Silveria Jacobs addressing MPs during the meeting.
~ Some MPs disgruntled over unconditional acceptance ~
PHILIPSBURG–Prime Minister Silveria Jacobs explained to Members of Parliament (MPs) on Wednesday how two letters ended up being sent to the Kingdom government regarding St. Maarten’s acceptance of the second tranche of liquidity support.
Her explanation drew irate reactions from some MPs, who were unhappy with the country unconditionally accepting the proposal from the Kingdom government, noting that this was not what parliament’s motion intended and that local laws were being trampled upon.
Following the meeting with legislators on Tuesday, which ended after 1:00am Wednesday, Jacobs said the Council of Ministers (COM) had held an extraordinary meeting later that morning, where government’s response was finalised, approved and sent to the Kingdom government.
In the letter addressed to State Secretary Raymond Knops, Jacobs made clear that despite St. Maarten’s concerns and although some of the conditions set by the Netherlands were not directly related the financial austerity measures that will bring about savings or reform necessary to bring Maarten into a better financial position and have little consideration for the economic and social standing of the country, based on deliberations with the Parliament of St. Maarten, “the government of St. Maarten hereby informs you that the proposal of the Kingdom of the Netherlands along with the conditions is hereby accepted insofar as it does not violate local, kingdom or international laws.”
She told MPs that in the midst of the Council of Ministers press briefing on Wednesday morning, at which she was present, she had been notified that the Dutch government did not understand whether her letter represented a “yes” or a “no.”
Between 10:15 and 10:30am, Knops sent a response indicating that he was trying to understand whether St. Maarten’s letter could be interpreted as unconditional agreement with the proposal and he wanted clarity on it. Knops said no kingdom or international laws would be violated and St. Maarten should take into consideration that the Kingdom government had taken note of this while formulating the conditions.
He said further that this does not take away from the fact that the necessary organisations in St. Maarten, within the legal framework of the constitution, have the opportunity to speed up legislation and do what is necessary, particularly given these uncharted times for everyone.
Jacobs said that while she was still in the briefing, she had indicated that as Knops had made it clear that laws would not be violated, St. Maarten could accept. Based on this, Minister Plenipotentiary Rene Violenus sent a follow-up letter in which he indicated that St. Maarten unconditionally accepts the proposal. This second letter was leaked and had been circulating on social media since Wednesday morning.
In her letter to Knops, which was approved by the COM, Jacobs expressed St. Maarten’s concerns about the entire process.
“During the hastily-called meeting via video conference with the Prime Ministers of the countries within the Kingdom, where you were accompanied by Dutch Finance Minister Mr. Wopke Hoekstra and Prime Minister Mark Rutte via video conference, the intentions of the Kingdom Government/Netherlands to assist the countries in this time of crisis and beyond was verbally and briefly outlined,” Jacobs letter read.
“As you are aware, this discussion was held without documentation or specifics of the content of what would be proposed. Though we were given an opportunity to give feedback during the meeting, it was without clear knowledge or understanding of what was on the table. We were informed that the proposal in detail would be taken up in the agenda of the Kingdom Council of Ministers on May 15, 2020.
“Unfortunately, only on Thursday, May 14, did St. Maarten receive the official documentation as is customary via the Cabinet of the Minister Plenipotentiary, leaving us without the necessary time to discuss and instruct our representative in the Kingdom Council of Ministers accordingly as to the position of the government of St. Maarten.
“With less than 24 hours prior to the meeting of the Kingdom Council of Ministers, this is a clear violation of the same rules of order of the Kingdom Council of Ministers,” the letter continued. “As such, the St. Maarten Council of Ministers expresses dissatisfaction with not only the manner in which the aforementioned transpired, but also at the level of involvement in developing the conditions.
“Note that this was mentioned in our Tuesday meeting with you. Remember that St. Maarten made only one request during said meeting, namely: ‘We are happy for the assistance already received, and hope that any conditions for loans to be received moving forward are with realistic conditions and timelines for execution after dialogue and consensus.’”
Jacobs went on to say in the letter that the financial aid being offered by the Netherlands would come as a loan for which conditions are being set, some of which are not directly related the financial austerity measures that will bring about the savings or reform necessary to bring Maarten into a better financial position and have little consideration for the economic and social standing of St. Maarten.
She made clear that notwithstanding these issues and based on deliberations with the Parliament of St. Maarten, “the Government of St. Maarten hereby informs you that the proposal of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. along with the conditions, is hereby accepted insofar as it does not violate local, kingdom or international laws.”
Jacobs said that, moving forward, it is St. Maarten’s hope that the Netherlands will consider a more enhanced exchange and consultation when handling aspects that directly relate to the people of St. Maarten, and indicated that St. Maarten looks forward to further bilateral discussions with mutual respect and in the best interest of the people of St. Maarten.
Jacobs said that while she is not happy to have accepted the proposal and its conditions, given the sentiments expressed by MPs during Tuesday’s meeting, coupled with the short time government was given and knowing that the people of St. Maarten are in need, government had accepted as long as laws will not be violated. She said it was funny how only one letter had been leaked and this way things can be taken out of context and funny jokes made out of it.
United St. Maarten Party (US Party) MP Claudius Buncamper was not happy with the unconditional acceptance letter sent to the Kingdom government, noting that the motion of parliament is not reflected in the letter. He said Parliament had specifically requested that local laws be adhered to and this had been thrown out. He said the US Party is, therefore, distancing itself from the motion and he called for the truth to be spoken.
National Alliance (NA) MP Christophe Emmanuel said he was disappointed and was in disbelief, noting that Jacobs had indicated that she would not usurp the authority of parliament and this is exactly what was done. He also accused the PM of using parliament. “The fact is you used parliament. At some point in time the deception must and have to come to an end, because that is what this was – lies and deception.”
However, Party for Progress (PFP) MP Raeyhon Peterson said he did not agree that the issue was the Prime Minister’s fault, as MPs cannot pass a motion for the local government and expect the Kingdom government to act on it. He said the events of Wednesday did not come as a surprise to him.
United People’s (UP) party MP Grisha Heyliger-Marten said motions are simply an expression of parliament and can be addressed to multiple persons. She said Jacobs had done her part and addressed in her letter that the conditions would be accepted providing that they are not in conflict with local, international or kingdom laws. She said the motion is a road map to victory for St. Maarten, even if others do not see it now.
Jacobs made clear that laws will be honoured. She said St. Maarten has the opportunity to fast-track legislation if necessary, noting that if St. Maarten cannot live up to the conditions, it will not receive more funds and this is a reality that the country has to face.