~Will fight any calls for early elections~
PHILIPSBURG–Democratic Party (DP) leader Member of Parliament (MP) Sarah Wescot-Williams said on Tuesday that Prime Minister William Marlin’s change of position on the Dutch conditions for recovery aid for St. Maarten came “too little, too late.”
The MP said that Marlin’s U-turn had nothing to do with the advice from the Council of Advice as he suggested at a press conference on Monday, but was an 11th hour attempt to save the coalition.
“It’s too little too late. Government has allowed this process to go in the direction it went and at the 11th hour to send out and say we agree – if you are serious, if you were serious about agreeing, even if it’s because the Council of Advice suggested that you do, why did you not do that before? Why did you not take away much of the criticisms? Why not send a letter to [former Dutch Minister of Kingdom Relations Ronald, Ed.] Plasterk? Why not correct the letter the minute you get the advice from the Council of Advice? That’s what I don’t understand. That’s why the argument of government does not seem credible,” Wescot-Williams said.
The MP, who is also chairperson of Parliament, said she will “fight” any attempts by government to resist the current developments by calling for early elections.
“I have understood that… if the Dutch government does not take this last declaration of the Prime Minister seriously and give them the benefit of the doubt then the Government of St. Maarten will consider dissolving Parliament and calling elections. This is apparently being considered at this moment,” she said.
“And I want to tell the Government of St. Maarten – given the circumstances that the people of St. Maarten find themselves in today I will fight with everything that I have, any attempts to place an extra burden on the people of St. Maarten at this time by means of elections. There is nothing wrong with what has transpired – we have taken opposite sides – eight MPs formed a majority of Parliament and have declared themselves willing to work together and form another government.”
The DP Leader said she will not accept a repeat of the situation that has played out in the past, where Parliament was dissolved instead of focusing on the reconstruction of the country, “hopefully with the money that will be made available” from the Dutch government. “I guess the proposal will be to dissolve Parliament and put election sometime far in the future so that the current government can sit in office until that time. I am asking the government members to please consider the times that our people are going through. To consider the hardships that many of our people are facing, and if I have to call for some action by the people of St. Maarten to prevent the government from coming down with elections, this is what shall happen.”
Wescot-Williams went over the events that occurred from the Parliament meetings held from last Thursday, October 24, leading up to the meeting on Friday, October 27, and leading to her decision. She said coalition MPs walked out of the meeting on October 26, dealing with the integrity chamber and border control and she was forced to adjourn the meeting.
At his press conference on Monday, Marlin dismissed claims that there had been a walkout and indicated that MPs had been in and out of the meeting hall, which he said happens all the time. Wescot-Williams had also told The Daily Herald the evening of the October 26, that a walkout seemed not to be the case, as MPs had been in and out of the hall and at one point when it was brought to her attention that there were only seven MPs in the hall, she did a roll call and the meeting was adjourned due to the lack of a quorum.
During another Parliament meeting on Friday, October 27, to discuss aid, Wescot-Williams said she felt it “very necessary” to make her position very clear. “I believe that the St. Maarten Parliament needed to take a clear position and I wanted to make sure that it is understood that DP’s position remained what it was: if the conditions were standing in the way of St. Maarten receiving the hundreds of millions of euros in aid then I said we are going to accept those conditions and will deal with what needed to be dealt with after.”
Following her bombshell statements in Parliament on Friday suggesting that she was being stifled; Wescot-Williams said it was her intention to seek support from MPs and fractions which held similar views of the DP that “the interest of the people of St. Maarten came first.” She said while many persons have said in the past that the Dutch government was bluffing with its threats to impose Article 51 if the integrity chamber is not established, she does not think they were.
She said up to Friday, no member of government including the PM, had given “the slightest indication” that the PM was having a change of heart. “The advice from the Council of Advice is dated October 23, I am not sure when the government received it, but being the urgent issue that it is, I want to believe that if they did not get it on 23rd they surely had that advice before the 27th or even the 26th, and why if the Prime Minister received the advice from the Council of Advice that suggested that he change his position. Why did he not communicate that to his coalition partners or to the President of Parliament, to the people of St. Maarten to say don’t stress any longer I have changed my position, I no longer object to the conditions put forward by the Dutch government, but when I decided enough is enough and I decided that I will have to part ways with the coalition on this topic and seek an understanding and an agreement [then the position is stated, Ed.]”
The DP leader said she decided to garner enough support “so that before October 31, I would have been able to say to the Dutch government that a (new) majority in Parliament is ready and willing to accept the conditions as you put forward so that you can meet your commitment and start the disbursement of the much needed funds to St. Maarten.”
In her attempts to form a new majority Wescot-Williams said she was looking for a “coalition of the willing.” By Sunday evening, parties had an agreement amongst the eight MPs. She said Brownbill has not declared himself an independent MP, but has decided to align himself with the DP.
The coalition of eight has written to Governor Eugene Holiday, the Parliament of St. Maarten and the Council of Ministers and informed them of their willingness to join together and form a new government for St. Maarten with the objective of breaking the impasse on Dutch aid on the basis of mutual trust and understanding. The new coalition said an economic recovery programme will be their first order of business.
On Monday, October 30, Wescot-Williams said she was made to understand that government had changed its position on the conditions based on the advice from the Council of Advice. She said several attempts were made to have a meeting amongst the leaders of the former coalition as well as a coalition meeting on Sunday and Monday, but those “did not work out.”
The MP said “some serious failures” have occurred in handling the aftermath of Hurricane Irma and the straw that broke the camel’s back was government’s rigid position that it will not accept the conditions “which would have opened up the money flow to St. Maarten.”
In the meantime, MPs will meet in a Central Committee of Parliament today Wednesday, to ratify the documents signed by the new majority. “Again, if the government comes with their idea to dissolve Parliament during a time like this, I would encourage not only the other seven members who have signed with me, but other MPs and the people of St. Maarten to stand up and say enough is enough. This government will not get away with this.”