Prime Minister Silveria Jacobs and members of her delegation in Parliament on Friday.
PHILIPSBURG--Members of Parliament (MPs) on Friday weighed in on the current screening process for ministers in St. Maarten, with some expressing concerns about the process and making suggestions on how the country should move forward if it were to be changed.
Prime Minister Silveria Jacobs, who gave an outline on the existing legislation governing the screening process and explained how it is conducted, said if the legislators do not like the current process it is up to them to change it.
United St. Maarten Party (US Party) MP Claudius “Toontje” Buncamper said there is no transparency in the process. He said the year 2014 seemed to have been a “change in the tide,” when former United People’s (UP) Party leader Theo Heyliger amassed a significant number of personal votes and the Dutch government determined by royal decree who could become a minister until they conduct checks and balances.
Buncamper said he is baffled by the method by which ministers in the Netherlands are appointed, calling it “sometimes comical.” He said ministers there are appointed based on agreement between a formateur and participating faction leaders and there is no screening.
If St. Maarten were an equal partner in the Kingdom it would be able to have ministers appointed in the same manner as in the Netherlands, “but we are not equal. We have to be cautious when we allow certain things that undermine the democracy of your country.”
He stressed that the transparency and clarity on what St. Maarten is being subjected to “should be clear for everyone.”
Rampant corruption is perceived as being the case in St. Maarten because “we are the ones who say we are corrupt.” He said because MPs have immunity, certain things are said that lead to that perception. Buncamper posed a number of questions about the screening process.
National Alliance (NA) MP Christophe Emmanuel, who referred to the process as a being like a “secret society,” posed a number of questions, which Jacobs later answered. Emmanuel wanted to know, amongst other things, who conducts the screenings, where they are from, whether they are aware of St. Maarten traditions, who qualifies them to gather information for the process, and who screens those who conduct the screenings.
UP MP Grisha Heyliger-Marten said the constant interference of the Dutch Government in local St. Maarten affairs is infringing on the country’s democracy and its right to self-governance. Holland, she said, “is not the boss of St. Maarten. … We have allowed the Dutch to trample way too many times on our democracy. … I don’t agree with the screening process. It’s very invasive.” She noted that St. Maarten can change the process to what it sees fit.
Party For Progress MP Melissa Gumbs said she has been impacted by the screening process even though she was not the person being screened. Gumbs said she had complied because she believes St. Maarten needs such a process.
“In the absence of a suitable alternative a screening process is meant to protect the integrity of an organisation or establishment, especially a government. This is a practice in most civilised countries, recognising that integrity is not just grand speeches made in polite company, it’s also how you conduct yourself and handle your affairs outside of that,” Gumbs said.
She also believes that the screening process must be taken out of its current form and given structure and substance, and it must be fair, efficient and transparent and must not reach outside of its legislated parameters and guidelines.
To revamp the screening process, the country has to acknowledge a few realities, including the fact that the idea of screening is not a post-country-status phenomenon. In 2013, St. Maarten adopted National Decree LB-13/0442, like many other decrees and ordinances. “His Excellency the Governor is using, and rightly so, this carried-over decree and it has become the screening process we use today for our candidate ministers.”
Gumbs said she will not disagree with anyone that the screening needs a more solid, clear and cohesive structure.
“At various points throughout our history as a country, it has been said within this hall and in the media that it is ‘unfair’ that candidate ministers for St. Maarten have to undergo a screening. The go-to reasoning as to why it is unfair is this: ‘Oh, well, there is no screening process for candidate ministers in the Netherlands.’ This is an incomplete analysis, as it does not outline the full reality.
“The political system in the Netherlands is so large that it allows for a few measures to take place that we do not have here. Parties exist from a city level right on up to the Council of Ministers, with up to 100 candidates on their list come election day. Ministers are selected from within party lists, which can total 80 candidates. How do parties then control the substance and integrity of who ends up on their list for election day?” Gumbs noted.
She said persons in the Netherlands go through a screening process before a vote is even cast in their name. “This has also helped parties in the Netherlands with controlling whether or not potential candidates match with the overall vision and ideology of the party. It helps, for example, with protecting a political party against potential rogue candidates. It would be interesting to envision the composition of this Parliament right here if we were to pre-screen all candidates before submitting their names to the Central Voting Bureau. “
Gumbs said that within the Kingdom, which includes the Netherlands, St. Maarten, Curaçao and Aruba, two screening laws already exist for use in the post-election scenario and one screening process takes place before an election is even held.
“The final reality is that straightening out any confusion over our screening process lies in the same hands it has always been in since 2010: the Parliament of St. Maarten. We do not have to keep reinventing the wheel; examples of good governance are within our reach.”
UP MP Rolando Brison and United Democrats (UD) MP Sarah Wescot-Williams, also posed questions and made comments on the process.