PHILIPSBURG–Acting Governor Reynold Groeneveldt has not accepted the parliamentary committee report of March 27 on the examining of incoming substitute Member of Parliament (MP) Jules James. This has now halted the process of James’ swearing in. To address this, an urgent public plenary sitting of Parliament is being called for Monday.
Parliament Chairwoman Sarah Wescot-Williams told The Daily Herald the governor sent a correspondence to Parliament stating that “a decision of Parliament” on the credentials was not attached to James’ documentation and he would await further notification.
“It is a bit unfortunate that the governor, in doing so, actually questions the workings of Parliament. However, I would leave that for what it is at this time. On the other hand, the issue of having a formal decision by Parliament is exactly why the route of the committee was chosen,” said Wescot-Williams.
“I am not going to challenge the governor. It is unfortunate that he chose that angle, but he probably did this for his reasons and I hope it is not to have a whole discussion about legality and then we get legal experts on his side and on our side. Then we have another standoff.”
Wescot-Williams said, “I count on all Members of Parliament to do what they think and understand to be the right thing. I maintain my position that when it comes to the credentials of MPs, that is not a prerogative of Parliament and surely not of the Members of Parliament to decide whether a member is admitted yes or no.”
The parliamentary committee to which Wescot-Williams refers is one that was formed on March 27 at the third calling of a meeting to examine James’ credentials. The first two callings of the meeting failed to get a quorum of eight or more MPs. Based on the existing rules of order, on the third calling a meeting can be held with less than the required eight members, but no decisions or deliberations can take place.
The installation of the parliament committee of MPs Franklin Meyers and Tamara Leonard (United Democrats) and Claude Peterson (St. Maarten Christian Party) represented a parliamentary act as did their written report on James’ credentials. The committee found all of James’ paperwork to be in order ahead of his swearing in by the governor.
Wescot-Williams further explained her action of installing the committee: “I supported my argument for going the route of the committee as the Constitution says Parliament examines the credentials of an incoming member and that is even strong when the incoming member/s is/are not as the result of an election – the so-called admittance outside of the time of elections.”
Recalling a similar situation about examining credentials in Curacao in 2017, Wescot-Williams pointed to the “Wiels Report” that investigated primarily the action of the police and at whose command they took action in Parliament. The approval of credentials in that sitting and whether or not there was a quorum had loomed, as there was no roll call.
The report did reference the approving of credentials on page 39 and states that the credentials of incoming MPs do not require an approval by Parliament, rather they are examined for errors and omissions.
Wescot-Williams said the report added that what has happened (in this case on Curacao and generally in the Dutch Caribbean) is Parliament continuing to send letters to the governor after the examining credentials that state there is “the approval of Parliament.” It was the committee’s view that this is not the way it should be.
James is the next highest vote getter on the United Democrats 2018 Parliament Election slate who is not yet serving in the legislature or in the Council of Ministers. He will be appointed as a “deputy” as prescribed by the Constitution.
James is to take up the seat of suspended MP Theo Heyliger that became vacant two weeks ago when Heyliger was suspended under Article 50 of the Constitution due to his pre-trial detention. He is currently in detained in Bonaire as the investigation into the Prosecutor’s Office’s allegations of corruption and money-laundering over a long period of time.
The holding of the third meeting on March 27 was not without objection from opposition MPs Silveria Jacobs (National Alliance) and Rolando Brison (United St. Maarten Party). They stated it was unconstitutional for any decision to be taken when less that required “half plus one” majority was present, meaning eight MPs.
Only seven MPs were present and signed in for the afternoon session – Sarah Wescot-Williams, Franklin Meyers, Tamara Leonard and Sidharth “Cookie” Bijlani (United Democrats), Claude Peterson (St. Maarten Christian Party), Jacobs and Brison. Sitting in their seats, but not signed in were NA parliamentarians William Marlin, Christophe Emmanuel and Egbert Doran. Absent were MPs Ardwell Irion (NA), Frans Richardson (US Party), Chanel Brownbill and Dr. Luc Mercelina (United Democrats).
Jacobs argued that the Council of Advice has rendered its position on the Rules of Order and the non-requirement of the half-plus-one for the holding of a meeting. While that position of the Council exists, Parliament has not yet taken any decision to check its operational rules.
Following the meeting, Jacobs and Brison told The Daily Herald they continue to be dissatisfied with the way Wescot-Williams calls meeting that seem to only favour the governing coalition and ignoring or shelfing those of NA and the US Party.
Wescot-Williams, in turn, said she saw the return of Parliament to its full complement was of vital importance to the running of the country.
Asked why they did not sign in for the two prior meetings, Jacobs and Brison said that had no issue with James coming into Parliament, but did not like the manner in which meetings were called. Jacobs said many times the opposition had helped the coalition to get a quorum even when Heyliger’s seat was not vacant.