PHILIPSBURG–The majority of Members of Parliament (MPs) have expressed the need for the Prosecutor to appear before Parliament to explain the definition and parameters of vote-buying.
MPs made the call in a plenary session on the same topic with Justice Minister Edson Kirindongo in Parliament House on Monday afternoon. Kirindongo is expected to address this request when the meeting resumes in the second week of June.
The Parliamentary session was requested by the members of the opposition, primarily the United People’s (UP) party. Those MPs requesting the meeting said it was of utmost importance for MPs to understand the full definition of vote-buying, as the articles in the Penal Code and its explanatory notes are “too vague.”
The subject of vote-buying has been very topical in the community since 2010 when accusations were levied against non-elected UP representatives. In that case, the judge ruled that vote-buying had been proven, but did not impose any punishment. The judge also admonished the Prosecutor’s Office for not going after the UP leadership. Referring to this case, MP Christophe Emmanuel (NA) said his only question was: “How do we investigate the Prosecutor’s Office?”
MP Franklin Meyers (UP) said St. Maarten had always had a culture of helping each other through tough times. He referred to independent MP Silvio Matser, who is a suspect in an ongoing vote-buying investigation, as “a victim.” Meyers said Matser’s grandfather, fondly known as “Elick the Butcher,” had fed many people in his lifetime and people probably had supported his grandson when he stood for elections in 2014.
MP Rodolphe Samuel (National Alliance (NA)) also referenced the Matser case, saying that if someone were accused of vote-buying there must be someone who had offered their vote for sale. “How does this law work?” he asked the minister. Samuel also asked whether the Department of Social Assistance still existed and how this Government aid was viewed under the law in question.
UP leader MP Theo Heyliger said the population needs to understand what vote-buying is. He was the first of the MPs to call for the judge and the Prosecutor to appear before Parliament to explain the parameters.
Heyliger, as well as MPs who spoke after him, queried whether assisting someone, as is the norm in the community, could land an MP in trouble with the law. “What is considered a gift or a promise? … What request is considered legal or illegal? … Could it be giving a T-shirt, a chicken leg and johnnycake?” he asked, referring to the law that classifies the giving of a gift or the making of a promise in return for a vote as punishable.
Both Heyliger and Meyers said a proper explanation was needed in light of the September 26 Parliamentary elections. Heyliger said the “eyes and photos are always focused on green,” referring to UP’s colour.
Meyers said UP should not be used as “any poster child” for talk of vote-buying. If the issue is to be scrutinised, he said all parties should be looked at and UP should not be the target of any “witch hunt or agenda of the Dutch Government.”
Independent MP Leona Marlin-Romeo, one of the MPs who had requested the meeting, said hearing from the Prosecutor about “the rules of engagement” was imperative to ensure she was operating within the law. Since taking up her seat as an MP, Marlin-Romeo has been giving back to various groups and individuals in the community, using part of her salary. Using that as her focal point, the MP said she needed to ensure this was not an issue.
MP Tamara Leonard (UP) had been extending help and assistance to residents even before she was elected to Parliament, a fact she highlighted on Monday. “Are you saying once I become a politician or get elected, I have to tell people ‘you just helped me to stop helping you’?”
“What is the definition of vote-selling?” asked independent MP Cornelius de Weever. He said information was needed so voters would not “unknowingly put politicians” in trouble with their requests. He questioned whether the subject of vote-buying and selling has been raised elsewhere in the Dutch Kingdom – for example, in the Netherlands – and if not, he wants to know whether it is a matter of cultural, religious and/or political differences.
MP Dr. Lloyd Richardson (UP) said the law does have one clear position on the topic and that is there must be some conversation about the buying and selling of votes. This, he said, calls for “something on tape.” Giving his view about the need for a better explanation of the concept, Dr. Richardson said that as a doctor one of the first questions a patient is asked is, “What can I do for you?” With that question and with his position as an MP, he queried whether he could get into a sticky situation under the law.
MP Johan “Janchi” Leonard (UP) said vote-buying/selling had to do with using incentives to persuade a voter to support a candidate they did not intend to support. It has to do with persuasion of a voter. He too called for the Prosecutor to appear before Parliament to explain how vote-buying is prosecuted.
United St. Maarten Party (USP) leader MP Frans Richardson said to him vote-buying was clear-cut – offering or giving someone money in exchange for their vote. It’s not giving out a T-shirt at a rally, he said referring to a question from Heyliger.
MP George Pantophlet (NA) joined the call for the Prosecutor to appear before Parliament to explain vote-buying and what is targeted in an investigation. Using himself as an example, Pantophlet said that before coming to the meeting he had been approached outside of a bank by a resident who asked him to look into his request to change his bus licence to a taxi licence. Pantophlet said it was imperative for him to know whether, if he assisted the man, that could fall within the realm of vote-buying.
Independent MP Maurice Lake said there was need for the public to be educated about the topic of vote-buying as soon as possible.
Minister Kirindongo’s presentation to MPs was not met with much satisfaction. They wanted to hear more from him about how he viewed vote-buying and what policies, if any, his Ministry has in place. Instead, Kirindongo outlined how the judicial arm dealt with vote-buying and the role of MPs in making laws. “A minister can only follow what is in the law,” he said.
Marlin-Romeo said Kirindongo “should have come to Parliament with more information. … The public should have been informed by the Minister.”
Source: Daily Herald
MPs want Prosecutor to explain vote-buying