Dutch Instruction is a direct attack on the country’s autonomy (Screening process of candidate ministers)POSTED: 10/20/14 6:59 PM
St. Maarten / By Hilbert Haar – The anger, indignation and apparent frustration about the instruction the Kingdom Council of Ministers gave to Governor Drs. Eugène Holiday has left many seething – not only in St. Maarten, but also in Curacao and Aruba. According to a report in Antilliaans Dagblad, the country has two weeks to agree with the package of measures Kingdom Relations Minister Ronald Plasterk has in store – otherwise another instruction could follow.
United People’s party leader Theo Heyliger stated in a rather emotional reaction on Friday that the instruction is unconstitutional. While Heyliger did not clarify this argument, he may well have a point. The problem is: St. Maarten has nowhere to go to argue the point.
The road is of course open to the civil court for summary proceedings with a complaint about a wrongful act. To win such a procedure, the country would have to come up with a good story. There is not doubt that the Kingdom would hit back with the content of the PricewaterhouseCoopers integrity report. It is an option, but not a viable one.
The other route would be putting the dispute in the hands of the Council of State. To do that, the Kingdom Council of Ministers would have to agree – and chances that this will happen are zilch. Asking an advice – or “information” – as St. Maarten did last year when it fought the instruction about the integrity investigation, is also a dead-end street. The council made clear last year that it does not want to get caught in the crossfire of an argument between two countries in the Kingdom.
Is St. Maarten then entirely powerless? Not quite. The Kingdom Council of Ministers has given an instruction to the governor and – sadly – it is up to the governor to execute the order or to refuse it. In this sense, UP-leader Heyliger is right when he posed that the instruction has put Governor Holiday in an awkward position.
There is something else at play as well: the integrity of the governor. Nobody in St. Maarten doubts our governor’s integrity – he is beyond all doubt. The governor is in a key position in the screening process of candidates for a ministerial position because he has to sign off on the national decree that regulates the appointment of ministers. This is the only point in the process where the governor could take action to disqualify a candidate for a ministerial position.
Under the current legislation, the national security service VDSM and the office of the Attorney-General are involved in the screening process. After their appointment, ministers have 30 days to submit a declaration about their assets, business interest and side-jobs to the prime minister, who asks advice about these statements from the Council of Advice.
In this sense, one could read the instruction as a motion of no confidence from the Kingdom Council of Ministers (read: the Dutch government pushed by the Second Chamber) against our governor – an insult if there ever was one.
Governor Holiday has two functions. He is the head of the government of St. Maarten (a “country”-task) and he is the representative of the Crown (a Kingdom-task).
The Kingdom Council of Ministers has used the rules or order for the governor (article 15) to give the instruction. In this sense, the instruction reaches the governor as the representative of the Crown. But what the instruction asks the governor to do – an unspecified research into the credentials of candidate-ministers – is not a Kingdom-task, but a country-task – one he is already charged with.
It is appalling that this instruction is drawing the governor – who holds a-political office – into a highly charged political dispute.
The governor has three options: he could execute the instruction, he could refuse to do so, or he could resign. It is hard to see a win-win situation in any of these options.
The situation screams for the establishment of an independent institution for settling disputes between the countries in the Kingdom. This is touching the core of the matter. The Kingdom Charter contains this provision in article 12a: “By Kingdom law provisions will be made for the handling of by Kingdom law described disputes between the Kingdom and the countries.”
Three of the four countries have been demanding the establishment of an independent institution for handling such disputes – but the Netherlands is not one of them. St. Maarten, Aruba and Curacao keep pushing for this institution. It would level the playing field and take away the position of power the Netherlands holds in the kingdom. That is exactly the reason why the Dutch government and its Parliament have so far ignored this demand.
St. Maarten is not alone in its battle against last Friday’s instruction to the governor and that is not surprising. What happens to St. Maarten now, could happen next month to Curacao or Aruba. The latter country is still licking its wounds from the instruction to its governor to withhold signing the 2014 budget.
The instruction to St. Maarten however, cuts much deeper. It has the hallmarks of a direct attack on one particular elected Member of Parliament – UP-leader Theo Heyliger – and of an attempt to prevent Heyliger from becoming the country’s next prime minister. Whether one agrees or disagrees with Heyliger’s political ambitions is irrelevant, because there is a greater good at stake and that is St. Maarten’s autonomy and its constitutional right to elect its own Parliament and government.
Heyliger’s reaction to the instruction on Friday was emotional – but that is understandable. The question is now how Parliament is going to react this afternoon – emotional, or with a cool head.
Nobody will argue that the screening process for candidate ministers could use a serious upgrade, but as long as there is an apparent willingness in St. Maarten to deal with these issues, there are enough valid arguments to tell the Dutch government to back off, and to respect the autonomy of our country.