URSM leader Dr. Luc Mercelina.
PHILIPSBURG--Unified Resilient St. Maarten Movement (URSM) said on Monday that the Caribbean Body for Reform and Development COHO should be transformed into the St. Maarten Entity for Reform and Development SOHO, which it said should be an independent administrative body.
URSM leader Dr. Luc Mercelina said in a press release that some kind of reform and development should take place in the short term. He said COHO came about due to a lack of initiative and vision from the side of parliamentarians and ministers. While the COHO objectives seem to serve the betterment of the people of St. Maarten and the country as a whole at first glance, one must question at what price, if any, this offered help comes.
“Based on the articles in the law, the impression is that this entity is aimed at having political directive powers over our government, whether directly through the country packages, or the plans of approach to be approved for entities to receive subsidies.”
“The political undercurrent that can be found throughout the carefully crafted law is found in how the COHO is established, where its seat is, and how its members are appointed and dismissed. The powers of the COHO and the powers it brings to the [Committee for Financial Supervision – Ed.] CFT just support this sentiment. The minimal roles assigned to the government of St. Maarten and our parliament are another reason for us to believe that the COHO is intended to be more than just that entity to assist with much-needed reform,” said Mercelina.
He said the COHO is a Dutch administrative body that falls under Dutch jurisdiction and as a consequence falls under a ZBO (“Zelfstandig Bestuurs Orgaan”).
“This means that the COHO falls directly under the Ministry of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations [BZK]. The COHO focuses primarily on the public finance of St. Maarten, which actually falls under the jurisdiction of St. Maarten and thus the Parliament of St. Maarten. It must not be and cannot be that, based on the Consensus Act, the minister of kingdom relations can be given the authority to issue financial instructions. In the new structure, the COHO will assess and determine policies in a way that Parliament and the Council of Ministers of St. Maarten will lose control over the national budget.”
He said it will become a governing model after the introduction of the COHO in which the Dutch minister of kingdom relations will become the boss of the prime minister of St. Maarten.
“The same rules of corporate governance that have intensively been advocated by the Dutch government are now also disregarded by the assignment of policies to be implemented and executed by the COHO. In this manner, again the authority of ministers and parliamentarians of country St. Maarten is being undermined.”
He said there are possibilities and opportunities in the way the COHO law is drafted, such that the rules of the game can constantly be changed by the Dutch, using, for example, unconditional “compliance” as a trigger for support.
So too, the power to determine policy guidelines for subsidy applications of entities in St. Maarten, removing the “at arm’s length” principle intended to keep politics out of the companies. Through policies, control within companies can be obtained by bypassing shareholders and supervisory board directors, he said.
He said the agreement on the Consensus Kingdom Law should be based on the free will of the individual countries in the Kingdom.
The parliament of each country in the Kingdom has to guarantee that legislation complies with and adheres to applicable treaties; in this case, for example, with Article 73 of the UN Charter that determines the right to self-determination and self-government. The establishment of the COHO as such, in its present proposed form, tramples on St. Maarten’s autonomy.
“In case of an unexpected negative effect of the measures implemented by the COHO, neither Parliament nor the minister of St. Maarten can stop this negative development. As it is arranged now, the CFT is an independent entity that only monitors the government’s financial compliance and financial management. The CFT in the current structure cannot interfere with policies. In the proposed COHO law, the CFT does get the possibility and freedom to interfere with the national policies.”
Mercelina said there had been no convincing analytic research proving the measurable success of the objectives of the COHO (especially related to a timeline); there is a lack of professional treasury to implement this bureaucratic organisation; in the way the COHO is intended to be realised it will not get the goodwill for cooperation on the legislative and executive level in St. Maarten, and any draft approved by Parliament must undergo the scrutiny of the COHO as it relates to country packages, which will be unacceptable. The country packages will in the short, mid and long term dictate St. Maarten’s budget.
The COHO demands that nothing in the budget should form an obstacle to or impede the country package measures. The COHO has the liberty to provide financial resources directly to government bodies. The COHO can make grants to citizens, legal entities and public companies without the consent of the government. The COHO can independently establish cooperation protocols with entities in the Kingdom and with organisations outside the Kingdom.
The recruitment of members for the COHO falls under the Ministry BZK in the Netherlands.
Nowhere is it stated that St. Maarten should have representation in the management board of the COHO.
URSM says the power of a reform and development entity/body must belong to the people of St. Maarten, and thus to the local national administration.
“To realise this, the COHO should be transformed into a SOHO. … This SOHO must be an independent administrative body. In this case, St. Maarten and the Netherlands decide together on appointments, projects and funding, instead of bringing it under the responsibility of a Dutch state secretary or Dutch minister who is only accountable to the Dutch Second Chamber [of Parliament], while it concerns issues related to the people of St. Maarten,” URSM said.
“The government of St. Maarten and the Parliament of St. Maarten must have one solid stance towards the COHO (at this particular moment this is not the case) and must make use of the democratic opportunity to express the concerns of St. Maarten (separate from the other countries Aruba and Curaçao in the Kingdom) in the report of the treatment of this Kingdom Law. Important to know is that the Dutch Second Chamber can bring a halt to the COHO in the way it is structured.”
URSM said the board of directors of the SOHO should consist of three members: two local members and one representative of the Dutch.