~ MPs squabble over issue ~
PHILIPSBURG--An agenda point to relieve United People’s (UP) party Member of Parliament (MP) Grisha Heyliger-Marten of her duties as Chairperson of Parliament will be added to the agenda of a meeting scheduled for 10:00am this coming Monday, October 17.
Monday’s meeting is the continuation of a meeting on the COVID-19 cuts that had been abruptly adjourned on September 19 in the final round after UP MP Rolando Brison asked that an agenda point be added to “thank the president of Parliament for her service over the past parliamentary year and to relieve her of these duties.”
Heyliger-Marten abruptly adjourned the meeting after asking Prime Minister Silveria Jacobs, who was in Parliament at the time, for her take on the request and Jacobs indicated that she had no comment.
On September 20, several MPs requested an urgent meeting with the same agenda point: to relieve the chair of her duties. Heyliger-Marten responded on September 21, stating that the meeting would be honoured on October 11, when the delegation returned from the Netherlands.
In a letter dated October 11, Heyliger-Marten said she had called Brison on October 6 and informed him that Parliament was unable to honour the meeting on October 11, due to staff being busy with post-solemn-meeting activities and that the meeting date would be during the meeting week of October 24. She said Brison had requested that she hold off on calling the meeting and indicated that he would inform National Alliance (NA) MP William Marlin accordingly.
Several MPs addressed the issue during the notifications segment of a public meeting to handle several draft laws on Wednesday.
The first, Marlin, who accused the chair of “sort of abusing its authority when it comes to convening meetings,” said he and Heyliger-Marten had had a disagreement a few weeks ago regarding the convening of an urgent meeting request from members of the opposition, which had been convened within 24 hours.
“At that time, I told you [Heyliger-Marten – Ed.] that it was not necessary, that it was actually not an urgent meeting, but … if the chair doesn’t feel it’s an urgent meeting, the chair can convene it in the regular two weeks. The chair said, ‘Absolutely not, I am convening the meeting,’ and then in kind of a harsh remark to the minister [of Public Housing, Spatial Planning, Environment and Infrastructure VROMI Egbert Doran] said, ‘When the minister asked to postpone the meeting for half an hour because he had a prior commitment at a school, the chair says the meeting starts at 3:00[pm] with or without you’,” Marlin said.
“Now here the member of the coalition asks for a proposal of order and proposes to add an agenda point. What do we see? The chair walks out of the meeting rather than entertaining that request. A few days before, a week or two before, sometime before, a member of the opposition, the [Party for Progress] PFP party requested a proposal of order and the chair adjourned the meeting and prepares the vote on that request for a proposal and entertains it while and would have entertained it, were it not that the chair lost the quorum.
“Recently now again a member of the coalition requested a proposal order, the chair walks out and then writes a letter to the requestors of the meeting – an urgent meeting, mind you and which is no longer urgent – and the chair finds all kinds of excuses to say that the meeting will be convened on October 12, in writing.
“Today is the 12 of October … and the meeting is not convened and then we get a letter that the meeting will be convened I believe on the 17th and then I believe it will be convened on the 24th.
“It is a constant back and forth and this is not the way for the chair to conduct the meeting in a dignified manner.
“There is a majority in Parliament. A majority in Parliament in writing have requested an urgent meeting and, in this case, it is to relieve the chair of her services and her responsibilities as chair. Yes, it is something that affects the chair personally and rather than deal with it in a professional and dignified manner, the chair is constantly moving the goalpost and in order to protect themselves, because the Constitution says meetings are convened by the chair.”
Marlin said the chairperson believes that she has the opportunity to just keep avoiding the meeting and keeps moving the meeting to a further date.
“Madam Chair, I hope you will correct this and see that we cannot continue this way,” Marlin said. “… It would be a pity that we would have to resort to other measures or means to get the chair to vacate. There is a majority. It is not a position that someone has been selected to. It’s a position that we have elected someone in here, so it is not the public that elected the chair, it is MPs, and if a majority says they no longer want to maintain you as chair, then the rightful thing to do is just vacate the chair.”
United Democrats (UD) MP Sarah Wescot-Williams weighed in on the matter and was critical of accusations that the chair had been biased. “It is so déjà vu, all of it, to come and accuse the chair now of being biased. How could any MP worth his or her salt suggest publicly that the expectations of a chair is that he or she complies or primarily functions for a selected few in Parliament – namely those who support a coalition?” asked Wescot-Williams.
“Is that what is being suggested publicly and then a letter comes in to relieve the chair of her duties?”
Wescot-Williams said she and other MPs had requested a meeting several weeks ago and had been told that their request needed to be motivated, which the requestors agreed with and subsequently substantiated their request.
“I bring this up now because check the elucidation to the change that was made to the rules of order to relieve a chairperson of his or her duties at any time. It states that that might be necessary in the case of a government change. That is what it states. Paraphrasing it, of course, but we MPs, the people of St. Maarten, are expected to have taken note of a declaration signed on June 30, as a statement by the coalition leaders regarding what this government is doing in order to show their support in Parliament. …
“We need to accept that there is something happening in government, some shifting taking place and again. Just like in the case of the budget, we need to sit back and wait for when the government is going to tell us what [they] are doing.”
Rules of Order broken
Brison contended that 12 different sections of the Rules of Order are being violated, including the proposal of order rule, meeting request rule, urgent request rule, four-day timeframe and 14-day timeframe rule, amongst others.
“Madam chair, I just ask sincerely, like I have done personally, like I have done even earlier this week, please reconsider this trajectory you are going on and truly put Soualiga first.”
Brison was appalled by what he referred to as “the level of hypocrisy” that was being “spewed” in Parliament, given that a former UD chairperson of Parliament had allowed a former minister of health to “dodge meeting after meeting, just because one of her coalition members wanted to bring a motion against him and talk about the neutrality of the chair and the chair not following a coalition.
“We cannot pretend that there is not a double standard being done here. I have been very clear. This is the absolute last resort of a situation of where I would want to be in, but my thing is not to put the interest of one individual over every single other person in this country. That can’t be,” Brison said.
He contended that those who appear to be supporting Heyliger-Marten now are not genuine as they had been critical of her over the Choharis law firm and other matters.
“Madam chair, these people have zero interest in you or your performance as chair. They don’t care. They care about causing chaos and confusion, because when they did not agree and I defended you when we sent the petition to Choharis Group, they had you to kill. When you made a statement regarding the [Caribbean Body for Reform and Development] COHO, which I defended you on, they wanted you gone,” Brison said.
Request will be honoured
Heyliger-Marten, who took an adjournment to explain to MPs what she said appeared to be a miscommunication on the dates, said the request will be honoured. She explained that the requests to add to the 12.5% COVID-19 cuts meeting the agenda point to relieve the chair of her duties would be honoured on Monday at 10:00am. “As I open that meeting, I will honour the request for the proposal of order,” she told MPs after returning from the adjournment.
The separate meeting request to remove her as chair will be honoured during the week of October 24.
“Seemingly the dates were crossed, because I did mention in my first letter that on the 11th I will be honouring the first urgent meeting that the eight MPs requested – not the 12th, the 11th – and I called one of the requestors stating that we could not honour that meeting on the 11th because it was the day after the solemn meeting, and the requester then stated, do not honour that meeting this week.
“Per his request, that meeting was not honoured this week and has been moved to the next meeting week. However, the 12.5% meeting where I adjourned will be honoured on October 17 at 10:00am,” Heyliger-Marten made clear.