PHILIPSBURG--Despite several harsh statements, a majority of Members of Parliament (MPs) on Monday threw their support behind Prime Minister Silveria Jacobs to accept the Netherlands’ proposal for further financial assistance and the creation of the Caribbean Entity for Reform and Development COHO.
The governments in The Hague and Philipsburg hope to conclude the agreement in the Kingdom Council of Ministers meeting this Friday. However, Dutch State Secretary of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Raymond Knops in a series of letters over the weekend told Jacobs that the Dutch Cabinet required explicit approval of the deal by St. Maarten’s Parliament.
This could be in the form of a statement or motion, wrote Knops, who added that it had to be done by Monday.
According to Knops, the main contention for the Dutch is Parliament’s motion of November 5, which endorsed the “legal actions” of Pro Soualiga Foundation related to the “decolonisation of the former Netherlands Antilles.”
Pro Soualiga has taken the Dutch government to court twice in the latter half of this year. One was a bid to prohibit the Dutch State from implementing the Consensus Kingdom Law to establish a reform entity, while the other was an injunction for the court to rule that the Kingdom Charter does not comply with international law.
“Despite how I personally feel about it, this is the deal that is on the table. I have publicly spoken out against the manner in which this consensus is being forced. I also agreed, however, that the reforms were very much needed … It is not an easy position to be in, but no one ever said leadership was easy. As a country, we are between a rock and a hard place, weighing our strive for autonomy against the immediate needs of our people ... The people who we cannot support on our own.
“My personal feelings aside, I must put the needs of the country as my highest priority. The Council of Ministers have expressed our political willingness to the proposal. What is needed, seeing the stance taken over the past few months, is the support of Parliament,” said Jacobs in her opening statements to MPs.
Despite harsh statements by National Alliance (NA) faction leader MP William Marlin, United People’s (UP) party faction leader MP Grisha Heyliger-Marten, and United St. Maarten Party (US Party) faction leader MP Claudius “Toontje” Buncamper, they all threw their parties’ support in favour of Jacobs closing the deal.
Party for Progress (PFP) MPs Melissa Gumbs and Raeyhon Peterson – both of whom had voted against the November 5 motion – also vouched for the agreement.
United Democrats (UD) faction leader MP Sarah Wescot-Williams was not at the meeting and thus could not give an opinion. Like Gumbs and Peterson, she had voted against the November 5 motion.
Independent MP Christophe Emmanuel was the only legislator against the Dutch proposal.
Parliament Chairperson Rolando Brison said a report of Monday’s meeting will be drawn up and handed over to Jacobs, who can use the document as evidence of Parliament’s support of the Dutch proposal.
Pablo, Napoleon, and Hitler
Three MPs on Monday characterised State Secretary Knops and the Kingdom Consensus Law under the symbolism of organised crime and infamous authoritarian rulers.
Heyliger-Marten described government’s discussions with Knops about the reform entity as “gangster-style negotiations.” She also called it an example of “Plata o Plomo” by the Dutch government.
This Spanish phrase, which literally translates to “silver or lead,” is attributed to deceased Colombian cocaine kingpin and narco-terrorist Pablo Escobar, who allegedly used it to threaten opponents into accepting bribes.
However, Heyliger-Marten gave an explicit approval to Jacobs at the end of her speaking time.
“I am sure the Prime Minister of St. Maarten ... who I believe is with her back against the wall with the proverbial knee on her neck by the Dutch government and their representative, State Secretary Knops, will make the best decision, proven to be beneficial to the people of St. Maarten … The process of the COHO to go forward and sign the [country package – Ed.] related to the agreement. I support this. I do. As long as the mandate of the Parliament is respected, as well as the local, kingdom and international laws,” she said.
Buncamper called Knops a “little Napoleon without a sense of direction,” but later said his faction will not stand in Jacobs’ way to concluding the agreement.
“But we will evaluate the proposed legislation and plans when they are submitted to Parliament. We will not be forced to agree to something … We all know the devil is in the details. I will remain consistent, I will do my research [and – Ed.] evaluate every proposal when presented, and vote using my free mandate, not under duress, but certainly in the best interest of this country and its people,” he said.
Emmanuel was the only MP to reject the deal, saying he will “not entertain any discussion to bring another entity to this country.” He called Knops a “Hitler-thinking individual” and said he was shocked that Jacobs would approve of the reform entity.
He described Jacobs as being at the head of a “government of weakness” that
has set up St. Maarten for a “complete Dutch takeover.”
“You cannot tell me it’s good for the country when you have to cut civil servants’ salaries and that of the semi-private sector. That is less spending power that benefits the economy of this country,” said Emmanuel.
Marlin was less provocative than his counterparts, but also described the deal as the Dutch government pushing its own agenda. However, he still rendered his faction’s support to Jacobs to continue negotiations.
“We understand the difficulties that you face. We understand the position you are in ... you have a responsibility to do what your oath demands of you, that you do what is best for this country,” said Marlin.
PFP’s Gumbs and Peterson also supported the St. Maarten government accepting the Dutch proposal, but distanced themselves from the harsh statements of their colleagues.
Gumbs said she was both “angry and sad” about Knops’ letter to Jacobs. “I was angry because I felt insulted, knowing that he [Knops] has no business telling this Parliament to pass a motion to indicate our support to government taking the deal. I felt that, our word should be enough,” she said.
Peterson also expressed disapproval of Knops’ letter during the Central Committee meeting.
“We are faced with an ultimatum by the State Secretary. But alas, we as the Members of Parliament of St. Maarten have zero obligation to adhere to that. You cannot request the Prime Minister, from the executive branch, to force Parliament, the legislative branch, to make any statement of motion.
“We are here to represent the people of St. Maarten, and to do so according to our conscience. And if some of us feel that they do not want to send such a motion, to ease the State Secretary’s concerns, they are completely in their right to do so,” he said.
Gumbs criticised the November 5 motion that endorsed Pro Soualiga Foundation’s legal action against the Dutch government.
“We aren’t Nike. We have no business as Parliament endorsing any external organisation’s words and actions. I say that because if this organisation were to … stage a coup d’état and walk into the government building and really show the Prime Minister what ‘Plata o Plomo’ actually means … that would mean that we as Parliament support that as well. That is the power of the word ‘endorse’ … And hopefully, with that, this is the last time we hear the words of Pablo Escobar in this honourable house because the irony of quoting organised crime on this floor is making me cackle from a deep place.
“It is my sincerest hope that we use the expertise that will be made available to us to help strengthen our government apparatus, our institutions and our society. This, in truth, would be a true pathway of acknowledging our reality, formulating a solid way forward and preventing a collapse of our community. I hope that counts as the PFP faction’s declaration,” said Gumbs.