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The Need for Critical Analysis of the Recent Government Formation Process.

 

Dear Editor,

The recent events surrounding the government formation process in St. Maarten warrant a thorough and critical analysis. Here's a timeline of events that highlight the complexities and challenges faced, which the public needs to scrutinize.

On January 13, 2024, the 2x4 coalition agreement was signed, a mere two days after the elections. The Governor then appointed Dr. Luc Mercelina as formateur on January 15, 2024. By February 10, 2024, the new members of Parliament were sworn in with a new majority, setting the stage for the formation of the government.

On January 18, 2024, the Governor appointed Dr. Nilda Arduin and Drs. Candia Joseph RO EMIA as informateurs and requested them to submit their report by February 2, 2024. In the report, the Governor requested that the informateurs pay specific attention to seven key areas including but not limited to public finances, employment conditions, the economy, and healthcare. The informateurs surmised that they were not able to present the broadest support in Parliament and that all six parties expressed an inclination to work with others based more on personal affiliation than on party selections over alternative policies and/or the implementation of specific public policies.

The informateurs also stated that “they could not establish the common goals, objectives, approaches, and other aspects for coalition forming, nor identify notable arguments and/or positions brought forward to support the formation of a coalition government by the four parties that signed a coalition agreement on January 13, 2024. Lack of a response to the questionnaire by one of the coalition partners prevented a broader review based on eight seats” (Beyond the Coalition Handshake, Arduin & Joseph, 2024). I don’t have to think long and hard to figure out, or at least make an educated guess, which coalition partner didn’t submit their questionnaire. The informateurs concluded by indicating that it would be up to the formateur to ensure there is common ground between all parties to execute their vision for St. Maarten. The informateurs' report was delivered by the requested date, and the Governor once again appointed Dr. Luc Mercelina as the formateur on February 5, 2024.

However, the process encountered significant delays. On February 28, 2024, the Governor granted Dr. Luc Mercelina his first extension until March 29, 2024, due to ongoing background screenings of candidate ministers. This deadline was extended for a second time on March 28, 2024, to April 26, 2024, as the screenings were still incomplete.

Complications further arose on May 2, 2024, when three coalition members did not attend the Parliament meeting to approve the credentials of two incoming MPs. Two of these MPs had provided notices of absence. Rumors suggested that MP Emmanuel's absence was due to dissatisfaction over not being sworn in as a minister, given an ongoing investigation against him. According to opposition members, they walked out of the meeting due to their questions not being answered or clarity not being given. Members of the opposition asked the Chairlady of Parliament, “how it was possible that two outgoing Members of Parliament who had resigned, one effective immediately on May 1, 2024, and the other effective May 2, 2024, could currently be sitting in Parliament vetting credentials.” The second question was, “how does Parliament handle letters sent in during public holidays?” Due to the opposition walking out, there was no longer a quorum, and the meeting had to be adjourned. The following day, May 3, 2024, seven out of the nine candidate ministers of the 2x4 Government were sworn in by the Governor.

On May 4, 2024, Mr. Raeyhon Peterson wrote to Governor Ajamu Baly, demanding clarification on his non-appointment as a minister, stemming from an incident in 2018. Despite this request, clarity on the matter remains to be seen. The Party for Progress (PFP) has prided itself on transparency and integrity. Even by its own admission in a Facebook post on April 22, 2024, it mentioned that it was not communicating about what was happening, apologized for its absence, and promised to provide more frequent updates. I find their messaging at that point in time to be rather convenient, but who am I to judge? I also find it ironic that the party, based on transparency and integrity as its foundational pillars, would find itself in the crosswinds of such a conundrum.

It is also ironic that the same party was not able to have one of its ministers pass screening, then blamed the Governor for not signing off on their candidate ministers' decree due to the lack of a screening law. It sounds to me like they are trying to play with technicalities, the same technicalities they chastise other parties for playing. These are the same technicalities they used to join this 2x4 government when they knew well that MP Emmanuel wanted to become a minister. This paved the way for Mr. Buncamper to come into Parliament and once again be suspended due to his pending case, for which he has been convicted twice and is currently appealing at the high court for his final appeal.

They also speak about accountability, but I’ve yet to hear them speak up about the recent Lee’s Roadside Bar & Grill verdict, where St. Maarten was held liable for damages because former notary Speetjens favored himself by passing a deed to a company in which he had an interest. This same piece of domain land, which was occupied by Lee’s Roadside Bar & Grill, was granted to “Water’s Edge Development” by former Minister of VROMI Theodore Heyliger on May 18, 2012, three days before leaving government after the UPP/DP government lost majority support in Parliament. Maybe Mum's the word on accountability because they are currently in a coalition with the former Minister of VROMI's wife. Who knows? But I hope we are all judged by the same yardstick, and a rule for one is a rule for all.

It is crucial to note that this government has been in place since February 10, 2024, not just for the 17 days often cited. Public disagreements within the 2x4 coalition were evident during the 2024 budget debate, underscoring internal strife. Given these complexities, it is apparent that the personalities within the 2x4 government were likely to clash. Maybe the informateurs were doing a bit of foreshadowing?

These few months provided ample time for the formateur to display his inexperience and shortcomings in the political arena. They also provided time for coalition members to show the people of St. Maarten that their personal ambitions come before the nation's needs by literally holding a proverbial gun to the formateur's head, insisting on becoming a minister by hook or by crook. The formateur's lack of transparency to his coalition partners about the formation process stemmed from a fear that the coalition might break. Finally, the formateur, now turned Prime Minister, called for elections before reaching out to MP Kevin Maingrette to solve the impasse, which they eventually did just four days later. The detriment to the people of St. Maarten is evident. We now face another election within the same calendar year, and the coffers of St. Maarten suffer, as the Minister of Finance suggests we are living month to month.

St. Maarten deserves a government that prioritizes the people's interests over personal ambitions and feelings. As citizens, we must critically analyze all events to hold our leaders accountable and demand a government that truly serves its people.

 

 Sincerely,

Charles Darnay

 


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