suggested by the Netherlands should be carefully reviewed and debated by the representatives in Parliament.

  “The finalisation of decolonisation,” as a number of the 12 parliamentarians that voted in favour of this process like to describe the petition, is in principle an administrative process that could result in a (recommended) change of the Kingdom Charter regulating the relationships of the four countries within the Kingdom. “The petition filed by Choharis is something else completely. It accuses the Netherlands of discrimination, racism and abuse while it also demands reparations. Understandably, this is an insult, for lack of a better word, especially because of the exposure of it in the media.”

  Alluding to the explanatory notes in the constitution, the council says Parliament does not act on behalf of the people of St. Maarten in the way that a representative acts on behalf of the party that it represents. In constitutional terms, Members of Parliament may not conduct themselves as representatives of local or regional interests, or particular interests based on other criteria, but represent the general interest of the entire populace of St. Maarten.

  The council says the population of St. Maarten is made up of more than 100 nationalities, who at this point have an unsure future. “There is no disagreement that reforms are needed. There is no disagreement on whether we have an adequate social safety net. There is no disagreement that we need economic reforms. These are very worrying times for all of our livelihoods, for the liquidity and stability of our government, for our ability to attract new investment that might help to pull us out of this crisis or at least take us away from the top of the worst-off list,” the letter reads.

  “Based on Article 44, Parliament has overstepped a constitutional boundary. Parliament represents 100+ friendly nationalities making up a populace of approximately 60,000 residents, not the interests of only some of those residents. Parliament may not engage the UN directly nor through a representative. If Parliament wants the UN engaged it needs to do so via the prime minister.”

  “In December, Parliament gave the prime minister consent to sign ‘the agreement’ with the Dutch government. From that point on, the 100+ friendly nationalities would have expected that support be continued and reforms diligently executed, as per the agreement … If Parliament wants out of the agreement, it can instruct the prime minister to extract the country from the agreement. If Parliament wants the agreement amended, it can start discussions with our Council of Ministers and through them, the Kingdom. If Parliament wants St. Maarten to engage the UN, it can instruct the PM to do so. Parliament can also instruct the PM to initiate a consultative referendum via the poles. It has not taken any of these actions.”

  The council continues: “Parliament cannot directly engage a US firm to represent St. Maarten in addressing the UN. A firm as per its own writing claims to represent the Parliament and the citizens of St. Maarten. This is the action our Parliament has taken. That act is what justice systems call misrepresentation. Our constitution is clear on what Parliament can and cannot do and who they represent. Through wilfully engaging a US firm to represent itself and the people in petitioning the UN, Parliament is now jeopardising the liquidity support, the COHO and the reforms that it agreed to have the prime minister sign for. Aside from the salaries of all our civil servants relying on that liquidity support, it is also assisting with food support for more than 15,000 of those same residents.”

  The council said residents have faced challenging times since the passing of Hurricane Irma. “Our jobs, our companies and our very livelihoods have been threatened repeatedly since September 6, 2017. We have been operating in an adverse economic climate that is equally as much the result of the below par quality of government as it is caused by Hurricane Irma and the current pandemic.”

  “We should expect the prime minister to live up to the agreement signed with the Kingdom to the best of her abilities. Do the research and consult the stakeholders so that we may approach the COHO and its reforms with a properly informed position in order to ensure the best possible outcome for all of the 100+ nationalities that make up the populace of The Friendly Island. If in the wake of this social, economic and even life-devastating pandemic the need for finalising the decolonisation process is still there in some years, discussion on furthered autonomous status can take place according to domestic legal provisions. If that appears not to be possible because of unreasonable positions taken by the Netherlands, then engage the UN to help and finalise the process at that time.”

  The Employer Council letter was sent on behalf of members of its board: St. Maarten Hospitality and Trade Association (SHTA) President Lorraine Talmi; Indian Merchants Association (IMA) Vice President Damu Rawtani; St. Maarten Marine Trades Association (SMMTA) Secretary Christopher Marshall and

St. Maarten Timeshare Association (SMTA) President Jelle van Woudenberg Hamstra.

  The letter was also sent to the Council of Ministers, faction leaders in Parliament, Dutch Representative in Philipsburg Chris Johnson and Governor Eugene Holiday.

The Daily Herald

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