PHILIPSBURG:--- Last week Wednesday, the Central Committee of Parliament, once again, invited the Independence for St. Martin Foundation (ISMF) to give a presentation regarding holding a referendum to determine whether the people of Sint Maarten desire to become independent or not. This is the fourth time that the ISMF was in parliament presenting its case. The first presentation was held in March 2016. Hereafter, the Central Committee reconvened, in September 2016, to give the ISMF the opportunity to answer questions that the MPs had posed in the first round in March. The Chairlady of the Central Committee then advised ISMF to submit a petition, requesting Parliament to convene a consultative referendum at the earliest possible date. In January 2017, the ISMF submitted said petition which was debated in March 2017 during a meeting of the Parliamentary Committee of Petitions. After deliberating whether the petition met the necessary criteria, the Committee of Petitions eventually decided to send the petition to the Central Committee of Parliament for further handling.
In her role as Chairperson of the Central Committee and as a member of the Committee of Petitions, MP Sarah Wescot-Williams made it very clear that to be able to convene a referendum, Parliament must approve a national ordinance regulating referenda. She mentioned that there are only two ways by which such a national ordinance can be presented to Parliament. Either, it is initiated by one or more Members of Parliament, or it is proposed by government to Parliament.
Prior to last week’s meeting with the ISMF, Members of Parliament had three occasions to deliberate the matter of holding a referendum. Hence, one would have expected that, when the Central Committee met last Wednesday, Members of Parliament would have been able to discuss and deliberate strategically on the way forward as far as holding a referendum is concerned. After all, the Central Committee should be the body that gathers pertinent information and then submits its recommendations to Parliament, so that the necessary preparations can be made for a public meeting of parliament where binding decisions are taken.
The ISMF’s petition was simply requesting parliament to hold a consultative referendum within this term of office, thus, no later than 2020. However, instead of dealing with the topic at hand, our honorable MPs, once again, felt the need to deviate from the subject and to grandstand and give lip service to the topic of independence.
They should have known by now, that, for a referendum to be convened, the first thing that must happen is the drafting of a national ordinance. The draft then will need to be reviewed by the Council of Advice, before it can be presented to parliament for approval. The only way for the draft national ordinance to get to parliament is if the government prepares such a draft or if one or more parliamentarians take the responsibility to have the ordinance drafted.
In the Central Committee, members of parliament are expected not only to grandstand and to give lip service but also to ask pertinent and critical questions. Questions such as: will parliament initiate the draft ordinance or will parliament pass a motion charging the government with the drafting of the national ordinance? What about an awareness campaign to enlighten the people about the pros and cons and what independence would mean for Sint Maarten, so that they can make an informed and intelligent choice? How much will such a campaign cost? How much will the referendum cost? Is their money in the 2017 budget to cover the cost of the awareness campaign? Will Parliament allocate money on the upcoming budgets for the campaign and for the referendum? Do we need a referendum steering committee? What role will the ISMF play in the preparations leading up to the referendum? What is the target date for the referendum? What is the anticipated trajectory leading up to the referendum? These are the issues, questions, and concerns that I expected our parliamentarians to discuss during this meeting with the ISMF. Instead, Members of Parliament strayed from the topic of the referendum and repeated what they had already said about independence. Only MP drs. Rodolphe Samuel came close to raising the critical questions.
Are our Members of Parliament serious about holding a referendum or about Sint Maarten becoming an independent country? I do not think so for the following reasons: The first meeting of the Central Committee of Parliament and the ISMF was held in March 2016 yet the parties of the MPs, who now boast about being long time ardent advocates and supporters of independence, did not include the topics of referendum or independence in their 2016 manifestos. The very comprehensive 2016-2020 governing program “Stability for Prosperity” of the current Red, White and Blue coalition is also totally silent on the issues of referendum and independence. During the 2017 budget debate, not one Member of Parliament requested that funds be allocated towards a referendum awareness campaign or a nation-building campaign or for the planning and organizing of a referendum. Furthermore, during the meetings of the Central Committee with the ISMF not one MP volunteered to accept the responsibility to initiate the required draft national ordinance that would lead to parliament eventually approving the convening of a referendum. Consequently, SMCP concludes that Parliament is not really serious about Sint Maarten convening a referendum or becoming an independent country in the near future.
Leader of the Sint Maarten Christian Party