St. Maarten / By Hilbert Haar – “I think that not all the facts were presented to him,” former Prime Minister Marcel Gumbs told this newspaper yesterday in a reaction to the interview with Dr. Rutsel Martha. “He is a good friend and very clever, though somewhat controversial, but his specialty is not in constitutional law.”
Gumbs said that he had acquired advice from three constitutional experts – professors Arjen van Rijn, Tijn Kortmann and Joop van den Berg. “They are all on the same page. The only one with a different opinion is Hirsch Ballin. It is amazing, why did these opinions not matter? Because these professors are white? Because they are Dutch? They are teaching constitutional law, you know.”
The former prime minister said that the issue is badly understood on the island. “It is a constitutional issue. If I had not stood up to the governor, the constitution would have been trampled on.”
Gumbs disagrees with Dr. Martha’s opinion that every decree can be revoked. “That is not the case, it depends on the content. This decree (the dissolution decree of October 29 – ed.) was about the implementation of article 59. This decree cannot be revoked. Ask Professor Van Rijn.”
Van Rijn has argued that revoking a dissolution decree would make article 59 of the constitution meaningless.
Dr. Martha’s position, that choosing December 15 for the dissolution decree to go into effect gave Gumbs’ political opponents maneuvering space, does not hold water either, Gumbs says, attributing misunderstandings to the fact that “nobody reads on this island.”
“The reason to choose December 15 was very simple. You have to give individuals who wanted to establish a political party the time to do so. Look at the national ordinance registration and financing political parties. The Electoral Council rejected the PPA because it is a foundation, not an association. They got the time to correct this – and that time is prescribed in the law. If they had made adjustments and they were still rejected, they could have gone to court. All these procedures have a pre-determined time span and you have to give parties the time to complete these procedures.”
Gumbs said that, had he decided to let his decree take effect on December 1, parties could have taken him to court for obstruction of the democratic process.
He maintains that all the mandatory steps leading up to an election need their proper time. Gumbs refuted the idea that he “fixed” Election Day, February 9, to fall on a Tuesday. “Once the national decree is signed, you calculate all the terms and then you get to a date. Why we did not move it to a Friday? Because snap elections ought to give the population the right to vote as soon as possible.”
Moving the elections from February to September will give the government enough time to settle the matter of ship jumping, Prime Minister William Marlin has said. Gumbs disagrees. “There is not enough time. We have been looking at ship jumping since 10-10-10. Patrick Illidge was the first ship-jumper. The Prime Minister (Sarah Wescot-Williams – ed.) talked about it for four years. And now they want to solve it in seven months?” This is all about convenience for the new majority of eight to do all the wrong things that I have refused to cooperate with.”
Gumbs notes that the art of politics is compromise, and if you don’t master that art, you end up with ship jumpers. “If you do not agree with something, you have several options. You could abstain from voting, or you could vote against, with the opposition, but you don’t have to leave your party. You see this happen in every democracy, also on the French side of the island for instance.”
Gumbs does agree with Martha observations about the role of Governor Holiday and he points out a mistake Martha did not even mention. “The governor is not a referee in a soccer game. I have said before that the governor made a mistake. He cannot appoint a formateur when the incumbent government has not offered its resignation. That was his first mistake. The governor cannot ask for external advice either, that is correct.”
Gumbs is convinced that an appeal to the court will be successful. “I believe that, if someone takes this to court, the governor will lose. And what if there is no law to prevent ship jumping by September? What then? It is mere show.”
The former Prime Minister said that the also former Prime Minister Sarah Wescot-Williams “outfoxed” William Marlin and Theo Heyliger by establishing the Electoral Council only in the first quarter of 2014. This effectively took away Marlin’s option to dissolve the parliament during the crisis in 2013 (when he invoked article 59 in vain).
“The electoral council should have been there from the beginning,” Gumbs said. “Because that council was not there, they took away the right to vote from the electorate.”