PFP: Harsher COVID-19 Fallout Looms If Delays Continue | SOUALIGA NEWSDAY

SINT MAARTEN (PHILISPBURG) – Members of the Party for Progress (PFP) faction in Parliament, MPs Melissa Gumbs and Raeyhon Peterson, are concerned with the most recent postponement of the public meeting for the handling of the penal procedure code (Wetboek van Strafvordering). This piece of legislation, which has been pending for some time now, contains certain elements designed to bring St. Maarten in closer compliance with the recommendations of the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force (CFATF) and in closer harmony with global standards in anti-money laundering practices. On Friday, 3 April 2020, Parliament was meant to vote on two items: an amendment to the law and the law itself.

“The reasoning behind Friday’s postponement is somewhat unclear,” Gumbs says. “The Minister has stated that the deadline for our compliance with CFATF has been extended, and that the meeting is slated to be held in November 2020 instead of May 2020. However, the Minister has yet to confirm if it is the deadline or the meeting itself that has been delayed, as the two are not one and the same.”

The handling of the draft penal procedure code has been delayed several times now, with the previous postponement meant to allow for a new amendment to be completed and submitted for review. The Parliament received the amendment a half hour before the meeting began but did not have the opportunity to discuss it in the meeting.

MP Raeyhon Peterson lamented this further delay in the handling of this law, questioning why this attempt to have an in-depth review of the draft law has not been done prior to St. Maarten “running out of deadlines.”

With all due respect to the new Minister,” Peterson states, “she was sworn in as an MP on November 20, with the same party that her predecessor hails from. Further to that, the handling of this law started in 2019 and this is not the first amendment to this same law coming from MP Rolando Brison; how is it only now that any Minister or Member of Parliament has chosen for an in-depth review? An in-depth analysis is always critical when presenting legislation or an amendment to a national ordinance. Failing to do so will always bring legal complications at this phase of legislation.

“At the risk of sounding like broken records,” Gumbs continues, “the country is facing several realities that run hand in hand with one another. We have on the one hand, COVID 19, which will have a serious health impact on St. Maarten, and an even more serious economic impact. We have the continued economic impact of Hurricane Irma, where we have people still without stable jobs to carry them through life. And we have the risk of St. Maarten being grey listed first and blacklisted second, considering we still have a public statement against us. All of this combines to make a very bitter cocktail that the people will be forced to swallow.”

Gumbs stated that the draft Penal Procedure Code and the pending CFATF recommendations have been on her and Peterson’s radar prior to Postulation Day. It was important that they bring themselves up to speed and weigh all consequences before making a decision, so they are surprised that similar efforts were not made by all who postulated themselves. They are equally concerned with comments that other countries on the grey or blacklist have never had much “happen” to them, such as Barbados and Trinidad & Tobago.

Both Caribbean countries have been taken off the grey list as recently as February 2020. Barbados spent two years on the list, working to correct the holes in their legislation and systems that did not fall in line with CFATF recommendations. While neither country felt the worst of being on the CFATF lists, PFP cautioned that this is comparing apples and pears, which leads to misinformation delivered to the public.

“International finance is about the value a country holds on the international market and the risk associated with that value,” Peterson states. “Since 2015, it has been highlighted by various stakeholders to Parliament and Government that the US correspondent banks associated with our local banks may not accept the risk of doing business with St. Maarten based on our low transactional value and our hesitation to comply with internationally-accepted anti-money laundering practices.”

It is inaccurate, according to both MPs, to compare the reality of a grey-listed St. Maarten with a grey-listed Barbados or Trinidad.

“Barbados has a rum industry, financial services and other exports,” Gumbs says. “Trinidad has oil wells and a manufacturing industry. Both countries have diversified economies and conduct international transactions at a level that Sint Maarten has not yet achieved. This would make us an unattractive risk candidate for financial transactions. There is the slim possibility that the correspondent banks decide to take on that risk but hoping for that is like playing roulette. Do we want to do that, with the full weight of the negative effects of COVID 19 not yet hitting us as a country?”

In their final remarks to the Minister’s proposal for postponement on Friday, both MPs cautioned that the Minister not presume to delay until the 11th hour (October/November) with her review of the law, citing that ‘kicking the can down the road’ is what has led to this present situation.


MP Raeyhon Peterson



Source: Souliga Newsday