MP Rolando Brison
PHILIPSBURG–Parliament created history on Tuesday with the unanimous approval of Member of Parliament (MP) Rolando Brison’s proposal for a parliamentary enquiry into Mullet Bay.
Although some MPs had reservations about different aspects of the proposed enquiry, all 12 MPs who voted on the proposal voted in favour. United St. Maarten Party (US Party) MP Frans Richardson was out of the legislative hall at the time of voting and did not vote.
While Brison’s proposal was given the green light, MPs shot down an amendment to the proposal tabled by United Democrats (UD) MP Sarah Wescot-Williams by voting it down with four votes for and eight against.
In her proposed amendment, Wescot-Williams recommended that the proposal to conduct a Parliamentary enquiry into Mullet Bay be amended to specifically address the Mullet Bay property: the cadastral information regarding the property, its demarcation, its legal status, and whether it is sellable?
“By refocusing the scope of the inquiry on the essentials of the Mullet Bay property, all parties should receive clarity regarding this hotly-debated item. “The matters of the beach ownership, the Mullet Pond and the road, which regard enforcement, rehabilitation and upkeep respectively, are matters of execution and should be delegated to the respective ministries charged with such,” Wescot-Williams said adding that the amendment would therefore also see a reduction in the cost as proposed.
Discussions with regard to the eventual designation, usage and/or development of the property, while definitely one of public consultation, do not fit within the framework of a parliamentary enquiry, she stressed.
Entitled “Proposal for Parliamentary Enquiry: Giving Mullet Bay Back to the People,” Brison’s proposal calls for an enquiry into the ownership of the Mullet Bay area (issues with certificates of admeasurements and lack of deeds), the current volatile situation that exists between its current owner, government and citizens, and the need for Parliament and government to intervene in every feasible way possible to protect one of St. Maarten’s most precious coastal and inland waterways in the national interest of the country.
The document outlines four research objectives:
Legislative shortcomings allowing for this problem to exist, and the effects of jurisprudence that may have resulted through litigation, particularly in regard to the ownership of conflict zones such as the beach and the pond, and how these shortcomings should be addressed (new legislation, amended legislation, budgetary amendments, instructions to government by means of an amendment in the governing programme).
What actions government can and should take to ensure the property is used in the best interest of the people of the country, being proactive ahead of potential irrevocable actions, such as auctions and/or settlements by the Central Bank, which may or may not be in the best interest of St. Maarten.
Finding a fully-sustainable, environmentally-friendly solution to the development of Mullet Bay, and continued protection of its natural resources – zoning, expropriation, assigning monument status.
The lack of economic activity for the area over 24 years and what this has cost the country, and what economic benefits could be derived from the country if it were developed in a sustainable manner.
The proposal calls for the enquiry to be executed in four phases:
The preliminary information gathering phase.
Verification and hearing phase – the phase where the commission will be able to verify information, hear witnesses and seek advice from external entities for possible solutions.
The reporting phase – the information is placed by the commission in a report.
Conclusions and actions – the conclusions from the report are delivered and debated by Parliament, actions agreed, and the commission continues to follow up to ensure action is taken after the report is debated by Parliament.
The enquiry is expected to take 32 weeks (eight months) at a rough estimated cost of NAf. 519,000 which includes commission staff, legal counsel, financial expertise, travel, communication, etc.
The enquiry document has been modelled based on the two more recent Parliamentary enquiries that were filed within the kingdom: the 2011-2012 Parlementaire enquête naar het Financieel Stelsel in the Netherlands and the 2013-2015 Fyra Parlementaire enquête also in the Netherlands.
Chairperson of Parliament William Marlin said at the start of the meeting that once a parliamentary enquiry is decided on, the enquiry is then executed by a committee of Parliament. Parliament will have to appoint the committee members from amongst its own members.
Once Parliament has taken the decision to start a parliamentary enquiry, the Chairperson of Parliament has to make this decision known to the public in the National Gazette.
Parliament will also have to draft a budget for the parliamentary enquiry. The budget is then sent to the Minister of General Affairs for further handling. Requesting written enquiries, having closed-door conversations with persons and hearing of witnesses and experts can form part of an enquiry.
Every resident of St. Maarten, every natural person who resides in St. Maarten, every corporation (legal person) that is registered in St. Maarten or primarily has its activities in St. Maarten is obligated to cooperate with the committee tasked with the parliamentary enquiry. Only a few categories of persons are exonerated from this obligation. This is regulated in Chapter 4 of the national ordinance.
If persons refuse to cooperate with the Committee, there are several tools to coerce them into cooperating. These tools are mentioned in Chapter 5 of the national ordinance; for example, obligation to pay a penalty (dwangsom) or imprisonment until the person is willing to speak and cooperate (gijzeling).
Chapters 6, 7 and 8 of the national ordinance regulate, amongst other things, that statements and documents that have been submitted to the committee cannot be used in a criminal law, disciplinary law or a civil law procedure. Furthermore, these chapters regulate the end of the parliamentary enquiry and the publication and confidentiality of the documents obtained by the Committee.
Marlin said that in accordance with article 4, paragraph 3, of the National Ordinance Parliamentary Enquiry, a parliamentary enquiry does not end due to the parliamentary period (in principle, four years based on article 46 of the Constitution) coming to an end or the dissolution of Parliament.