Letter clarifying UN petition approved with stiff opposition from several MPs

Letter clarifying UN petition approved  with stiff opposition from several MPs

~ Some call letter ‘garbage’ ~

PHILIPSBURG--A draft letter from Chairperson of Parliament Rolando Brison, clarifying the legislature’s petition to the United Nations (UN) was approved by a majority in Parliament on Thursday with strong opposition from some Members of Parliament (MPs).

  One of them referred to it as “garbage”, another as a “word salad” that is not “a strong enough measure”, and another saw it as an attempt to “have your cake and eat it too”.

  The letter dated April 15 will be sent to Prime Minister Silveria Jacobs, to whom it is addressed, to be forwarded to Dutch State Secretary for Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Raymond Knops.

  In a recent letter to the Dutch Second Chamber of Parliament, Knops had said that St. Maarten will not be receiving some NAf. 39 million in liquidity support until Parliament clarifies its position on the petition recently submitted to the UN and confirms approval for the Caribbean Body for Reform and Development COHO. The intention of the letter approved on Thursday is to provide the requested clarity in the hope that the liquidity support can be unfrozen.

  The draft letter states that the petition itself asks for nine remedies, none of which were specific to the COHO.

  “In fact, the actual remedies sought by the petition do not even mention the COHO. But to address the Memorandum of Law – and specifically clauses (iii) and (iv) of the Conclusion – these referenced the draft COHO statute prior to the advice of the Council of State. Obviously, the Petition and Memorandum of Law do not address any possible revised COHO proposal, which we understand is being prepared,” the letter reads.

  “So, to be clear, the Parliament continues to support the trajectory that is identified in the letter of the State Secretary of March 16, 2021, and looks forward to moving forward on this trajectory.

  “Nothing in the petition or memorandum of law says, or should be interpreted as saying, that the Parliament is not in support of this trajectory. To the contrary, as I affirm again in this letter, the Parliament of St Maarten supports the legal trajectory towards the establishment of a reform entity as agreed upon by the Prime Minister and the Government of the Netherlands on December 22, 2020.”

  Independent MP Christophe Emmanuel asked the Chair of Parliament whether he had read the petition, noting that had the petition been read it could not have been included in the letter that none of the remedies were specific to the COHO. “This is not a clarification. What this is, is a garbage letter and it has to go one place – in the garbage,” Emmanuel said. “That is what it is. There is no clarity. There is nothing here.”

  Emmanuel asked the chairperson why he feels he has to give clarification to anyone, when and if Parliament stands by a decision. He said the one person who has to give clarification is the Prime Minister. “I don’t understand why President of Parliament has to give clarity and send it to the Prime Minister and the Prime Minister has to send it to State Secretary Knops.”

  Emmanuel made it clear that the Chairperson of Parliament does not speak on his behalf and that the petition has nothing to do with liquidity.

  Party for Progress (PFP) MP Melissa Gumbs, who expressed hope that Knops accepts the letter, said she disagrees with the attitude and action of Knops and the Dutch government, noting that she finds it highly unfair to “punish” a country for the actions of a handful, but indicated that unfortunately that is the geopolitical reality of the world, not just within the Kingdom. 

  “I’ve read the letter several times and while I am fully aware that it will not be changed, I believe it is important to state that the letter is not firm and does not go far enough, nor do the efforts of this Parliament go far enough to somewhat redeem itself for this blunder. The letter states incorrectly that none of the remedies mention the COHO, but the language of the petition itself, throughout all its pages, is purposefully incendiary and dramatic specifically in regard to the COHO,” Gumbs said.  

  “Personally, from a communications standpoint, I do not think the letter is a strong enough measure or gesture, as nothing is being withdrawn or adjusted in the petition itself, so the issue, in essence, still exists.

  “It could be my private-sector brain, but if something is said and it causes confusion, just saying, ‘Oh, that’s not what we meant,’ doesn’t actually solve anything. It’s a ‘word salad’ meant to kind of provide comfort, but not actually stating anything concrete.

  “In the end, I hope, but doubt, that this letter is enough, because there’s a much bigger picture here that is being portrayed that many are apparently missing. It’s not just about our salaries, or civil servant salaries; it’s about government’s ability to meet its obligations, about the health of APS and SZV.”

  PFP MP Raeyhon Peterson believes that the letter is an attempt by the coalition MPs to “save face” because “this is clearly against our Constitution. Today is a clear example where ego and pride go before the peoples’ needs, so I stick to my original opinion.”

  Peterson said Parliament had absolutely no business sending any petition to the UN, regardless of any rhetoric that any MP tries to come with. “Legally you are wrong, period. So automatically, I disagree with the sending of this letter, which is clearly an attempt to have your cake and eat it too.”

  After reading a portion of the conclusion of the so-called memorandum in the petition, Peterson asked what games are being played with the lives of the people.

  “And do we seriously expect State Secretary Knops to find this sufficient of a statement to give back the liquidity support, or can we anticipate his reaction (that he will not accept it) and are we ready to cry wolf when he says that this is not enough. It’s the same games, over and over again. I am also very curious to know if the Prime Minister indeed agreed with the current trajectory, because then she is playing games too,” Peterson said.

  “I do not agree with the sending of this type of letter, or with the contents. … Parliament in this current form does not have the people’s mandate to blindly continue this self-driven trajectory, and I won’t be part of purposely misinforming the people.”

  United St. Maarten Party (US Party) MP Claudius “Toontje” Buncamper said that if the letter will suffice and liquidity support will be released then he will support the letter. “If this letter will suffice and save political face for all involved and, most important, ensure that the people of St. Maarten will get the needed liquidity support, then yes, I will support the letter.”

  While she does not support the letter with the exception of one part, United Democrats (UD) MP Sarah Wescot-Williams expressed hope that Knops does accept the letter for the sake of residents who depend on the liquidity support.

  “I hope for the sake of the people of St. Maarten that Knops accepts this letter and when you sign it off on behalf of the parliament that immediately Knops will call the Prime Minister and say, ‘Let’s talk about that liquidity that you are supposed to get,’ and that the Prime Minister, who refused to sign the implementation agenda, will now sign the agenda,” Wescot-Williams said.

  “This letter is probably going to get the approval [of Parliament – Ed.] and I hope that it is accepted, not to prove anything to Parliament, but for the people of St. Maarten and the many of them who are relying on government to get its act together and continue negotiations for liquidity.”

  Wescot-Williams said she had not had time to assess some of the assertions with reference to the COHO made in the letter, which had been sent to MPs just prior to the meeting. She said there were several questions that she had asked on the matter, including how Parliament went from the November 5, 2020, motion to a petition to the UN, which have not yet been clarified.

  She maintained that a discussion on the draft letter could not be had without knowing the status of the petition and whether it had been submitted and whether receipt had been acknowledged and whether there had been any reactions. Brison said later that it had been submitted and receipt had been acknowledged.

  Wescot-Williams believes that Knops does not want the petition explained. “It is deeper than just telling him we are not asking for anything to be done with respect to the COHO,” she said, noting that she cannot support the letter.

  National Alliance (NA) MP William Marlin said the discussions seemed to lose focus on what the letter is attempting to achieve. “The fact is that the liquidity was frozen and we can put on boxing gloves and punch and at the end of the day maybe liquidity remains frozen and if it happens what are the consequences of it?”

  He said Knops and the Kingdom Government can be called all sorts of names, but this will not pay salaries, support businesses or support those who lost their jobs. He said liquidity support for the country is frozen, and Knops is requesting that for St. Maarten to move forward, clarity is needed from Parliament. The letter is intended to bring this clarity. Marlin said Knops now has “unpaid advisors” in the Parliament of St. Maarten advising him why he should not accept the letter.

  NA MP George Pantophlet said MPs were not in the meeting to discuss Knops’ feelings, but to approve the letter. He asked what are the options if the letter is not sent, to which one MP subsequently responded saying the petition should retracted.

  United People’s (UP) party MP Grisha Heyliger-Marten said the petition has 100-plus citations and is a factual report that had been sent to the UN Special Rapporteur. Marten-Heyliger supports the letter. 

  NA MP Angelique Romou said she believed that MPs should stop fighting against each other and stand in solidarity for the greater good for the people of St. Maarten. She said what is most important at the moment is the continuation of liquidity support. Romou said she supported the letter.

  NA MP Solange Ludmila Duncan also supported the letter.

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