From left: MPs Christophe Emmanuel, Sarah Wescot-Williams, Grisha Heyliger-Marten and Ludmila de Weever.
PHILIPSBURG--Opposition Members of Parliament (MPs) say they, and by extension the people of St. Maarten, are being muzzled and silenced in the legislature.
This view was expressed by a number of MPs, who hosted a joint press conference at the House of Parliament on Wednesday. At the press conference were Independent MPs Christophe Emmanuel, Ludmila de Weever and Grisha Heyliger-Marten and United Democrats (UD) MP Sarah Wescot-Williams.
One of the ways MPs are being silenced is meeting requests not being honoured. “When I say this coalition is hanging on a hairline – you have people going back and forth, not walking a straight line, hijacking meetings, and then you have now a COM [Council of Ministers] muzzling the press and now muzzling us. By muzzling us they are muzzling you. Our job is to supervise, our job is to make them accountable, our job is to make sure that whatever is pressing, we bring to light. They are keeping us all in the dark,” said Heyliger-Marten. “If the ministers have nothing to hide, come to Parliament,” she challenged.
De Weever concurred by reiterating statements she had made when Heyliger-Marten, as the former Chair of Parliament, was going to be relieved of her position: “Watch whether meetings are called. Watch whether we are actually being, by the 15 representatives, your voice because that is what is being silenced and we will do everything in our power… to continue to represent the people in the best way we know how.”
Wescot-Williams said the real reasons why Heyliger-Marten was dismissed as Parliament chair is now being manifested. She said the current chair, who is actually the First Vice Chairman (William Marlin), had indicated that Heyliger-Marten was not acting only on behalf of the coalition. “What we are seeing today is that these words are coming through and there is no way that those of us in here will sit back and accept this handling by the Parliament of St. Maarten,” Wescot-Williams said. Parliament’s rules of order, she noted, are being “flaunted” and “dare you say anything” about it.
She said also that government is busy engaging in actions to “avoid the drama “it faces from going public. “They don’t want the drama to come out that takes place in these meetings,” she said, noting that opposition MPs will continue to push for issues to be handled that Parliament and government want to shove under the rug.
Wescot-Williams does not expect the 2023 budget to be presented anytime soon because she believes that government feels that because the 2022 budget amendment has been passed, it will be able to fall back on it, in absence of the 2023 budget. She also commented on the 12.5% cut, which was not yet taken off the books as an amendment to this effect that she had presented during the debate on the 2022 budget amendment was not accepted by a majority in Parliament. She made clear that opposition MPs will continue to hammer on the issues and explain to the populace what is happening.
Heyliger-Marten alluded to the 30+ pending meetings that are to be honoured within the next week prior to Parliament going on recess. The legislature has “hardly scratched the surface” of these outstanding meetings since she highlighted the number of meetings pending a month ago. Additionally, Heyliger-Marten made a number of meeting requests this month including three urgent meeting requests on finance and tax reform; an update on TelEm; one on the situation at Princess Juliana International Airport (PJIA) and a question hour with Justice Minister Anna Richardson. The MP said she sat back for one month to see how these meetings are going to be called.
Heyliger-Marten, who said she has been silent since being relieved of her position, believes that the coalition is hanging on by a hairline. She said the UP-faction leader wanted her to sign an agreement to support the coalition under duress and at all costs. She had to either sign it or resign or she would be fired. She believes that the two MPs that are now supporting the coalition [Akeem Arrindell and Chanel Brownbill] have been hijacking meetings.
Heyliger-Marten said one of these MPs had approached her during the last Inter Parliamentary Kingdom Consultations IPKO and informed her that he does not agree with efforts to fire her and indicated that he will not be supporting it. The MP in question, she said, also sent her a press release that he had intended to issue outlining his position on the matter. In the release, which was never issued, the MP in question stated that he wanted to strengthen and not weaken the coalition. Ten days later, the MP changed his mind, Heyliger-Marten said, emphasizing that the coalition is hanging by a thread.
Emmanuel said while Prime Minister Silveria Jacobs insists that government has a majority, it does not.
“I keep telling the people of St. Maarten and everyone, no. They do not have a majority because if you look at the coalition agreement or the coalition government, they only have six seats. They only have six individuals,” stated Emmanuel. “What she [Jacobs] is alluding to is the two other MPs - Akeem Arrindell and Chanel Brownbill, but where is the documentation that says that they signed on to this new coalition? Where is it?” he asked.
“They keep banking on this majority that they have, but a prime example again today [Wednesday], where is your majority? If opposition do not sign into a meeting, they have no meeting, there is no meeting, why, because the two individuals are off to Parlatino,” Emmanuel said, adding that government has to come clean and show the population that they have a majority.
De Weever reiterated statements she made when the decision was taken to relieve the then Parliament President: “I said watch how things will go down. Watch how your voice would actually end up being silenced. Whether coalition or opposition, we are representing the people of this island and the way that we, or the way that the chair is supposed to be handling these meetings is in an impartial manner so that you understand that things are done in a fair way,” stated De Weever.