Party leaders avoid Laser 101 debate: Rhoda Arrindell (UP): “Stupid grievances downed first Wescot-Williams cabinet”

POSTED: 08/26/14 7:06 PM

St. Maarten – Party leaders declined to take part in what would have been the last political debate before the elections on Friday yesterday. Radio station Laser 101 had invited UP-leader Theo Heyliger, DP-leader Sarah Wescot-Williams, NA-leader William Marlin and USp-leader Frans Richardson. First Heyliger declined, then Richardson and Marlin pulled out and that was finally the reason for Wescot-Williams to pass on the debate as well.

The replacements were Rhoda Arrindell (#14, UP), Silveria Jacobs (#3, NA), Roy Marlin (#3, DP) and Rueben Thompson (#4, USp).

Rhoda Arrindell made one of the strongest statements during the debate that was hosted by moderator Glen Carty. Arrindell addressed the behavior of parliamentarians with a scathing assessment. “The ministers were not the problem in the first Wescot-Williams cabinet,” she said. “The problem was the parliament that threw down the government over stupid grievances.”

Later the former Minister of Education, Culture, Youth and Sports remarked that Parliament wasted a lot of time “by calling us to Parliament to answer all these silly questions.”

Her successor Silveria Jacobs agreed, noting that Parliament more than once required information. “Two months later with the next minister they would come back with the same questions.”

At the end of the debate, asked about the three priorities they would tackle if elected to Parliament, Jacobs mentioned the functioning of Parliament as her first item, followed by addressing the abuse of short-term labor contracts and tax reform.

That last issue was also on the radar with the other three debaters. Rueben Thompson mentioned sustainable development, education, poverty alleviation and strengthening of the economy. The US party wants to introduce a value added tax system to replace the turnover tax and to lower other taxes, an approach similar to what the DP aims for. Roy Marlin mentioned integrated neighborhood development as an instrument to combat poverty, the shift from direct to indirect taxes and a dedicated tourism master plan. “Tourism is the key to everything,” he said.

Addressing campaign financing, moderator Glen Carty handled the hot potato that came out of the court ruling in yesterday’s election fraud trial with care, by saying that “one particular party” had spent at least $3 million in the campaign for the 2010 elections. The court ruling Carty referred to, mentioned that UP-leader Theo Heyliger deposited – according to the Criminal Intelligence Unit – $3 million of his own money into the campaign coffers of the UP.

None of the debaters touches this issue. Rhoda Arrindell said that campaigning is like marketing. “If you have the means for it you do as you see fit,” she said, adding later that “no amount of marketing will make a bad product sell.”

Silveria Jacobs said that candidates with more money would also get more exposure, but that she had noticed during the past two weeks more interest for the issues. “Marketing makes thing look better than they really are,” she said.

Rueben Thompson linked excessive campaign spending to the poverty on the island, and to the fact that schools have to make do with outdated material. “It you see parties spend millions on campaign material, the question is what are your priorities are. It is an insult to the people.”

Roy Marlin referred to the current legislation that subjects campaign spending and party financing to certain rules, though he admitted that there are loopholes. He also suggested a system of state-support for political parties to get away from donations by local businesses and the inevitable requests for favors once the elections are over.

All debaters agreed that integrity is important. Integrity had to come from within (Jacobs), there is no integrity without transparency and accountability (Thompson) and I judge people by what they do (Arrindell) were some of the remarks on this issue.

On the subject of cultural identity, all debaters declared their parties to be inclusive and to embrace diversity, though Silveria Jacobs said that the government must be able to protect “our people,” a clear reference to indigenous St. Maarteners. “We must define the Sint Maartener. Our indigenous people should have certain privileges,” she said.

Thompson mentioned that foreign-born voters outnumber voters that were born on the island, while Marlin added that over time this balance would tip the other way.

Thompson presented a unique selling point at the beginning of the debate:  “There are about ninety candidates but there is only one environmentalist and sustainable development expert – and that is I.”

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